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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

Chapter 5, Sections 1–2

Chapter 4, Sections 2–3

Chapter 5, Sections 3–4

—The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home,Christ,ale,master, on his lips and on mine!

Summary

Chapter 5, Section 1

Stephen eats a poor meal and examines the pawnshop tickets upon which his increasingly impoverished family survives. Mrs. Dedalus expresses her worry that Stephen's character has been changed by university life. From upstairs, Mr. Dedalus snaps that his son is a "lazy bitch." Annoyed and frustrated, Stephen leaves the house and wanders through the rainy Dublin landscape, quoting poems to himself and musing on the aesthetic theories of Aristotle and Aquinas. A nearby clock tolls eleven, reminding him of his friend MacCann. Stephen reflects on MacCann's accusation that Stephen is too socially disengaged. Stephen realizes that he is missing his English lecture, but is not overly concerned; he imagines the students meekly taking notes. On the whole, he is disappointed by university education.

As he walks to the campus, Stephen recollects a visit to his friend Davin, a handsome and athletic boy devoted to the Irish cause. Davin had told Stephen a story about being invited to spend the night with a housewife he does not know. Stephen notes that it is now too late to go to his French class and decides to head for the physics lecture hall, where he runs into the dean of studies. The dean is trying to start a fire, and the two discuss the art of igniting flames. Stephen and the dean speak about aesthetics, but Stephen is disappointed by the older man's spotty knowledge, and the conversation is awkward. When Stephen uses the word "tundish," referring to a funnel for adding oil to a lamp, the dean does not know the word, which Stephen concludes must be Irish. Stephen reflects that English will always be a borrowed language for him, "acquired speech."

Stephen then attends a physics class that is comic and ineffectual. Afterward, Stephen chats with Cranly, MacCann, and other classmates, joking with them in Latin. MacCann urges Stephen to sign a petition for universal peace. When Stephen seems reluctant, MacCann accuses him of being an antisocial minor poet. Temple, a classmate who idolizes Stephen for his independent spirit, defends Stephen. Another student, Lynch, greets them. Davin proudly asserts his own Irish nationalist fervor, and asks Stephen why he has dropped out of Irish language class. Davin says that Stephen is a true Irishman in his heart, but too proud.

Stephen explains that the soul takes time to be born, longer than the body. Stephen explains his aesthetic theory of the ideal stasis or immobility evoked by a work of art, a theory he derives from Aristotle and Aquinas. He also explains the ideals—integrity, consonance, and radiance—that he believes every artistic object must achieve. Stephen's concept of divinity lies in the aesthetic—his God has withdrawn from the world of men, "paring his fingernails" in solitude. Stephen's point is that truly transcendent art must be above the common fray of mankind. Lynch whispers to Stephen that Stephen's beloved, an unnamed girl, is present. Stephen wonders whether he has judged this girl too harshly, and muses upon her.

Chapter 5, Section 2

Stephen awakens in the morning in a mood of contentment and enchantment, having dreamed of erotic union with his beloved. Savoring the feeling, he undertakes to write down a romantic poem he has composed. He recollects being together with the girl in a room with a piano, singing and dancing, and remembers her telling him that she feels he is not a monk, but a heretic.

Stephen is jerked out of his reverie by jealous suspicions about Father Moran's interest in the girl, Emma. Stephen reflects that the last time he wrote verses to Emma was ten years ago, after they rode home together on the same tram after a birthday party. He accuses himself of folly, and wonders whether Emma has been aware of his devotion to her. Stephen feels desire flow through his body, and turns again to the villanelle, the poem he is composing.

Analysis

The dean's inability to understand Stephen's use of the word "tundish" may seem like a minor detail, but it actually symbolizes the clash of cultures that is at the heart of the Irish experience. The dean is English, and represents to Stephen all the institutional power and prestige England has wielded throughout its colonial occupation of Ireland. The dean is thus a representative of cultural domination. By failing to understand Stephen's word—which is derived from Irish rather than English—the dean reminds us of the linguistic and cultural divide between England and Ireland. With sadness and despair, Stephen reflects that this divide may be unbridgeable, and his disappointment underscores the discontent he already feels for stale university life. The episode with the dean shows Stephen the importance of creating his own language, as the English he has been using is not really his own. He realizes that English "will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay."

Joyce reinforces this idea of speaking someone else's language throughout the novel through repeated uses of quoted speech from a variety of external sources. The opening lines of the novel, for instance, are a child's story told by someone else. Later, we find Stephen frequently quoting Aquinas and Aristotle. Yet despite these constant citations, no quotation marks are used in the novel, sometimes making it difficult to tell the difference between a character borrowing someone else's words and a character speaking in his or her own voice. The "tundish" episode with the dean shows Stephen the necessity of making this distinction and the importance of creating a distinctive and truly Irish voice for himself.

Joyce also uses these sections to explore the contrast between individuality and community. On one hand, Stephen is now more of a free-floating individual than ever before. His links with his family, whose sinking poverty level and carelessness repel him, are weaker than ever. His mother is disappointed with the changes university life has brought about in her son, and his father calls him a "lazy bitch." There seems to be little parental pride or affection to offset Mr. Dedalus's hostility. Moreover, Stephen's social life is hardly any less solitary. He fails to share the ideological position of any of his friends: he cannot adopt the Irish patriotism of Davin or the international pacifism of MacCann. Even the flattering adulation of Temple fails to inspire Stephen. Therefore, having given up hope on family, church, friends, and education, Stephen seems to be more alone than ever. This assessment is only partly true, however, as Stephen is never completely isolated in the novel. His family repels him, but he continues to see them and speak to them, and his warm address to his siblings shows that he still has family ties. Furthermore, even when composing epitaphs to dead friendships, Stephen is surrounded by his friends and interacts with them in a lively and outgoing way. The proximity of such human relationships is clearly important, as Stephen retains a powerful commitment to his society until the very end of the novel, even when dreaming of fashioning a new soul for himself.

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Joyce and O'Casey

by Upperchurch, October 18, 2014

Joyce and O'Casey were contemporaries. Was Mr. Casey, Irish Nationalist, in "Portrait" a nod to O'Casey?

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