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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


by James Joyce

Analysis: Tone

Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Quite, quite serious and lyrical; occasionally ironic

Joyce’s tone is consistently lyrical and teeters on the edge of poetic throughout the book. His exuberant prose is what makes this novel such a joy to read – seriously, even if you’re not so into poetry, it’s hard to ignore the incredible craftsmanship of this book. Joyce was very aware of his talents, and you better believe that he’s playing them up here. This project is certainly not a modest enterprise – after all, Joyce is presuming to create a character who is more of a real person than a mere character – and apparently he didn’t think it was the time for modest prose, either. We’re glad he came to that conclusion.

While the novel contains moments of humor, particularly in Chapter Five’s extensive dialogue scenes, it is very serious for the most part. Joyce doesn’t insert a strongly opinionated narrative voice to interfere or judge Stephen, and the narration acts as though it is in sympathy with him at all times. What Joyce does do masterfully, however, is allow readers to see the irony that lies just beneath the surface. By playing the straight man, the narration slyly highlights the occasional ridiculousness of Stephen’s story.

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