A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


James Joyce

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Flashbacks 1 key example

Chapter 5, Part 3
Explanation and Analysis—Stephen's Childhood:

When Stephen contemplates a flock of birds in Chapter 5, Part 3, he experiences a flashback to the night of the opening of the national theater:

The verses crooned in the ear of his memory composed slowly before his remembering eyes the scene of the hall on the night of the opening of the national theatre. He was alone at the side of the balcony, looking out of jaded eyes at the culture of Dublin in the stalls and at the tawdry scenecloths and human dolls framed by the garish lamps of the stage. A burly policeman sweated behind him and seemed at every moment about to act. The catcalls and hisses and mocking cries ran in rude gusts round the hall from his scattered fellow students.

In this flashback, Stephen mainly focuses on his own immediate sensory experience. The phrase "human dolls framed by garish lamps" gives this passage an eerie, haunting, vivid quality, effectively immersing the reader in this scene while also spotlighting the kinds of things Stephen has a tendency to remember—that is, details that have to do with his general perception of the world or his surrounding environment. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is often seen as a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story), and flashbacks provide information about Stephen's past and his previous state of mind. By giving the reader insight into Stephen's memories via flashback, the narrator provides reference points for the story while suggesting that Stephen has become increasingly self-reflective.