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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Study Guide

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man By James Joyce

Stephen Dedalus is a young man growing up in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century. Stephen gradually decides over the course of the novel to discard all of his filial, social, and religious attachments in order to more fully devote his life to writing.

As a young boy, Stephen's Irish Catholic upbringing influence him heavily; for example, he attends Clongoews Wood College, a strict religious boarding school where he is lonely and homesick. He enjoys his visits home, even though the death of Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell causes tensions in his family to run high - to the point of nearly ruining Christmas as a furious political argument breaks out.

Simon, Stephen's father, has miserable financial skills, and the family falls deep into debt. Stephen learns one summer that his family cannot afford to send him back to Clongowes; they are instead moving to Dublin. There, he attends a prestigious day school called Belvedere, where he excels in writing and acting.

Stephen has sex for the first time with a Dublin prostitute, and the shame and guilt that act instills in him causes him to discard his religious upbringing and throw himself into debauchery - including rampant masturbation, more sex with whores, gluttony, and other venial sins. Finally, on a religious retreat, he is deeply moved by a sermon about judgement and hell, and resolves to renew his dedication to Christian piety.

His devotion soon becomes so pronounced that his school's director asks him to consider entering the priesthood. He ponders, and declines on the ground that he is not built for the austerity of priestly life; he loves beauty too much. The same day, he learns that his family is moving again, for financial reasons. He walks off the news on the beach, where he spots a young beauty wading in the tide, and realizes that the love and desire of beauty should never have been a source of shame. He resolves to discard his family, his religion, and his national politics, and life his life to the fullest.

Stephen is accepted to a university, where he works to formulate his theories about art. He becomes more and more determined to free himself of his worldly attachments, eventually leaving Ireland entirely to escape them. Like the mythical Daedalus for whom he is named, Stephen hopes to build himself wings on which he can fly over his mortal existence and achieve 'true artistry'.

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Discuss james joyce application of stream of conscious technique in portrait of the artist as a young man.