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Irony In A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man English Literature Essay

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays the life of Stephen Dedalus who is a young artist that is pure and idealistic. As he matures, Stephen recognizes how the world filled with injustice and disharmony has numerous shortcomings and that it is incomplete. His experience with his home, school, church, relationship with his girlfriend, Ireland’s history and present fortifies his understanding. Yet, his confidence for his acknowledgement of the blemish filled world corrupts him with arrogance and haughtiness that he himself isn’t able to find his own shortcomings. These shortcomings act as a catalyst in the novel for Stephen to escape and criticize the present world more.

His father's whistle, his mother's mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their echoes even out of his heart with an execration; but, as he walked down the avenue and felt the grey morning light falling about him through the dripping trees and smelt the strange wild smell of the wet leaves and bark, his soul was loosed of her miseries. (Joyce 135).

‘Home’ has brought the idea of dissatisfaction with the world. Yet, this dissatisfaction expands to his nation Ireland. Stephen believes in that his difference, his ideals, his talents are restrained by Ireland and he needs to escape to fulfill his needs. “It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets” (Joyce 157). Stephen’s hatred for Ireland is almost an allusion for his hatred and despair toward the world. “Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow”(Joyce 157).

These influx of influences firmly built Stephens understanding of the flawed world. He believes that he could deny and replace the flawed world with a world with complete form by his use of artistic creation, justice, and harmony. This overbearing confidence later on develops into arrogance deteriorating his vision to see his own flaws and shortcomings. He denies neither to be social nor to be the norm. Stephens’s denial to blend in the community started before he was even conscious about his ideals and despair towards the world. “ She too wants me to catch hold of her, he thought. That’s why she came with me to the tram. I could easily catch hold of her when she comes up to my step: nobody is looking. I could hold her and kiss her. But he did neither: and, when he was sitting alone in the deserted tram, he tore his ticket into shreds and stared gloomily at the corrugated footboard” (Joyce 52). From his youth Stephen was obsessed with his own theories of art and beauty, which separated him from human community and yield the idea to look at only the shortcomings of the world he lives in. Stephen’s refusal to unite gives an irony on how he aspires to change the flawed world yet he himself is skeptical of joining the community.

Stephen’s piety is also an issue for in his life he contributes himself enthusiastically in religious confessions.

He knelt before the altar with his classmates, holding the altar cloth with them over a living rail of hands. His hands were trembling and his soul trembled as he heard the priest pass with the ciborium from communicant to communicant. Corpus Domini nostril Could it be? He knelt there sinless and timid; and he would hold upon his tongue the host and God would enter his purified body. In vitam eternam. Amen Another life! A life of grace and virtue and happiness! It was true. It was not a dream from which he would wake. The past was past. Corpus Domini nostri. The ciborium had come to him. (Joyce 112).

Yet, in the end, he shows his hatred toward religion which is an irony. “Their dull piety and the sickly smell of the cheap hair-oil with which they had anointed their heads repelled him from the altar they prayed at” (Joyce 79).

Stephen also used the phrase “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning” (Joyce 191). Which is a phrase derived from Lucifer. He states that he himself is a normal pagan who also worships beauty yet, he fails to keep his words dragging himself down because of his intellectual arrogance.

Stephen’s inability to see his shortcomings but to go on and proceed with his ideals truly shows an image of a passionate young artist. Overall the book, presents a sympathetic portrait of the trials of a sensitive, intellectual young man as he grows up, and it is at once an attempt to understand the young man even though it has to expose some of his many faults such as his arrogance and haughtiness.

Work Cited

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.


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