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.”
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom ThemeTracker
Religion, Nationality, and Freedom Quotes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.