A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

August 15
 OK, so it didn’t really take me this long to finish the book. I actually read it months ago, and then read it again, and then again. Not because I liked it! I had to read it so many times that I began to hate it. Of course I can see why it’s such a masterpiece. It developed the stream of consciousness technique and who knows what else? According to critics, Joyce has influenced the whole literary structure as we know it today! Which is why, when I read it, I didn’t read it with an eye to enjoy it. It was all critical and I think that destroys most of the pleasure in reading a book.

A Portrait didn’t really have a story that can be enjoyed (at least by me!). It is about Stephen Dedalus, a young boy (who somewhat represents the author himself) striving to recognize self, through a series of experiences. First he rejects one belief, then another until he believes solely in art and beauty. It was to some extent a technical book about Stephen’s ‘aesthetic theory’ and how he achieves it. What many overlook is that it is the portrait of a ‘young man’ which means that the novel doesn’t end with everything all figured out. For that, it is necessary to read Joyce’s most famous book Ulysses.

                                         For my previous review, go here: A Portrait

The novel pivots on three important beliefs: patriotism, religion and art. As the story progresses, we see how Stephen deals with the world around him, a world from which he realizes he is different. Most important through the novel is his conflict with religion. At first turning his back on it, then becoming a strong believer, he ends up rejecting it completely and with his eyes open. What the journey really represents is his self-knowledge. When he learns to see with his own eyes, and fly on his own wings he is able to break free from all ties and become an artist.

The novel starts off with Stephen in infancy. It shows the development of the thought processes of a very young child. We see how he reacts to his surrounding through his senses. The water, the cold, smells: they all affect him and connect all his memories together. The narration is haphazard, aptly representing a child’s disjointed thoughts. Water takes him from the bathroom at his school Clongowes to memories of his father. These impressions play an important part throughout the story. This is because Stephen makes most of his decisions based on them. It is what he feels and where it leads him that causes him to grope for meaning. He is seeking for meaning in life and his true vocation. At the end of each chapter, he believes he has found meaning only to be disillusioned in the beginning of the next.

His first important ‘epiphany’, as Joyce calls them in Stephen Hero, is his meeting with the prostitute. He has now taken a step away from the church and committed mortal sin. Stephen believes his eyes are now open. But his path is much longer then he realizes. He will come back to the folds of the church and repent; become a fanatic in his punishment to himself.

This fanaticism lasts him some years, at the end of which he is again disillusioned. He can can’t avoid seeing the hypocrisy of the church. It is his curse that he sees what others don’t, and when he does, he is a step closer to realizing his real self. He refuses to join the church opting for University instead. It is his first significant step towards becoming the man he really is.

By this time, you must have an idea of how the story progresses. It is his whole life experience; everything that leads him a step closer to becoming an artist. You will gradually see how Joyce painstakingly shows each and every event in the young protagonist’s life and how it affects and molds him.

My beaten down copy of James Joyce. It was published in 1979!

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Jan 2
 I thought I’d try something new and review a book while I’m only mid-way through it. Ok, so I read the criticism on it so I may have an idea of how things turn out, but the bulk of it I’m still uncertain about. This is my first venture into Joyce territory and I must say that I like his style. Stream of consciousness is as always confusing (though not nearly as confusing as Virginia Woolf) so it takes some getting used to, but I think I have a handle on it.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a mouthful, so I’m just going to call it Portrait. In Portrait we are shown the mind of young Stephen Dedalus. The novel beings from a very young age and jumps to his adolescence and his experiences at school. Stephen has always known he is different. He sees the world in his own peculiar way, and due to this, is somewhat of an introvert. He has brilliance and soon overcomes his shyness but the reader, to whom his inner mind is revealed, always sees his hesitance and timidity. The novel tackles some of the political and religious issues of the time. As the novel is semi-autobiographical, it is natural to compare it to Joyce’s actual life.

Feb 3
Joyce skillfully handles Stephen’s feelings and confusion over his guilt (about what, you’ll have to read and find out!). From chapter 3 onward we are made aware of Stephen’s sin. Stephen is, as already said, a representation of Joyce. The struggles he goes through show us the making of the man we know as Joyce. It is illuminating actually to see the development of an artistic child. As compared to Stephen Hero, the revised version of the novel Portrait deals with not just the education of a child, but his artistic development. He struggles with the concept of sin and this struggle makes him a man. I have read up to the possibility of Stephen entering the church. It is now that we will see how he deals with his ‘penance’ and feelings of guilt. Has he gotten over them and become a new man? Or will he follow something that he never truly believed in? See you guys when I’ve read more!

Heart of Darkness

I begin the New Year with exams (It’s horrible I know!) I can’t start any new books yet so I thought I’d review one of the novels from my course! I know it sounds boring but Heart of Darkness took me by surprise; its tackling of issues prevalent in Europe during the 19th and 20th century is superb. The massive continent of Africa is divided into various colonies rules by different European countries. Marlow, an English seaman, takes a long desired voyage to the heart of darkness – Africa. What he finds there leaves him a changed man.

Joseph Conrad is said to have been ahead of his time. He viewed his age as the next generation was to view it: with a critical eye for its faults. He saw imperialism for what it was and Heart of Darkness abounds in his use of symbols to portray it. The novel is semi-autobiographical; Conrad believed that literature should be realistic; it should include one’s own experiences.

Marlow, the protagonist, tells his story to a few of his sailor friends who then narrate it to us.  He pulls off the mask of virtue from imperialism and shows it for what it really was: greed. Money is the primary concern of everyone, and here money takes the form of ivory. In one of the most expressive dialogues Marlow describes the lust for ivory that had ensnared them all,

“They word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By  Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life.”

The natives are maltreated to the point of death and starvation. Everywhere Marlow looks he finds misery. But the ‘pilgrims’ stand firm in their belief that they have come to Africa to ‘civilize’ the brutes. They are here to bring a change. Marlow travels to the interior to find the one man he has heard so much about. A man, who had ideals, and now possesses strength and power over the natives. He is said to bring in more ivory than all the rest put together. Marlow’s interest in him increases as his journey progresses and when the final meeting takes place, the mask is off and all the ugliness of the situation in Africa is shown at its height. Marlow returns, having fulfilled his wish at a cost. He knows now what other men don’t. How is he to carry this burden?