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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

Youth Theme

One might guess from the title that Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has something to do with Youth. This book is a classic coming-of-age story that allows us to follow the development of the main character’s consciousness from childhood to adulthood. Included in this is a heightened awareness of what old people wistfully like to call "the folly of youth." We at Shmoop aren’t even that old, and we are already fond of sighing over said folly. Since this is a very loosely veiled autobiography, Joyce was obviously also very aware of the folly of his own youth, which he demonstrates through this novel. The book as a whole is a meditation on the process of growing up; one of its truly great accomplishments is the almost scientific precision with which it depicts the protagonist’s changing mind and body.

Questions About Youth

  1. As a child, Stephen longs to understand adult concepts. Once he does, do you think he ever wishes for a return to the innocence of childhood?
  2. How do Stephen’s relationships with his peers change as he grows older?
  3. The words "boyhood" and "youth" have very different meanings in the moment of Stephen’s epiphany in Chapter Four – how are they different? Why?
  4. Much is made in our culture of a boy’s entry into manhood. Would you say that Stephen is a man by the end of the book?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is not actually a coming-of-age story, or Bildungsroman, because the protagonist remains a child at the end.

Stephen exemplifies the insecurities and anxieties of any young person struggling to find his or her true identity.

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