A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Themes and Colors
Soul and Body Theme Icon
Innocence and Experience Theme Icon
Literature and Life Theme Icon
Order and the Senses Theme Icon
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Order and the Senses Theme Icon

During his childhood, Stephen lives by his senses: he understands the people and things around him only by the way they look, sound, smell, or feel. The novel suggests that to child Stephen, his mother is her good smell, and nighttime is the chill of the sheets. His attention always veers toward detail: when he learns that Simon Moonan did something forbidden and homosexual with some other boys, he can only understand the news by thinking of Simon’s nice clothes and fancy candy. He has trouble with abstractions and categories; he does not clearly understand the meaning of the York-Lancaster competition in his math class, but he thinks intently of the colors of the handkerchiefs and award cards. When he tries to think of the idea of god or the organization of the planet during study hall, “it made him feel tired,” and he focuses instead on the colors of the map.

In his adolescence, Stephen remains preoccupied with sensory detail, but his relationship to it becomes much more troubled. As he develops abstract thinking, he begins to ask himself large questions like: Are priests always good? What is sin? What is greatness? What is Ireland? The questions force him to try to order and interpret his experience, which reveals puzzling contradiction and unintelligible variety. At this point in his maturation, his talent for observation surpasses his interpretative abilities. In other words, he sees and hears and smells a great deal but he can’t quite make sense of it. For relief, he first turns to old novels and poetry, which present a somewhat simplified and romantic picture of love and honor; then he turns to religion, with its rigid and reliable rules; and finally to academia and aesthetics, which also provide frameworks for understanding. None of these is quite faithful to Stephen’s actual experience, which always exceeds the frameworks with intense, mysterious sensory and emotional detail. By the end of the novel, Stephen is ready to leave behind the mistakes of his adolescence and to create a new framework, “to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience.”

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Order and the Senses Quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Below you will find the important quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man related to the theme of Order and the Senses.
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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Chapter 2, Part 1 Quotes

He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how: but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

As his summer back at home comes to a close and September arrives, Stephen's new gang of friends disbands and he's left to wander alone. As he's passing a group of other children playing, he becomes irritated by the noises they make and their "silly voices," remarking that they reinforce his sense of being different from others.

At a young age, Stephen already has a uniquely vibrant life of the mind. Instead of wanting to engage in the triviality and simpleness of children's play, he's bent on pursuing an intensely spiritual ambition--to find in the external world something that mirrors the most private and internal, "unsubstantial image" which his soul always beholds. He wants to attach the intangible and inexplicable passion of his soul to a real object in life, for this would not only support and satisfy that passion, but it would also give that passion a real, objective existence which he could observe in the outer world.

From the way this passage is narrated, we may reason that Stephen wouldn't actually be thinking in these abstract spiritual or philosophical terms, but rather that the narration is working to explain Steven's unconscious thought processes and motivations. For we read that Steven does "not know where [or how] to seek" the image of his soul's deep longing, but rather that an elusive, instinctual "premonition" leads him--almost unconsciously and beyond his control--towards something in life that will become a mirror to his soul.

Chapter 2, Part 2 Quotes

He was angry with himself for being young and the prey of restless foolish impulses, angry also with the change of fortune which was reshaping the world about him into a vision of squalor and insincerity. Yet his anger lent nothing to his vision. He chronicled with patience what he saw, detaching himself from it and testing its mortifying flavor in secret.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Having recently moved to Dublin due to his family's financial complications, Stephen is beginning to see some of his idealistic thinking about life being challenged by his changing circumstances.

Angry with his youthfulness and sense of powerlessness at the hands of his "foolish impulses," Stephen is embittered by the way his new environment has altered his previous view of the world. He seems angry at the sheer fact that his circumstances have radically changed, but also that he didn't anticipate beforehand that such change might occur. For Stephen, the youthful sense that what's good in life is somehow guaranteed to last has been shattered. He's left disappointed, paradoxically, in both the way he thinks and for how the world has forced his thought to change. Essentially, he's troubled by how his external circumstances are able to shape his internal life, which he likes to view as pristine and unchangeable.

Yet Stephen is committed to objectively "chronicling" his "vision." Despite his youthful disappointment, he still displays a certain emotional intelligence: the desire to detach himself from his visceral anger and objectively observe his surroundings.

Chapter 2, Part 5 Quotes

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. Useless. From without as from within the water had flowed over his barriers: their tides began once more to jostle fiercely above the crumbled mole.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

After winning money in an academic competition, Stephen embarks on a highly indulgent spending spree. After he's squandered all his earnings, we read this quote.

Stephen's excessive spending was an attempt to achieve an ordered, constant experience of pleasure, satisfaction and psychological stability over and against the extreme lust and inner passions which force him to desire and think in ways that detach him from the everyday social world.

This attempt proves futile. The "mole" or tide-barrier he tries to build crumbles; the tides of his obscure passions are reinvigorated and once again take up their place in his psychic life. There's a sense that Stephen's soul is fated to express itself in such an extreme, tidal form.

Chapter 3, Part 1 Quotes

It was his own soul going forth to experience, unfolding itself sin by sin, spreading abroad the balefire of its burning stars and folding back on itself, fading slowly, quenching its own lights and fires. They were quenched: and the cold darkness filled chaos.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage occurs when we read that Stephen is planning to visit an area where prostitutes typically work. He has recently had sex for the first time (with a prostitute), and now he again wants to visit the prostitutes' quarter of town. After the brief passage where these plans are narrated, we suddenly move to a page of Stephen's "scribbler," where an equation he's writing is growing larger and larger.

The fact that "it"--the equation--"was his own soul going forth to experience" suggests the immediacy Stephen feels the equation has with his psyche. Stephen sees the trajectory, rhythm, and psychological patterning of his own desire as symbolically unfolding in the structure of the equation. The equation goes forth towards experience: its variables are given input values, then it unfolds itself, being solved and simplified.

The movement of the equation has a notably sexual, phallic structure, which says something about the movement of Stephen's soul or--the same thing--how his desire unfolds. Steven's desire goes forth into experience, expands with the particular values of the world, then reaches an apex where his soul and the external world meet--like when an equation (the soul) is solved given particular input values (external stimuli from the outer world)--and then folds back upon itself and "fades" into a simplified form.

Further, the passage that precedes this quote is so abstract and dreamlike, and intermingled with references other than mathematics--such as a peacock's tail expanding, the "cycle of starry life," music, the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley--that we might understand this scene to be not depicting a concrete event (i.e., Stephen writing an equation), but rather symbolizing some deep structure common to the different, "real" moments of Stephen's life.

A cold lucid indifference reigned in is soul. At his first violent sin he had felt a wave of vitality pass out of him and had feared to find his body or his soul maimed by the excess. Instead the vital wave had carried him on its bosom out of himself and back again when it receded: and no part of body or soul had been maimed but a dark peace had been established between them.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This occurs shortly after the last quote, just after we read about the equation in Stephen's "scribbler."

Stephen had expected his "first violent sin"--his first time having sex--to lure part of his innermost being and soul out of him and into the physical world, to the extent that his soul would be injured by over-stretching itself ("maimed by the excess"). In the sense of sex, this would be the physical exertion of an internal energy and desire, or "wave of vitality." Stephen had anticipated that this would overextend the contours of his soul, but finds instead that he's left with a "cold lucid indifference." For, instead of expanding within the boundaries of Stephen's soul, the sinful expenditure of the wave of vitality carried him "out of himself and back again when it receded."

This journey out of, and back into, himself, could therefore only leave behind an "indifference," not a pain--for it did not over-flex the borders of his soul, therefore avoiding injury, but also bringing with it no true joy or enlightenment.

Chapter 4, Part 1 Quotes

The world for all its substance and complexity no longer existed for his soul save as a theorem of divine power and love and universality.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Stephen has confessed his sins and begun to adopt an extraordinarily pious lifestyle. He feels that he has changed his life and worldview altogether in fully embracing Christianity and giving up his lustful desires.

The world has ceased to exist for Stephen's soul, for the purposes and intentions of his own life, but rather stands before him as something abstractly divine and expressive of a reality greater than that of his own, particular and human perceptions of reality. The world exists for him only as a "theorem," as something outside of him, an omnipresent, higher reality which exists for his never-ending contemplation.

Here, the traces of Stephen's earlier perversions of thought and desire seem erased. It would seem that he's whittled his own, internal sense of imagination and desire down to the bone, to be left facing the vast expanse of an external reality more enduring and real than the unstable, tidal fluctuations of his former desires. This doesn't last for long, however. After disciplining his senses (by forcing himself to endure putrid odors, to sleep in painful positions, fasting, and other means), Stephen finds new things to be guilty about, such as his feelings of annoyance and anger. Eventually, his old sense of guilt returns to keep him constant company, though in a new, religiously-oriented light.

Chapter 4, Part 2 Quotes

It was a grave and ordered and passionless life that awaited him, a life without material cares. … At once from every part of his being unrest began to irradiate. A feverish quickening of his pulses followed and a din of meaningless words drove his reasoned thoughts hither and thither confusedly. … Some instinct, waking at these memories, stronger than education or piety, quickened within him at every near approach to that life, an instinct subtle and hostile, and armed him against acquiescence. The chill and order of the life repelled him.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Having devoted himself to a highly restrained and pious lifestyle, Stephen has been so exemplary in his religious studies that he has caught the attention of the director at Belvedere.This passage occurs after Stephen has been encouraged to join the priesthood.

When faced with the reality of becoming a priest, however, Stephen recoils. He has obsessively submitted himself to his faith and found a kind of peace, distancing himself from his sinful and guilt-ridden past, but the prospect of taking his new way of living to the next level--to the "grave and ordered and passionless life" of being a priest--suddenly unsettles him.

The narrator describes a profound "instinct" in Stephen that is "stronger than education or piety"--that's not a direct product of his religious education--and which propels him to decline any future as a priest. This instinct seems to be something that stems purely from Stephen's psyche or soul--an instinct that isn't mediated by the wishes or concerns of others. It seems that the appearance and heeding of this instinct is the first instance of Stephen's mature independence as a thinker and creative artist.

Chapter 4, Part 3 Quotes

Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism of a language manycoloured and richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Brimming with independence and possibility after declining his offer to become a priest--and growing impatient after waiting an hour for his father to return from a meeting with a tutor at Trinity College--Stephen sets off for a walk, at which point this quote occurs.

Thinking of the phrase "A day of dappled seaborne clouds," Stephen delights in how it harmonizes with the day and the scene he is observing. He then wonders what, exactly, it is about words that delights him so much. Having moved on from his strict religious lifestyle, this is one of the first purely artistic and poetic considerations with which we see Stephen engage.

Does he enjoy the pure rhythm of words, or the metaphorical meanings generated by their "associations of legend and colour?" Or does he not care at all about language in either sense--both of which value words as things that representexternal phenomena of the world? (In these senses words would do this by reflecting the "glowing sensible world through the prism of language," by either creating an effect which resembles the cyclic time and pacing of the external world--rhythm--or by associating different elements of the external world in order to metaphorically create meaning.) Does he derive less pleasure from these activities of words--which reflect the external world in language--than from using words to explore "an inner world of individual emotions?"

Whatever the answer is, we see Stephen grappling here, jovially but seriously, for the first time, with a purely aesthetic inquiry, and moving towards his artistic epiphany.

Chapter 5, Part 1 Quotes

The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I use the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Walking and conversing with Lynch, Stephen here offers his opinions on aesthetic philosophy.

Proper art, for Stephen, does not get caught up in the binaries of desire vs. loathing, or attraction-to vs. repulsion-from. These, being "kinetic emotions," are improper because they fail to fundamentally change and "arrest" the viewing mind, to send the mind beyond the simplicity of binary thinking into a more transcendent state of reflection. Higher, proper art, does just that (according to Stephen's theory). Because this latter kind of art doesn't inspire a movement-towards or a springing-back in the viewing mind, but rather leads the mind to be "raised above desire and loathing," above forwardness and backwardness, it's called "static." The static arts keep the mind in one place, but simultaneously change its point of view--inspiring a feeling that can only be brought about by pure artistic beauty.

Here, Stephen's new fascination with aesthetic philosophy shines through in his relationship to his peers. The topic of the relation between the mind and the work of art is incredibly important to him. It's not just an empty, intellectual topic for him, but something incredibly real. In a way, all his life he has been concerned with the the mind and art, or the mind and something beautiful outside of it. This fascination dates back to the visceral desire of his childhood to find the "unsubstantial image" of his soul reflected in the external world. Most recently, we see this fascination grip him when he challenges himself to be open to the "flying winged form" as an external symbol of his destiny--an openness which results in a transcendent ecstasy proper to the power of "static" art.

As is usual in Portrait, however, stepping outside of Stephen's consciousness is necessary to fully appreciate the work. While Joyce presents this as one valid aesthetic theory, it is also one he pokes fun at (through the very nature of Stephen's pretentious lecturing) and that he clearly doesn't always adhere to himself. While Stephen seeks to create art that is entirely removed from both that which is appealing and that which is repulsive, in his Modernist approach to revealing life in all its aspects, Joyce embraces the "pornographic," the "didactic," and the purely "proper" art of Stephen's "aesthetic arrest."

… though the same object may not seem beautiful to all people, all people who admire a beautiful object find in it certain relations which satisfy and coincide with the stages themselves of all esthetic apprehension. These relations of the sensible, visible to you through one form and to me through another, must be therefore the necessary qualities of beauty.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Following shortly after the previous quote, Stephen says this in continued conversation with Lynch.

Here, Stephen's studious involvement with aesthetic philosophy is further revealed. Stephen is defending a philosophical view which claims that beauty can be defined universally, or, in other words, that such a thing as "absolute" or "pure" beauty is real, and that its reality or existence is not contradicted by the fact that two or more individuals can disagree about whether the same piece of artwork is beautiful or not. Just because two individuals may view the same work of art differently--one finding it beautiful and the other not--does not contradict the possibility that absolute beauty exists. For, as Stephen's reasoning implies, whenever anyone views something as beautiful, though one person views beauty in form X and the other in form Y, "beauty" has nonetheless appeared equally to the two people, despite the different material forms in which it appeared.

That Stephen has come to understand beauty in this abstract sense--its definition removed from the particular forms of art, but dependent instead upon the quality of an individual's relationship to an artwork--suggests the potential complexity and richness of his new mental life as an artist. Further, it displays his (still adolescent and rather selfish) desire to remain detached from established social orders; by defining beauty as something which is not definable in terms of individual taste, he refuses to align himself with a rigid school of thought or artistic order that defines beauty in terms of concrete particulars, but instead insists on his own individual, independent theory.