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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce (transformation in Chapter 4)

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Question: In chapter 4, Stephen moves from the certainties and ordered world of catholic orthodoxy towards what he describes as "new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under the sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings." Analyse some of the stages of this movement as they are described in the chapter.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a brilliant work dealing with the realisations and discoveries that one person has to make in life in order comprehend the restraints of religion and society. In doing so, he can gain freedom and reach his full potential of becoming an artist. Throughout this semi-autobiographical novel Joyce recreates some of his own experiences through the protagonist Stephen Dedalus, who endures many different phases as he grows up. Beginning life as a child in a devout Catholic family, Stephen grows to become a deliberate sinner as teenager, but changes back to a zealous and obsessive Catholic. Lastly, Stephen realises the constraints of his devotion to Catholicism and makes a decision to free himself forever. This essay will describe in detail how Stephen changes in chapter four from religious extreme to celebrating the world, beauty and life itself.

Stephen is drawn back to become a passionate Catholic as Father Arnall gives a sermon about the day of St. Francis Xavier. As Stephen deals with regret and guilt about his sexual encounters with prostitutes, Father Arnall's words spark fear about divine judgment in Stephen's heart. To Stephen it was like 'a terror of spirit as the hoarse voice of the preacher blew death into his soul' (p.118). Stephen is convinced that 'every word of it was for him' and Joyce states that 'he felt now that his soul was festering in sin' (p.121). The sermon is so touching to Stephen that he comes out of the chapel with 'his legs shaking and the scalp of his head trembling as though it had been touched by ghostly fingers' (p.132). Joyce describes Stephen's feelings so deep and intense that it is obvious his turnaround will not be out of sincere love, but rather out of fear. This sermon was the turning point for Stephen and the start of his new religious system in chapter four.

Stephen 'lays out [his life] in devotional areas' (p.158) and everything for him 'circle[s] about his own centre of spiritual energy' (p.159). Joyce shows the reader through this part how intense religion becomes for Stephen and how much he is restricted by it, or rather how much he allows it to restrict him. He brings 'each of his senses... under a rigorous discipline' (p.161) and even sat in the 'most uncomfortable positions' (p.162). Joyce makes it clear that Stephen has 'no temptations to sin mortally" (p.162), but also describes how hard it was to control normal human emotions. This is the first indication that Stephen has trouble coping with his extreme piety. It is evident that it is near impossible for any human being to keep up with such a lifestyle as his confession sessions become 'a channel for the escape of scrupulous and unrepented[sic] imperfections' (p.163).

Joyce gives the first hint of Stephen's pending turnaround from being a devout Catholic when he describes that the 'idea of surrender' seems attractive to Stephen. He states that 'it gave him an intense sense of power to know that he could... in a moment of thought, undo all that he had done' (p.164) and return to a life in sin with his back to the church. This is a clue to what the reader can expect from Stephen. Joyce is in essence showing the reader the determination that Stephen holds when he sets his mind on a goal, however he shows that Stephen is still not finding what he is searching for: freedom. Through this period, Stephen struggles to free himself from his guilt through abstinence and sincere religious fervour, but he is looking for freedom in the wrong place. This sets the tone for the next transition that Stephen has to undergo.

Stephen is summoned to see the director, who believes wholeheartedly that Stephen is one 'whom God designs to call himself' (p.170). He asks Stephen if he would consider becoming a priest and describes to him the honour and privilege that this position holds as if he is an adept salesman. Stephen is at first attracted to the prospect and he fills with pride as the director describes the 'awful power' of being a priest. However, Stephen realises very soon that choosing this will give him 'a grave and ordered and passionless life' (p.173). Joyce uses "and" repeatedly in that sentence in order to reflect the weight of this realisation in Stephen's consciousness. This is in one moment that Stephen realises he is not destined for priesthood. Joyce reinforces this notion by stating that 'at once from every part of his being unrest began to irradiate' and that 'the chill and order of the life repelled him' (p.173). It is here that Stephen once again realises his inner drive to be unique and free, to be 'apart in every order' and that 'his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders' (p.174).

Stephen realises that the only way to true freedom and to becoming an artist is to embrace the world and to 'learn wisdom apart from others' (p.175). He understands and accepts that he will fall away from the



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