A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


James Joyce

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Themes

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.

Soul and Body

The gap between soul and body means a great deal to Stephen during childhood and adolescence. As a child, Stephen notes countless particular sights, sounds, and smells, and interprets them with great tenderness and seriousness: they seem to lead him deep into his memories and his understanding of the world. In this way, body and soul are naturally connected for Stephen as a child. But Stephen also shies away from many social activities, preferring to…

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Innocence and Experience

Ideas of innocence and experience, of change and maturation, are central to every Künstlerroman (a novel that narrates an artist’s growth and development), of which Portrait is one. In Joyce’s novel, the theme of innocence and experience structures the remaining four themes, because in each case the novel traces the child-to-adult arc of Stephen’s shifting perspective. That is to say, when we talk about Portrait we are always talking about the evolution from innocence…

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Literature and Life

Since earliest childhood, novels and poems help Stephen make sense of the world around him. From the very first scene of the novel, in which infant Stephen creates a little rhyme from Dante’s threat that “eagles will come and pull out his eyes,” words shape and brighten Stephen’s experience. The sounds of words puzzle and enlighten him, and novels like The Count of Monte Christo help him shape his adolescent identity. At times, beautiful phrases…

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Order and the Senses

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…

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Religion, Nationality, and Freedom

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…

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