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Free Study Guide-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

Chapter One traces Stephen Dedalusís life from infancy to a boyhood spent in boarding school at Clongowes Wood College for boys. The first scenes are almost pre-verbal. They are filled with the sounds of words more than their meaning. Stephen hears nursery rhymes. When he tries to repeat them, he makes the kinds of sound variations predictable in a child who has yet to master certain enunciations. Stephen experiences his parents mainly in their smells and in the sounds they make.

When he enters Clongowes, he seems too young to cope with the rough world of young boys subjected to the rudeness of older boys and the foreign logic of adult wisdom. He becomes sick with a fever after another boy pushes him into a ditch in winter. His fever heightens his perceptions so that he hears the sounds of the heater, of the cricket game outside, of the boysí noise intensely. He is sent to the infirmary where he fantasizes his death and mixes it up with the death of the great Irish states person, Parnell.

When he goes home for Christmas holiday, he witnesses a heated argument between his father, his fatherís friend, and his motherís friend, Dante Riordan over Parnellís excommunication for committing adultery. Mrs. Riordan uses the language of the Bible and the church while Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey use the language of the body.


When Stephen returns to school, he is unjustly hit by a priest who accuses him of breaking his glasses on purpose so he canít study in class. He is humiliated by this public punishment and, after dinner, goes up to the schoolís rector to speak on his own behalf against the injustice of the priestís punishment. The rector hears him seriously and Stephen is treated as a hero by his fellow students.

Chapter Two opens in Blackrock where Stephen has returned to live with his family. He spends most of his days with Uncle Charles running errands in town for the family. He also spends his time with Aubrey Mills, a boy from his neighborhood. The boys play romantic adventure games together and ride out to the countryside in the milk car to pick up and then deliver milk. Stephen develops a fantasy figure of a woman named Mercedes. He imagines vague scenes of connection and renunciation. Suddenly, the house is taken apart, the furniture sold, and the family moved to Dublin. Uncle Charles is now senile. Stephen is left to his own devices. He explores Dublin freely in embittered silence.

He meets a girl whom he names only as E.C. and writes a vague poem about her. After two years of free time, his father manages to get him and his younger brother into Belvedere, another Jesuit institution for boys. He finds out that Father Conmee, the rector of Clongowes with whom Stephen had spoken about Father Dolanís unjust punishment, has made a joke about his confrontation. Stephenís father laughs about it.

After two years, Stephen is in a Whitsuntide play, acting the role of one of his professors. He has become one of the top students at Belvedere. He has been reading satires and writing essays. His favorite prose writer is Newman and his favorite poet is Byron. Once, when three of his schoolmates told him Byron was a bad poet since he was immoral, Stephen refused to give him up as his model even to the point of being beaten for his views. Now when he sees the boy who beat him, he feels no anger. He gains the other boysí admiration by being ironical about church doctrine.

Stephen accompanies his father to Cork to settle the accounts of his estate after his bankruptcy. Stephen is humiliated as his fatherís drunken boasts of his former glory. When he returns home, he wins an essay prize and spends a few weeks living high on the money, buying things for his family, and making high- minded resolutions about his life. When the money runs out, he feels even more demoralized.

At the end of the chapter, Stephen is in the room of a prostitute and when she embraces him, he cries with joy.

Chapter Three opens with a description of Stephenís now common habit of having sex with prostitutes. However, at Belvedere, he is a prefect of the college of the sodality of the Virgin Mary whose duty it is to lead younger students through theological exercises.

When one of the priests of his college announces a weekend retreat Stephen suddenly feels panic. He knows he will be made to feel the guilt of his double life. The priestís subject for the retreat is the beginning and the end, from the Garden of Eden to the Day of Judgment and Hell. He describes hell so thoroughly that Stephen suffers a panic attack. He feels so traumatized by the description that he has a near hallucination that he is already dead and in hell.

He rushes to a chapel far away from the college and confesses everything to a kind priest who urges him to give up this particular kind of sin and gives him penance to perform. Stephen fervently promises to be true to the church henceforth.

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