A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Theme Analysis

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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
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Stephen grows up in an atmosphere of political and religious controversy. The late 19th century was a turbulent time in Ireland. The beloved separatist leader Parnell, exposed as an adulterer and condemned by the Catholic Church in 1891, divided the nation just as he divided the Dedalus Christmas dinner in the novel. Throughout his childhood and adolescence Stephen feels the pull of worldly causes, hears a chorus of voices instructing him to join this group or that. But as he becomes more and more absorbed into his elaborate inner life, he determines to ignore the voices and pursue his own thoughts. Though religious piety briefly gives him respite from shame and confusion, he finds it impossible to confine himself to the narrow religious perspective. When he turns away from religion, he feels a soaring sense of freedom. Similarly, he turns away from conventional Irish nationalism and other popular political causes, intuiting that they will constrict his intellectual and emotional life. Yet, though the ‘fenianism’ of his compatriots does not appeal to him, he aspires to express with his writing another, subtler sort of Irishness, “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

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Religion, Nationality, and Freedom ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Religion, Nationality, and Freedom appears in each chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Religion, Nationality, and Freedom 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 Religion, Nationality, and Freedom.
Chapter 2, Part 3 Quotes

While his mind had been pursuing its intangible phantoms and turning in irresolution from such pursuit he had heard about him the constant voices of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good catholic above all things. … And it was the din of all these hollowsounding voices that made him halt irresolutely in the pursuit of phantoms. He gave them ear only for a time but he was happy only when he was far from them, beyond their call, alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

After Doyle--the stage manager of the play in the gymnasium at Belvedere--sends for Stephen to get ready for his appearance on stage, Heron remarks that Doyle is an underclassman and therefore has no right to give Stephen an order. This passage explores Stephen's reaction to such claims to authority and hierarchy.

The spiritual and poetic yearnings of Stephen's thought are constantly checked by his schoolmasters, who say that being a "gentleman" and a "good catholic" are the highest pursuits of the mind. The voices of his teachers--always speaking from a position of authority about what is worthy and unworthy, right and wrong--become "hollowsounding" to Stephen, as they invoke qualities such as gentlemanliness as if they were universal, as if their meaning didn't vary per person, place, and time. His masters, invoking such meaningless pursuits with such seriousness, seem aloof from the much realer and more intense passion which fuels Stephen's mind towards its "phantoms." Contrasted with Stephen's vivid inner life and the severe persistence of his involvement in poetic and spiritual striving, his masters' and Heron's reliance on authority and social hierarchy to forge meaning in their lives seems to Stephen to be vapid and lacking substance.


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Chapter 3, Part 2 Quotes

And remember, my dear boys, that we have been sent into this world for one thing and for one thing alone: to do God’s holy will and to save our immortal souls. All else is worthless. One thing alone is needful, the salvation of one’s soul. What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffer the loss of his immortal soul?

Related Characters: Father Arnall (speaker), Father Arnall
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is spoken by Father Arnall, when he explains the schedule for and religious purpose behind the retreat in celebration of St. Francis Xavier.

This is a relatively placid statement compared to the horror he will preach in his following two sermons on hell. This declaration by Father Arnall emphasizes the immense priority which Stephen's religious upbringing places on sacrificing oneself to God's will and to purifying one's soul. Absolutely nothing else in life has any kind of comparable value.

The following two sermons--on the physical and spiritual tortures of hell--will throw Stephen into a life-changing panic. In response, Stephen will adopt a lifestyle that adheres to the emphasis Arnall places on sacrifice and purity. However, though Stephen will eventually move on from his religion, he will still retain a belief and connection to the power of the soul. While it won't be a soul that sacrifices itself to the Holy Spirit in order to gain purchase on an entrance to heaven, it will be a soul that Stephen tries to ecstatically fill with the reality of life, of external experience, in order to plant within him seeds which will grow into authentic, poetic thought. This openness to external reality will require a different kind of sacrifice: Stephen's willingness to put aside the continuity and stability of his identity in order to fill himself with the foreign realities of the world. Such a sacrifice is not made in virtue of a higher God, but of an ecstatic process of creation which Steven comes to hold in as equally high a regard.

Chapter 3, Part 3 Quotes

But does that part of the body understand or what? The serpent, the most subtle beast of the field. … Who made it to be like that, a bestial part of the body able to understand bestially and desire bestially? Was that then he or an inhuman thing moved by a lower soul than his soul? His soul sickened at the thought of a torpid shaky life feeding itself out of the tender marrow of his life and fattening upon the slime of lust.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage narrates Stephen's thoughts as he walks to the chapel to confess that he's committed sin (fornication).

Here, Stephen is fundamentally questioning the nature of his relationship to his own sexuality. The serpent, serving as a phallic metaphor for the male sex organ, gives an image to the base, earthly, "bestial" quality which Stephen associates with his sexuality. "But what does that part of the body understand," the narrator asks--underscoring the divide between Stephen's physical body and soul--for the physical mechanism of the male sex organ seems to operate separately from the psyche/soul, separately from conscious control.

Stephen wonders, therefore, how he is related to that sexual mechanism which is separate from what he identifies as "himself." "Was that then he" or something "inhuman" moved by a separate, "lower" soul? Stephen is disgusted by this thought--that another source of life, fundamentally different than him, is attached to his body in an almost parasitic fashion, siphoning Stephen's energy for its own foreign, sexual means, and "fattening upon the slime of lust."

Instead of considering the autonomy of his sexual organs to be controlled by unconscious, physiological functions that are instinctual and morally neutral, Stephen assigns the genitalia an infernal quality.

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

His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders. … He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Occurring shortly after the previous quote and reinforcing the "instinct" mentioned in the latter, this quote reveals the radical independence and intellectual freedom integral to Stephen's own sense of destiny.

Here, the instinct Stephen felt that was "beyond education or piety"--that was unique to Stephen's own desire, and the heeding of which was perhaps the first moment of Stephen's maturity--has unfurled into the shape and meaning of his destiny: to remain outside of established social and religious orders. Stephen's heeding of that instinct--supposedly unique to him and not mediated by external influence--has set the stage for the rest of his life (or so he feels, at least--the melodramatic nature of his thought process here is also gently mocked by Joyce). Instead of joining the priesthood, he must learn his own wisdom and continue to learn it in his own way, or from others he intersects with on his own unique, independent path--but not out of thoughtless submission to figures of authority.

Chapter 4, Part 3 Quotes

This was the call of life to his soul, not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Following shortly after the previous quote, this passage occurs after Stephen's epiphany about Daedalus and the sight of the winged flying form.

For the first time in his life, Stephen has seemingly pierced through the veil of external social influences ("the dull gross voice of the world of duties") and forged his own unique relationship with life. The "call of life" beckons his soul in this epiphany--and not the mere hollow, "inhuman" and lifelessly authoritative voice that had encouraged him to become a priest.

Stephen is reborn as something independent of religion, nationality, and family. Acceding in a moment of ecstasy--in "an instant of wild flight" out of himself--to the individual connection he has with the world around him, he realizes the capacity for his creativity, for his soul's inborn relationship with external reality and his ensuing ability to, with an artistic authenticity, speak about it.

Chapter 5, Part 1 Quotes

The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen, Temple, and Cranly, after leaving a conversation with MacAlister, MacCann, and Moynihan, arrive in an alley where other students are playing cricket. Running into Davin there and beginning a conversation with him, Stephen speaks this quote in response to Davin's request that he act more like an Irishman.

Here, Stephen echoes his newly discovered independence and freedom--the sense that "his destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders." He declares that the birth of the soul is an extremely mysterious event, but that, when a soul is born in Ireland, the profound mystery of that birth is covered--the independence and uniqueness of a soul's flight from its own mysterious origins is netted in the dull, meaningless conventions of nationality, language, and religion. Stephen wants to avoid getting caught in these traps at all costs.

While Stephen feels that he is being true to himself, his artistic vision, and his theory of aesthetics, at the same time, of course, he is also being rather insufferable here, and discounting others' experiences for not adhering to his own ideal.

Chapter 5, Part 3 Quotes

I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen, out on a walk with Cranly, offers this response when Cranly asks if he would ever deflower a virgin.

Dodging the question, and thereby avoiding having to admit his prior sins of sexual impurity, Stephen nonetheless replies with a kind of roundabout truth and dignity. Growing tired of Cranly's meticulous, particular questions about what he believes and what sins he would or would not commit--as if these were sufficient to unmask the whole of his character--Stephen gives this reply. He doesn't say what he would or wouldn't do in terms of concrete particulars, but rather in terms of principle. Stephen will no longer abide by belief systems and authorities with which he disagrees--regardless if they claim to be integral to his heritage. Further, he will dedicate himself to artistically expressing himself as freely as possible, using only his wits to defend his vision.

Having assumed the role of an artist--with its principled yet open and broad manner of thinking--Stephen shapes his response in a way that preserves the mystique of his character. Although Stephen, almost immediately after, admits to Cranly: "you made me confess to you," he never confirms in straightforward language what, exactly, he's confessed. Stephen may be interpreted as 1. either silently nodding to Cranly in the affirmative (that yes, he would deflower a virgin--but would never explicitly say it), 2. as mocking the efficacy of Cranly's interrogation process, since all that Steven explicitly confessed were his general principles of living, or 3. as admitting that his various principles of living (which include such often "negative" ideas as "exile" and "cunning") constitute a kind of confession.

Chapter 5, Part 4 Quotes

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

Related Characters: Stephen Dedalus (speaker)
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the second-to-last entry of the diary which makes up the last section of the novel, and the famous finale to Joyce's first masterpiece.

Here, Stephen courageously welcomes forth the force of life and reality to which (he believes) he must wholly submit his soul in order to create, within himself, the "uncreated conscience" of his race (that is, the Irish). This is an incredible declaration. Stephen approaches reality and external experience as if it is to impregnate him with the seeds of his creation; further, this creation is to serve the needs of his people, of his "race." He must create the "uncreated conscience"--whether this means moral or aesthetic--that Ireland lacks, even as he physically exiles himself from Ireland itself.

Stephen invokes the "old artificer"--referencing Daedalus, the ingenious craftsmen of Greek mythology who is also, seemingly, Stephen's namesake--as a power that can give him strength to fulfill his task. There's almost a sense that Stephen is going to war with his creation--as if he's bracing himself for the brunt of the reality to which he must submit himself in order to bring his art into existence. The symbol of the "old artificer" provides a certain armor for Stephen's thinking--by envisioning himself as a masterful craftsman, and also as being prophetically linked to the mythological character, Stephen bolsters his sense of destiny and purpose, and therefore his approach to the reality which he must ingest and transmute into art.