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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

Water

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Water imagery is present everywhere in this book. From the bog-like pool into which Wells (double whammy!) pushes Stephen at Clongowes, to the open sea that bears witness to his epiphany: water just always seems to be around. One might argue that it’s a symbol for the state of Stephen’s soul at any given time. For example, in the Clongowes instance, Stephen can’t get the feeling of the cold, slimy, filthy water out of his mind; it’s also the moment where he’s getting sick and feels scared. Likewise, when the Dedalus clan packs up and moves to Dublin, one of the first things he notices about the city is its squalid harbor water, covered in yellow scum, reflecting his unhappiness at their move from the clean, open country. In Stephen’s holier-than-thou religious period, he imagines temptation as a flood that moves slowly towards him; he uses his willpower to escape from it unscathed (undampened, actually). Finally, the water scene to end all water scenes is at the close of Chapter Four, when Stephen has an artistic epiphany at the beach. For once, the water here is clean and natural, richly colored and alive with vibrant seaweed. Stephen’s soul, too, is cleansed and full of wild new life.

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