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Free Study Guide-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 2

Summary

Uncle Charles smokes such cheap tobacco that Simon suggests he begin smoking in the outhouse. Uncle Charles readily agrees, saying the garden and the outhouse are very serene. Every morning after that, uncle Charles goes to the outhouse, but first he dresses carefully. While he smokes, his tall hat and the end of his pipe are barely visible over the wall of the outhouse. He calls the outhouse his arbor. He likes to sing in it. He sings songs such as "O, twine me a bower," "Blue eyes and golden hair," and "The Groves of Blarney."

Stephen spends all his time with uncle Charles during the first part of the summer in Blackrock. Stephen accompanies his uncle when he takes messages between the house in Carysfort Avenue and the shops with which his family deals in the main street of the town. Charles helps himself to the contents of the open boxes and barrels of shops. He hands Stephen handfuls of grapes or apples while the shop man stands by uneasily. He insists Stephen take them, saying they are good for his bowels. When they have booked their orders, they go to the park together and see an old friend of Simonís named Mike Flynn. Stephen runs around the park while Mike Flynn stands at the gate with a stop watch. After the morningís practice, Flynn gives Stephen suggestions and even demonstrates by running a couple of yards. Children and nursemaids gather around watching and they even stay to hear uncle Charles and Mike Flynn sit down and discuss politics and sports. Stephen had heard his father talk about Mike Flynnís experience training the best runners of modern times, but seeing his flabby face and his "lustreless eyes," Stephen mistrusts the truth of this.

On the way home, uncle Charles visits the chapel and prays. He dips his hand in the font and sprinkles holy water all over Stephenís clothes and on the floor. Stephen kneels beside him "respecting, though he did not share, his piety." He wonders what it was that uncle Charles prays about, if it is for the souls in purgatory or for getting back the big fortune he had squandered in Cork.


On Sundays, Stephen goes with his father and uncle Charles on their constitutional (walk). They often walk as much as ten or twelve miles. They walk to the village of Stillorgan and then either go towards the Dublin mountains or along the Goasttown road and then to Dundrum. When Stephen walks with them or stands with them at pubs, he hears their constant talk of Irish politics, of Munster, and of the legends of their own family. Stephen listens avidly. "Words he did not understand he said over and over to himself till he had learned them by heart and through them he had glimpses of the real world about him." Stephen thinks the time is coming soon when he will take part in the exciting events of the world. He imagines he will play a great part in them.

In the evenings, Stephen reads "The Count of Monte Cristo" and, for him, a figure of the dark avenger stands for everything he hears of the strange and terrible. On the parlor table, he builds a model of the wonderful island cave with paper flowers and colored tissue paper and strips of silver and gold paper of his chocolate wrappers. He always has an image in his mind of a girl named Mercedes. There is a whitewashed house outside of Blackrock and he imagines that another Mercedes lives there. In his imagination, he lives through a long train of adventures and at the end of all of them, he is older and sadder and he stands in a moonlit garden with Mercedes who had slighted him years before and says to her, "Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes."

Stephen becomes close friends with a boy named Aubrey Mills. They gather a group of boys together. Each boy has something dangling from his belt to represent a weapon. Stephen, however, had once read that Napoleon cultivated a plain style of dress, and so refrains from all ornamentation. The gang runs around the neighborhood having adventures or runs up to the castle and fights battles on the lawn. Aubrey and Stephen ride with the milkman out to the Carrickmines where the cows graze in the fields. He and Aubrey ride a mare around while the men do the milking. In Autumn, Stephen is horrified to see the conditions of the cows when they are moved from the fields to the filthy cow yard.

Stephen is not bothered by September this year since he will not be sent back to Clongowes. He has to stop practicing running in the park when Mike Flynn goes into the hospital. Aubrey goes to school and has only a couple of hours a day for playing. Stephen goes with the milk car at night sometimes for deliveries. These drives blow away his memory of the filthy cow yard and repugnance for the milk. When they stop at a house, Stephen likes to look into well-scrubbed kitchens or to see how the servant holds the milk jug. He thinks being a milkman would be a pleasant life. Yet he has a sense of foreknowledge that his life will not ever be this way.

Stephen has a vague understanding that his father is in financial trouble. This is why he was not sent back to Clongowes. He has felt slight changes in the house for some time "and these changes in what he had deemed unchangeable were so many slight shocks to his boyish conception of the world." His ambition seeks no outlet. "The dusk of the outer world obscured his mind."

He broods on the image of Mercedes and feels a strange unrest in his blood. Sometimes he feels a fever inside him and he responds by walking the avenue in the evening. The peaceful gardens quiet him. He is annoyed by the noise of children at play, and he feels even more than he did while at Clongowes that he is different. He doesnít want to play. "He wanted to meet in the real world the insubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld." He does not know where or how to seek this image, but he has a premonition that this image will encounter him. They would meet quietly in some secret place and in a "moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes . . . " He would no longer be weak, timid, or inexperienced.

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