Study Guide

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man The Home

By James Joyce

The Home

Chapter 2

He saw clearly too his own futile isolation. He had not gone one step nearer the lives he had sought to approach nor bridged the restless shame and rancour that had divided him from mother and brother and sister. He felt that he was hardly of the one blood with them but stood to them rather in the mystical kinship of fosterage, fosterchild and fosterbrother. (2.5.7)

Stephen feels so remote from his family that it seems as though they’re not related – could this feeling of isolation have anything to do with the fact that he internalizes all of his thoughts and feelings and never shares them with anyone at this stage?!

In a vague way he understood that his father was in trouble and that this was the reason why he himself had not been sent back to Clongowes. For some time he had felt the slight change in his house; and those changes in what he had deemed unchangeable were so many slight shocks to his boyish conception of the world. (2.1.11)

For the first time, home is a shaky concept. The family recently moved to Blackrock, and Stephen can tell that more changes are on their way.

The sudden flight from the comfort and revery of Blackrock, the passage through the gloomy foggy city, the thought of the bare cheerless house in which they were now to live made his heart heavy, and again an intuition, a foreknowledge of the future came to him. He understood also why the servants had often whispered together in the hall and why his father had often stood on the hearthrug with his back to the fire, talking loudly to uncle Charles who urged him to sit down and eat his dinner. (2.2.2)

Home continues to de-stabilize at an alarming rate. Stephen’s growing comprehension of the world around him allows him to understand that the change in the family’s surroundings has to do with his father’s failures. This moment is also notable because of the family’s move to Dublin.

Chapter 4

He waited for some moments, listening, before he too took up the air with them. He was listening with pain of spirit to the overtone of weariness behind their frail fresh innocent voices. Even before they set out on life's journey they seemed weary already of the way. (4.2.31)

The weariness Stephen’s little brothers and sisters feel, even as children, stems from the lack of stability and comfort in their lives. Unlike Stephen, the oldest and most privileged among them, we have the feeling that the other children never really knew anything but poverty and resignation at home.

Then, bending to the left, he followed the lane which led up to his house. The faint dour stink of rotted cabbages came towards him from the kitchen gardens on the rising ground above the river. He smiled to think that it was this disorder, the misrule and confusion of his father's house and the stagnation of vegetable life, which was to win the day in his soul. (4.2.24)

Actually, the victory of "his father’s house" (note that he doesn’t say his house) is quite short-lived. The tension between affection and disgust in Stephen’s description of the house make it clear that his soul won’t be satisfied for long in these circumstances.

Chapter 5
Stephen J. Dedalus

– The soul is born, [Stephen] said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets. (5.1.117)

Stephen explains the risks he sees as inherent in Ireland to Davin, the nationalist. Instead of seeing the Irish revolutionary movement as a potential for artistic inspiration like many of his countrymen do (a good example is W.B. Yeats), he views the condition of Irish life as a pitfall.

– Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow. (5.1.118)

Stephen takes his sentiment from the last quote and steps it up a notch in brutality. He claims that Ireland metaphorically devours its own children (a fate he plans to avoid). In short, Ireland’s thwarted sense of nationhood destroys Irishmen.

He shook the sound out of his ears by an angry toss of his head and hurried on, stumbling through the mouldering offal, his heart already bitten by an ache of loathing and bitterness. His father's whistle, his mother's mutterings, the screech of an unseen maniac were to him now so many voices offending and threatening to humble the pride of his youth. He drove their echoes even out of his heart with an execration; but, as he walked down the avenue and felt the grey morning light falling about him through the dripping trees and smelt the strange wild smell of the wet leaves and bark, his soul was loosed of her miseries. (5.10)

Stephen’s relationship with his family and surroundings is at an all-time low. The ugliness and squalor of his home life are totally incompatible with his grandiose sense of artistic destiny, and we see already that his ultimate departure is inevitable.

What birds were they? He thought that they must be swallows who had come back from the south. Then he was to go away for they were birds ever going and coming, building ever an unlasting home under the eaves of men's houses and ever leaving the homes they had built to wander. (5.2.8)

Like the swallows, Stephen feels the tension of homes abandoned and "unlasting." Now, he is on the brink of leaving his home to wander.

…the figure of the woman in the story stood forth reflected in other figures of the peasant women whom he had seen standing in the doorways at Clane as the college cars drove by, as a type of her race and of his own, a bat-like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness and, through the eyes and voice and gesture of a woman without guile, calling the stranger to her bed. (5.1.25)

Stephen struggles to identify the spirit of "her race and his own" – the Irish people. This concern with the soul or conscience of his race will reappear throughout this chapter.

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