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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

Notes

The scene of uncle Charles smoking his cheap tobacco in a stinking outhouse is a perfect image for the power of the imagination. While in reality he is consigned to the worst place to smoke his pipe, through his imaginative efforts, he transforms it into an arbor where the sweet songs of his youth can be given play. This effort will form a major part of Stephenís idea of the function of art.

Stephen listens avidly to the talk of his elders. He repeats their words to himself and learns them "and through them," Joyce writes, "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 it. This is before his father loses his fortune. The talk of the preceding generation will both haunt Stephen and inspire his own version of what an artistís job is. He will eventually see himself as taking on the task of giving voice to Ireland in his words. This early experience listening to his fatherís generation glorify their early days will be crucial to completing that task.

Stephenís intense discomfort with his father is given full play in the description of their trip together to Cork to settle Mr. Dedalusís accounts after his bankruptcy. As the first son, he sees his fatherís fall from the middle class into poverty. He doesnít seen to have been kept informed of the events of this fall. He guesses vaguely that he has something to be ashamed of when the other boys question him about what his father does, or is. He feels the wretchedness of his rough collar in school. His fatherís bragging about his past just after being bankrupted makes Stephen miserable with shame. He has no one to look up to. His father is a foolish man who finds himself surrounded by other foolish men bragging about their past.


Stephenís attempt to make resolutions about his life after he wins the prize of thirty three pounds. With money, he feels hope. Without it, he feels despair. "He had tried to build a breakwater of order and elegance against the sordid tide of life without him and to dam up, by rules of conduct and active interests and new filial relations, the powerful recurrence of the tides within him."

The reader is signaled that Stephen has entered his adolescence with his fantasies about the ever elusive Mercedes. The ironic distance between the reader and Stephen is much greater in this chapter. His adolescent fantasies, culminating in the silly refusal of the scornful woman with the words, "Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes," will be a part of his later, young adult fantasies of women. Stephenís fantasy of Mercedes is romantic in more than one sense. It is the Yeatsian version of romanticism--the fantasy of leaving the material body behind and being transformed into something greater. In Stephenís case, it is leaving his weak and timid body behind and becoming something better.

The decline of the familyís fortunes was signaled in chapter one with Stephenís worries over his classmatesí questions of what his father does for a living. In Chapter two and hereafter, the family gets poorer and poorer, ultimately leaving the middle class behind entirely. The effect of this class fall on Stephen as an artist is interesting to examine. It makes him fantasize about transcending the real world. It attracts him to a theory of art that does this. Joyce is quite aware of this connection. He has Stephen attempt to write a poem about Parnell on the back of a late payment notice of his fatherís. The early poems which Stephen writes--or attempts to write--suffer from his aesthetic theory (his theory of how art should be made). HE seems to be operating on a vaguely romantic theory of art in his early years, one which calls for a transcendence of the material world in favor of the sublime and lofty. When Stephen writes the poem "To E.___ C.___," he takes out all the vivid detail as unimportant to the scene, he even takes out the two figures of he and she. He then makes art fix life he gets the kiss! Later, he will try to find a way to incorporate all of life, the sordid and the sublime. The novel accomplishes what Stephen theorizes.

The last event of the chapter, Stephenís loss of his virginity to a prostitute is written in Joyceís gentle irony. Stephen is feminized in the scene and then he feels that he gains mastery. While the womanís femininity is recognized in her dress, sash and stockings--her "vanities"--Stephen feels as if "he had yielded to her a thousand times." Stephenís fantasies about Mercedes and E.C. have had a similar doubleness. He thinks of them as ethereal creatures (Mercedes is one, a production of his imagination.), and then he also thinks of them as sexual objects. His relief and joy at the embrace of the prostitute seem to reveal the lonerís desire for oneness.

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