A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce
Summary

Chapter 3, Section 3–Chapter 4, Section 1

Summary Chapter 3, Section 3–Chapter 4, Section 1

Stephen's rigorous program of spiritual self-discipline is impressive, and demonstrates his extraordinary earnestness. The unbelievable asceticism that he willingly adopts demonstrates his strength of will and suggests his heroism. Like some of the early ascetics and hermits of the Christian Church, who lived in the desert and ate locusts, Stephen displays an astonishing ability to overcome his bodily longings and to affirm the superiority of the soul. In doing so, he proves his similarity to martyrs and saints.

However, Joyce suggests that a saint's life may not be desirable for Stephen. Joyce's style, which is richly detailed and concretely sensual in earlier sections of the novel, now becomes extremely dry, abstract, and academic. This style corresponds with Stephen's psychological state: as Stephen becomes more ascetic and self-depriving, Joyce's language loses its colorful adjectives and complex syntax. The very difficulty of reading such dry language suggests the difficulty of the life that Stephen is leading. Stephen's question at the end of Chapter 4, Section 1—"I have amended my life, have I not?"—emphasizes the fact that Joyce himself has amended his prose. Importantly, though Stephen explicitly acknowledges that his life has been changed, he does not say that it has necessarily improved. His heroic efforts to deprive himself are impressive, but do not necessarily make him a better person.