A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Chapter 5, Part 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the time that has passed between chapters, Stephen’s family has become increasingly impoverished. Stephen drinks tea and looks at the pawn tickets indicating the many items the Dedalus family has had to sell to survive. The objects that remain are old and broken, like the clock that is always running fast. Stephen’s mother washes his ears and neck before he goes to class, grumbling about the university’s bad influence on his character. His parents’ bad-tempered words and the screams of a nun in a neighboring insane asylum have ruined Stephen’s mood a little, but the damp autumn smells of the street cheer him up.
Stephen continues to struggle with the sordid, difficult realities of his life at home – his life as a body that eats, sleeps, washes, uses objects, and must pay attention to the time. He feels that this life distracts him from his exalted daydreams about the life of an artist and his highly abstract and overly systematic aesthetic speculations. His family life and the life of the city seem beside the point, to some extent. He can only pay attention wholeheartedly to vague and suggestive things like autumn smells.
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Different stretches of his walk to school remind Stephen of different authors: Hauptmann, Newman, Cavalcanti (a friend of Dante’s), and Ibsen. He spends most of his time studying the aesthetics (theories on art and beauty) of Aristotle and Aquinas, but for pleasure he reads Elizabethan poems (rhymed verse from the 16th century). He spends his time searching for insight in old texts, and when he finds it he feels both intense pleasure and complete withdrawal from the world. When some clock tolls eleven, he realizes that he missed his English and French lectures and decides to wander around til his physics lecture at one.
As a child, Stephen understood the world through his senses. During his experiment in piety, he understood it via the austere rulebook of Catholicism. After his epiphany, he returned briefly and triumphantly to his senses (pun intended). Now he seems to understand the world through literature (as during his reading of the Count of Monte Cristo, but more so). These days, life reminds him of art – art being the more comprehensible and real of the two. This is yet another way of ordering the senses.
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The thought of class makes Stephen bored and restless. He thinks of the face of Cranly, his closest friend, and decides that he looks a bit like a priest. The memory of his bored friend somehow drains all the street signs of meaning, and he feels surrounded by nonsense language. He makes up a nonsense rhyme about ivy, which he dismisses scornfully, but the word ‘ivy’ sets off a lovely chain of associations and memories. He recalls a Latin phrase that means “the orator summarizes, the poet-prophets transform,” and thinks fondly of his old edition of Horace.
Stephen’s relationship to the written word is fraught, almost stormy: words either fill and define his experience or abruptly transform into nonsense. We could say that art and life do battle in his imagination – that the memory of Cranly is so vivid that words grow pale. But it might be more precise to say that they have equal standing in his imagination and braid together, each looping in and out of view.
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Stephen comes across a statue of Thomas Moore, the national poet of Ireland, which he looks at with some contempt because of Moore's sentimentality and his immigration to London. He thinks Moore is a “Firbolg in the borrowed cloak of a Milesian” – in the language of Irish national stereotypes, a crude-minded peasant masquerading as a true artist. The statue reminds him of his friend Davin, a somewhat simple-minded student from the countryside. Davin is seen at the college as a “fenian,” a radical Irish nationalist devoted to Irish heritage and hostile to European influences.
Stephen’s childhood confusion about politics has blossomed into a full-fledged indifference tinged with contempt. He seems to associate Irish nationalism with naiveté and provincialism. Art that embodies Irish national myth – incidentally, a movement championed by the poet W.B. Yeats in the first two decades of the twentieth century – does not seem to Stephen to be true or important art.
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Stephen recalls a story Davin once told him. One October night, Davin was walking home to his village through the countryside. The walk was long and lonely, so he knocked on the door of a strange house to ask for a glass of water. A woman in her nightgown invited him to stay the night, but he couldn’t bring himself to come in. As Stephen remembers this story, a flowergirl stops him and begs him to buy some of her wares, but after a moment he begins to find her revolting. He walks by a monument to Wolfe Tone, an Irish revolutionary hero, and remembers its noisy construction with aversion. The smell of wet trees and earth seems to Stephen to be the soul of the city.
As usual, Stephen’s true feelings are more complicated and conflicted than his superficial attitudes. Stephen does feel very strongly about some kind of Irishness: the mysterious, opaque, mythical Ireland of the strange woman at the door, the momentarily appealing blue eyes of the flower girl, the particular and moving smell of earth. But Stephen seems to push these feelings away and focus on his contempt for the noisy, simple-minded nationalism of the Wolfe Tone monument. He does not know how to accept the disorderly contradiction of the two feelings.
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Stephen walks to his physics classroom, where he finds the dean of studies struggling to light a fire. The man seems pathetic to Stephen – old, servile, and withered, but not at all enlightened. The dean stands up from his task and questions Stephen about his definition of beauty. Stephen quotes Aquinas, who says that the beautiful is that which pleases and that which is desired, and emphasizes that he only gives credence to ideas that are useful to him. The conversation fizzles out a little. Stephen continues thinking with pity of the dean’s cold and thankless life. They exchange a few vague pronouncements about similarities between truth and light; Stephen’s condescension is palpable. The smell of the candles and the sound of the dean’s voice mingles in Stephen’s mind with the meaning of the words.
Similarly, Stephen seems to simplify and exaggerate his interaction with the dean of studies. His apathy about his classes indicates that Stephen has developed an indifference and contempt for his formal education. He has decided against academia, so he must reinforce and prove his decision by reacting to the dean exclusively with aversion and contempt. To make matters worse, the dean is a Jesuit priest, so he represents two lifestyles Stephen has rejected: religious and academic. But Stephen's sensory distraction somehow softens and disorders his condescension.
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They continue their conversation, which trips awkwardly over linguistic confusions and distinctions. Stephen uses the word ‘tundish,’ an Irish word for ‘funnel’ that the English priest doesn’t recognize, and Stephen thinks with irritation that they are speaking a language that belongs to the priest but not entirely to Stephen: that it is a language from which he is forever alienated. To conclude, the dean advises Stephen to do what he must in order to graduate.
We see clearly here that Stephen’s frustration with Irish nationalism has a great deal to do with his artistic ambitions. Stephen wants to add to the illustrious history of literature in the English language, but he feels that his Irishness, with its colloquialisms, brogues, and distortions, partially disqualifies him from this great task.
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Soon the physics professor comes in and takes attendance, which finds Cranly absent. The lecture begins and Stephen dutifully copies down complex and puzzling formulas. Meanwhile, a student named Moynihan makes crude and irritating jokes in Stephen’s ear. Stephen has a brief vision of his professors as a stampede of variously shaped animals. The professor drones on gravely, and class soon ends.
Stephen feels comfortable in only a very narrow sliver of mental space – the high romantic abstractions of art. The dullness of academia, the crudeness of young men, and the general dirt and squalor of Dublin feel like intrusions upon this ideal, clean, perfect realm of abstractions.
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Next to the classroom door, a student named McCann sits at a table collecting signatures for Czar Nicholas II’s petition for universal peace. Cranly has been waiting outside, and he has already contributed his signature. Stephen thinks the Czar looks like an insane Christ. The friends complain to each other about Moynihan, but Cranly’s thuggish manner of speech depresses Stephen. McCann notices Stephen and pressures him to sign the petition, but Stephen proudly refuses. McCann accuses him of callousness and snobbery, but Stephen laughs him off. A student named Temple, an awkward aspiring intellectual who inspires everyone’s collective contempt, takes Stephen’s side. He follows the friends outside, where a larger group of friends is loitering.
When Stephen compares the Czar’s face to the savior’s, he is implicitly comparing blind religious devotion to blind political fanaticism. We can infer that the group mentality of the crowd of signers repels Stephen as well, like the group mentality of the Irish nationalists at the Wolfe Tone monument. Stephen is too proud initially to state clearly his reasons for refusing to sign, as though such a direct confrontation with politics would tarnish him with the dullness and practicality of real life.
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It turns out that everyone has signed the petition except Stephen. Davin asks whether Stephen considers himself an Irishman; Stephen explains that he does not want to be bound by “nationality, language, religion,” but Davin does not understand.
Here, Stephen expresses clearly that political and religious affiliations are, for him, a form of unfreedom. It is less clear what he means by including language on the list – perhaps he is alluding to Irish as a language that stops him from being able to interact with the broader world.
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When the other boys begin to play a game, Stephen and a student named Lynch walk away, talking. Stephen tells Lynch his ideas about pity and terror: pity, he says, connects the observer with the person suffering, and terror connects the observer with the root of suffering. He goes on to say that real art is static, because it raises the mind above human passions, and bad art is kinetic, because it plunges the mind into passion. The passions, he argues, are not aesthetic, because they are merely physical, like reflexes. Real art, in contrast, inspires not passions but “an ideal pity or an ideal terror.” Lynch mocks these ideas affectionately.
During his pious period, Stephen felt that his pious higher soul was distinct from his lower animal soul, consumed by bodily passions. Though at this point he has rejected the religious life and worldview, he has carried the implausible division between higher soul and lower soul into his aesthetic theories. He thinks that passions like love and hate belong to the lower soul, and are therefore unworthy of artistic attention. He sees the emotions of the higher soul as being outside place and time.
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Stephen pays little attention to Lynch and continues his dry disquisition. Art, he says, is drawn out from the sensory prison of the human body. The beautiful and the true both create a sort of exalted mental paralysis; beauty is a particular combination of the sensible (that which can be perceived by the senses), and truth is a particular combination of the intelligible (that which can be understood). To understand beauty, one must understand the structure of the imagination.
Stephen’s attitude toward the senses is quite contradictory. On one hand, he believes the senses muddle and restrict artistic creation, which is high and separate like the ghostly shape flying high over the dirty city. On the other hand, he thinks (following Aristotle and Aquinas) that beauty in art is a combination of sensory impressions, and therefore only an extension of the senses.
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Lynch, unsatisfied by these high-minded definitions, persists in asking about the nature of beauty. Stephen sighs inwardly and gives an example. Why do we find women beautiful, he asks? One answer holds that we are subconsciously attracted to their reproductive capacities, because we want to survive as a species. Stephen finds this answer depressing. He favors another theory, which holds that all beautiful entities share some universal aspects of beauty.
Stephen’s notions of beauty echo his contempt for and dissatisfaction with the body. Our ideas of beauty do not derive merely from physical needs and reflexes like Darwin’s self-preservation instinct, he says; we exist apart from and above our bodies, and our love for beauty derives from that soul space.
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They run into a plump student named Donovan and talk briefly with him about exam results and dinner; Stephen quietly mocks his mundane interests. They resume their conversation after he walks away. Stephen refers again to Aquinas, who believes that the three components of beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance. To see a basket, he says, you have to separate the basket from the rest of the world and understand it in isolation; then you must consider its structure; then you can see its radiance – the universal qualities of its beauty, as well as that which makes it unique. Stephen thinks with self-satisfaction that his words have cast an enchantment over his listener.
After expressing this theory, it is only appropriate that Stephen belittle a student for his interest in food (though we have seen Stephen himself daydream about dinner instead of paying attention in class!). In general, Stephen’s ideas about art clash, comically and poignantly, with his own experience. As he speaks his theory about separating the perceived object from all else, we can’t help but remember that Stephen understands each thing only by relating it to dozens of other objects and memories.
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Next, Stephen divides art into three forms: the lyric, which is centered on the artist; the epic, which is centered somewhere between the artist and the external world; and the dramatic, which is centered so completely on the external world (or rather its image) that the artist disappears behind the artwork. He mentions some aesthetic questions he likes to ask himself, related to the rules he has set out. “Can excrement or a child or a louse be a work of art?” Lynch thinks that these ideas are out of place on a miserable rainy afternoon, in a muddled and violent country.
Stephen himself tends to exclude random or unromantic details from his art – his personal answer seems to be: no, none of those three things (excrement, children, or lice) is art. Yet these three things do appear in the novel, in the art that James Joyce is creating: excrement in Stephen’s fantasy of hell, the children in the first sections, and the louse in Chapter 5, Part 3. When Joyce wrote this autobiographical novel many years later—in which Stephen is a stand-in for himself—his ideas were very different from Stephen’s.
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Lynch sees E____ C____ standing on the steps of the Irish academy. She had been flirting with a priest last time Stephen saw her, so he looks at her with spite. Other students talk dully about medical salaries in different parts of the country. Stephen looks at the girl again and wonders whether her life is beautiful, unconscious, and simple.
Stephen becomes ashamed of his petty anger and his tendency to over-analyze. Though he can speak very grandly and calmly about art, his inner life is neither grand nor calm. He wonders whether E____ C____‘s inner life is like the art he wants to create.
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