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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story). It also has autobiographical elements from author James Joyce’s life.
The narrator is anonymous but speaks with the same voice and tone that Stephen Dedalus might.
Although most of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is in the third person, the point of view is Stephen’s. As Stephen develops as a person, the language and perspective of the narration develop with him. We see everything in the way he thinks and feels it. At the very end of the novel, there is a brief section in which the story is told through Stephen’s diary entries. This section is in the first person.
The tone is generally serious and introspective, especially during Stephen’s several heartfelt epiphanies.
Read about Joyce’s use of the literary techniques of epiphany and stream of consciousness.
The novel is delivered in the past tense.
The novel is set during the years 1882 to 1903 and is set in Dublin, Ireland, and the surrounding area.
Stephen Dedalus is the protagonist of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Stephen’s namesake, Daedalus, is a figure from Greek mythology, a renowned craftsman who, along his son Icarus, is imprisoned on Crete. Daedalus makes plans to escape by using feathers, twine, and wax to create a set of wings for himself and Icarus. Daedalus escapes successfully, but Icarus flies too high and the sun’s heat melts the wax that holds together Icarus’s wings, and he plummets to his death. We can see Stephen as representative of both Daedalus and Icarus, since Stephen’s father also has the last name of Dedalus. With this mythological reference, Joyce implies that Stephen must always balance his desire to flee Ireland with the danger of overestimating his own abilities—the intellectual equivalent of Icarus’s flight too close to the sun.
Stephen’s heartfelt emotional and aesthetic experiences foreshadow his ultimate acceptance of the life of an artist. Additionally, Joyce often refers to Stephen’s vague sense, even very early in his life, that a great destiny awaits him.
Stephen struggles to decide whether he should be loyal to his family, his church, his nation, or his vocation as an artist.
Rising action includes Stephen’s encounters with prostitutes, his emotional reaction to Father Arnall's hellfire sermons, his temporary devotion to religious life, and his realization that he must confront the decision of whether to center his life around religion or art.
The climax occurs in Chapter 4 with Stephen’s decision in Chapter 4 to reject the religious life in favor of the life of an artist.
The falling action of the novel is Stephen’s enrollment in University College, where he gradually forms his aesthetic theory as well as Stephen’s distancing of himself from his family, church, and nation.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man!