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POINT OF VIEW
Just as the literary style of Portrait of the Artist is more subtle and in some ways more difficult than that of traditional novels, so is the novel's point of view. Portrait of the Artist is, in general, an example of a third-person, limited omniscient narrative. Stephen Dedalus doesn't tell his story himself. But in general you perceive only what he perceives. You don't enter other characters' minds. Only occasionally-as at the Christmas dinner scene, or during the trip to Cork with Simon Dedalus-do you even hear or see other characters who haven't been completely filtered through Stephen's perceptions. Indeed, the book focuses so closely on Stephen, and takes you so deeply into his mind, that at times it resembles a first-person narrative.
In fact, however, the book is a little more tricky than that. If Portrait of the Artist were a first-person narrative, or a traditional third-person, limited omniscient narrative, it would be difficult for you to get outside of Stephen. You would see him only as he sees himself. You could judge him only as he judges himself. But that isn't what happens.
First, Joyce very occasionally lets you step outside of Stephen's consciousness. For example, at the end of the Christmas dinner scene, you're told that Stephen raises "his terror-stricken face." Stephen, of course, can't see his own face while sitting at the dinner table-but by taking you outside Stephen for this instant, Joyce emphasizes the impact the vicious argument has had upon the young boy.
More subtly, and more frequently, Joyce lets you stand just slightly outside Stephen-in this way giving you the distance you need to judge him-through the language he uses to describe Stephen's thoughts. For example, in Chapter Two, Stephen dreams of finding "in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld.... They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst... and at that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured." Some readers feel such sentences are merely accurate descriptions of Stephen's thoughts; they feel that since Stephen approves of his own thoughts, Joyce does too. But many other readers feel that Joyce has purposely laid it on a little too thick here, and in many other parts of the book. They feel the language he uses to express Stephen's thoughts is purposely a little too "poetic," because Stephen himself is a little too poetic. He takes himself, his art, and his rebellion too seriously. Even the famous lines-"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race"- can be taken as a brave vow or as an eloquent-sounding but hollow promise that Stephen won't be able to fulfill.
In these ways, language in Portrait of the Artist becomes closely connected to point of view. You are inside Stephen's mind, yet Joyce's language may put you slightly outside it as well. As you read Portrait of the Artist, you'll have to decide for yourself what you think of Stephen Dedalus-and then decide how Joyce's language and point of view have led you to make your judgment.
FORM AND STRUCTURE
Portrait of the Artist is divided into five chapters, each composed of episodes. Most episodes are separated by asterisks. The scenes go back and forth in time without alerting the reader to the transition. They represent clusters of meaningful periods in Stephen Dedalus' life.
How does this collection of episodes add up to a unified whole? Some see the basic framework of Portrait of the Artist as a five-chapter, chronological progression from small boy to university student. According to this view, each of the five chapters represents a stage in the growth of Stephen's character: his childhood, the shift from childhood to adolescence, the discovery of his true vocation as a writer, and his final decision to be an artist-in-exile. The discovery of his literary vocation provides the book's climax, and his decision to go abroad its resolution-a pattern like that of a musical symphony or a classical Greek drama.
Other readers see Portrait of the Artist as having a three-part structure that reflects the three crucial periods of Stephen's self-awareness. The first two chapters concern Stephen's awakening to his own body. The next two show his developing awareness that he must be a writer (and not a priest). The fifth chapter focuses on his realization that he must leave Ireland.
Yet another view concentrates on the rhythmic movement of each chapter from a low point of self-doubt to a moment of triumph. The action rises slowly, only to fall at the beginning of the next chapter. It's a pattern that's been compared to a series of waves. It has also been linked to the myth that underlies the novel-the myth of Daedalus. Each chapter can be seen as an attempted flight. At the chapter's end, Stephen soars. But at the opening of the following chapter, he is brought down to earth once again. At the book's end, Stephen is ready to make his most daring test of his wings. Whether he will succeed like Daedalus, or fall and drown like Daedalus' too-proud son, Icarus, is left for the future.
Still others read the book's basic pattern as an analogy to the birth process. In the first chapter, the embryo is barely formed. Later, the embryo develops a heart, its sex is defined, and it finds it must leave the mother's womb to breathe the outside air. The final chapter leads up to the actual moment of birth and departure from the womb of family, religion, and country.
To further unify this novel, Joyce uses special literary devices that take the place of transitions and plot developments. One is the myth of Daedalus that underlies the novel. (See the section on the Daedalus myth.) Linked to it is another myth, that of Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angel who, out of pride, refuses to serve God.
Figures of speech-images and symbols-also help to flesh out the bare bones of the story, and to suggest tone and mood. They become a vital part of the structure, extended motifs that wind in and out of the story to lead you through the maze of Stephen's experience. (See the section on Style.)
The use of recurrent words and references to create a structure was part of Joyce's pioneer effort to express a deeper reality than that expressed by conventional narratives. Your understanding of the structure depends much on your ability to pick out and interpret the connecting material.