A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Music Symbol Analysis

Music Symbol Icon
Stephen often evokes music to describe the intuitive, mysterious loveliness of certain experiences: the sound of the gas pipes at Clongowes is a song, the wheels of the train to Cork beat out a rhythmic music, the words in poems sound out melodies, memory itself is like music. Music also signals moments of transition and discovery; a simple melody turns Stephen away from the priesthood and reminds him of his artistic ambitions. More generally, music represents a loosening of boundaries: “the music passed in an instant, as the first bars of sudden music always did, over the fantastic fabrics of his mind, dissolving them painlessly and noiselessly as a sudden wave dissolves the sandbuilt turrets of children.” Stephen responds strongly and intuitively to music, and it helps restore his childlike, artistic connection to the world around him.

Music Quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man quotes below all refer to the symbol of Music. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Soul and Body Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the St. Martin's Press edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man published in 1993.
Chapter 1, Part 2 Quotes

The fire rose and fell on the wall. It was like waves. Someone had put coal on and he heard voices. They were talking. It was the noise of the waves. Or the waves were talking among themselves as they rose and fell.

Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen has fallen ill at Clongowes, and Brother Michael has just put him to bed. Stephen plans to return home the following day.

Here we see Joyce's talent for exposing the dreamlike and free-associative thought processes of a child's mind. The rising and falling of fire on a wall spurs Stephen to associate its rhythmic ebbing to the motion of ocean waves. Human voices that might be occurring out of sight suddenly become blended with the waves in Stephen's sight--waves which are, "in reality," the flowing shadows of the fire. But, it seems as if in this child's mind--in Stephen's mind--what counts as "real" is constantly morphing.

Though Stephen initially begins by seeing fire on the wall, this first impression does not stand out as a baseline of reality for his future thoughts to be measured against. Rather, the appearance of the fire shifts into the appearance of waves; voices (supposedly human) are heard; the voices become the natural noise of the waves; then, finally, it seems possible to Stephen that the waves--half fire, half ocean--have voices and are communicating.

This scene provides an early taste for the often dreamlike textures and free-associative chains of thought which will really come to the fore in certain sections of the novel--even when Stephen is a young adult.

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Music Symbol Timeline in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The timeline below shows where the symbol Music appears in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1, Part 1
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
...is walking along a neighboring road, where a woman named Betty always sells candy and sings an old song. Stephen’s mind drifts to the song, which reminds him of the sensations... (full context)
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Icon
...eat his eyes if he doesn’t apologize for his accidental profanity. Stephen makes a little song out of the threatening words. (full context)
Chapter 2, Part 3
Soul and Body Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
...the muffled noise and lights of the theatre from a comfortable distance. From afar, the music perfectly expresses his confused feeling, and he feels his emotions flow outward from him. (full context)
Chapter 2, Part 4
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
...pray, but finds he can’t pray to any god, and his prayer takes on the music and rhythm of the train wheels. (full context)
Chapter 4, Part 2
Soul and Body Theme Icon
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Icon
...consider the matter very carefully. As they shake hands, Stephen hears a lovely snatch of melody from outside; suddenly, the priest’s face looks lifeless and bleak. After he has left, he... (full context)
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
...a house, because they will soon be evicted from their current home. They all begin singing a song together, as they often do, and Stephen joins them. He notes how the... (full context)
Chapter 4, Part 3
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
...he walks, Stephen looks at Dublin in delight, and feels memories overwhelm him like lovely music. Suddenly, he hears his friends calling his name. They have been swimming in the chilly... (full context)
Chapter 5, Part 2
Soul and Body Theme Icon
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
...talking to E____ C____ at a party; she had asked him to play piano and sing, which he did gladly, but afterwards he negated the charm of the songs with sarcasm.... (full context)
Chapter 5, Part 3
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Icon
...the punishment of a vindictive god. Just then, the young men hear a servant woman singing an old Irish song, and Cranly says in Latin: “a woman sings.” The beauty of... (full context)