A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Tools of Characterization
Thoughts and Opinions
We’re party to Stephen’s most intimate thoughts, and quite a few of his opinions, throughout the book. In the early sections of the book, many of his thoughts relate to physical sensation, and through them we learn to understand Stephen’s particular way of processing the world around him. Like most children, he’s very interested in relating everything to his body (after all, there is a reason kids stick things up their noses). Throughout Chapter One, he is absorbed by the idea of aligning language to sensory input. We get a very strong sense for what Stephen thinks and feels through this process.
As the novel continues, we get deeper and deeper into his developing mind. Intense psychological intimacy with our characters is one of Joyce’s trademark innovations, and he really honed that skill in Portrait of the Artist. In terms of opinions, we observe Stephen’s beliefs and perceptions change as his capacity for abstract thought develops. Yeah, this sounds boring, but it’s not. Then, in Chapter Five, Stephen gets really opinionated; the conversations with Cranly, Lynch, and Davitt reveal Stephen’s intellectual aims to us more clearly than the third person narration does.
Speech and Dialogue
The final chapter of the book relies heavily on observing Stephen sparring with his friends. For the first time, we get to see him as a confident social being (and by this we simply mean a being in society… he’s still not exactly a social butterfly). We also actually get to see Stephen engage in humorous banter, particularly with Moynihan, which is a shocking change – until this point, we didn’t even know Stephen really had a sense of humor! The earlier conversation he had with the dean of studies is also particularly revealing because it presents Stephen’s interior reactions in between bits of dialogue. It’s also easy to forget that Chapter Three is almost entirely composed of Father Arnall’s sermon; the idea of having the speech’s hyperbolically gruesome detail out loud makes Stephen’s horrified reaction more believable.
Stephen’s attempts at writing verse are occasionally revealed in the text. The first time it happens in Chapter Two, we don’t actually get to read the poem (it’s a Lord Byron-esque love poem for Emma), but we can imagine what it’s like based on his description of it. By the time we actually do see an example of his work (his second poem to Emma in Chapter Five), Stephen’s poetic technique has evolved, as have his intellectual abilities. This poem, a villanelle, shows promise, but it’s still on the immature and undeveloped side. We get the feeling that Stephen is right about one thing – he does need to get away from Ireland in order to develop his own identity as a writer.