Study Guide

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Dissatisfaction

By James Joyce

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Many of the events of this novel are seen through a haze of murky discontent. Joyce poses dissatisfaction as a necessity of the developing artist. Our protagonist’s unhappiness with his setting, his family, and most of all, himself, are fundamental to his eventual transformation from observant child to blooming writer. Until he realizes that his vocation is to become a writer, he feels aimless, alone, and uncertain. However, we get the feeling that he could never arrive at this conclusion without undergoing his period of profound dissatisfaction. It is this lingering sense of malcontent that forces Joyce’s character to confront his personal anxieties and uncertainties in order to get past them.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. Stephen’s dissatisfaction is what motivates all of the changes he undergoes. Would this book be possible if he were just a happier kid?
  2. Do you think any of the other characters in the book are satisfied with their lots in life?
  3. Are the problems experienced by characters in the book universal, or do they seem uniquely Irish?
  4. Is dissatisfaction an essential condition for artistic creation in the book? Consider the moments in which we see Stephen engaged in writing.

Chew on This

Stephen’s natural inclination to question and analyze makes it fundamentally impossible for him to ever achieve contentment of any kind.

Stephen’s dissatisfactions have nothing to do with Ireland.

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