A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce
Summary

Chapter 4, Sections 2–3

Summary Chapter 4, Sections 2–3

Analysis

Although Stephen's path through life continues to be guided by females, the kinds of women who influence him change as he grows older. The Virgin Mary has been Stephen's main object of devotion, but now she seems to have lost her power over him. When he passes by a shrine to the Virgin on his way home from school, he glances at it "coldly," no longer stirred by her presence. The school director's odd emphasis on the word "jupe," meaning "skirt," implies that some other woman may have replaced Mary in Stephen's heart. Stephen's turn away from the church and toward the world is emphasized when he turns from the Virgin to the beautiful girl he sees bathing. Importantly, this shift occurs directly after Stephen contemplates Daedalus's use of art to achieve freedom—a suggestion that Stephen will do the same. The bathing girl is a secular version of the Virgin Mary, an emblem of a means to rise to heaven, but without the church.

Joyce's novels are notable for their allusions to classic works of literature, as seemingly insignificant comments or phrases are often references to other novels, plays, or poems. One of the primary sources on which Joyce draws in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is Greek myth. The mythic aspect of the novel emerges clearly in this section with the reference to Daedalus. In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a renowned craftsman who built a pair of wings for himself and a pair for his son, in an attempt to escape imprisonment on the island of Crete. In this novel, Stephen's view of himself changes when his friends address him with a Greek version of his name. He suddenly begins to reflect on certain affinities between himself and that mythical "fabulous artificer," no longer defining himself through Christian doctrine by relating himself to Christ and Mary. Rather, Stephen turns to pagan sources and inspirations in his quest for self-definition. His name is significant. His first name alludes to the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. His surname, however, alludes to a pagan character whose skill allows him to rise high above the world. In this section, Stephen begins to shift his emphasis from his first name to his last name. He dwells on the idea of Daedalus's flight-giving wings, a piece of artisan handicraft that symbolizes the individual's ability to create art and the possibility of transcending worldly woes. Much as Daedalus escaped prison, Stephen dreams of escaping the misery of his impoverished family and narrow, sad life.

To Stephen, the vision of his mythical namesake is not just a hint of his own fate, but a prophecy of it, a prediction that cannot be avoided. Stephen's mental image of "a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea" strikes him as a "prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood." Daedalus is a "symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being." This vision is not simply an image of his future, but of his childhood and boyhood as well. His vision reveals a hidden thread that connects Stephen's past, present, and future into one whole. Most important, perhaps, Stephen realizes that the art that he will forge is not merely a beautiful object, but an entire eternal existence. Through his art, Stephen creates an "imperishable being" very much like a soul—he will not just create literature, but will create himself.