Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?
This is going to sound cheesy, but it’s a heartfelt cheesiness, so just bear with us here. The end of Portrait of the Artist is not an end at all – rather, it’s a beginning. The book culminates in Stephen’s self-imposed exile from Ireland, his family, the Church, and his past. This mirrors Joyce’s decision to leave home for Paris and Italy. The idea is that Stephen isn’t able to truly commit to his artistic calling until he has thrown off the ties of his past and really experiences life as an independent person. We end the book confident that he will find his artistic voice somewhere out there in the course of his wanderings. His closing lines, "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," speak volumes about what he hopes to accomplish. Stephen will attempt to express the "conscience of [his] race" – but ironically, he has to leave his country to do so. Stephen believes that he can only really gain a clear understanding of Ireland by looking at it objectively from afar. Finally, the novel draws to a close by invoking Daedalus, our Greek friend from the Epigraph, bidding him to keep an eye out for his namesake as he leaves his homeland and ventures out into the world.