A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Theme of Language and Communication
Stephen’s fixation on language is what alerts us to his artistic inclinations from the very beginning of the novel. Both Joyce and his protagonist demonstrate a deep fascination with the purely aesthetic elements of language. Sometimes elements like repetition, rhythm, and rhyme take over the narrative completely. This demonstrates the novel’s stance on Communication: it highlights the arbitrary and sometimes meaningless ways in which language works – and doesn’t work. While the goal of language is to clarify and enlighten, it doesn’t always succeed and is often misused. Joyce and many of his Modernist colleagues (especially T.S. Eliot) were very concerned with the failure of language to successfully communicate ideas.
Questions About Language and Communication
- How does Stephen’s experience of language change during the course of the novel?
- Joyce often pinpoints the inability of language to truly express meaning. How does Stephen approach this problem?
- Stephen is troubled by the foreign and imposed identity of the English language, but he doesn’t feel connected to Irish language, either. Is there any possible way to resolve this tension?
- Since language proves to be ineffective at times, what other modes of communication do we witness in this novel?
Chew on This
Stephen’s visceral experience of words and language mark his artistic destiny from the beginning of the novel.
Throughout the novel, Stephen is more affected by words (either spoken or written) than by actions.