A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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But when he had sung his song and withdrawn into a snug corner of the room he began to taste the joy of his loneliness. The mirth, which in the beginning of the evening had seemed to him false and trivial, was like a soothing air to him, passing gaily by his senses, hiding from other eyes the feverish agitation of his blood while through the circling of the dancers and amid the music and laughter her glance travelled to his corner, flattering, taunting, searching, exciting his heart. (2.2.17)
Interestingly enough, Stephen finds a certain satisfaction in his dissatisfaction, if that makes any sense. It’s another marker of his difference, which allows him to observe rather than take part in the world. Instead of having to engage directly with the girl (Emma), he waits for her to find him.
– She too wants me to catch hold of her, he thought. That’s why she came with me to the tram. I could easily catch hold of her when she comes up to my step: nobody is looking. I could hold her and kiss her.
But he did neither: and, when he was sitting alone in the deserted tram, he tore his ticket into shreds and stared gloomily at the corrugated footboard. (2.2.20-21)
Stephen’s inaction with Emma feeds into his discontent. Even though he knows she wants him to grab her, he cannot make himself do anything, and he’s troubled by his cowardice. His inability to actually communicate with her sets the tone for the rest of their "relationship," if you can even call it that.
His sensitive nature was still smarting under the lashes of an undivined and squalid way of life. His soul was still disquieted and cast down by the dull phenomenon of Dublin. He had emerged from a two years' spell of revery to find himself in the midst of a new scene, every event and figure of which affected him intimately, disheartened him or allured and, whether alluring or disheartening, filled him always with unrest and bitter thoughts. All the leisure which his school life left him was passed in the company of subversive writers whose jibes and violence of speech set up a ferment in his brain before they passed out of it into his crude writings. (2.3.19)
In this flashback, we see Stephen as a new student at Belvedere. Life in Dublin is confusing and full of new sensations, and the overload of new experience is almost too much for him to handle. We learn that his only outlet is his writing; already we see that his alienation is a motivation for his artistic endeavors.