Portrait of the Artist is ultimately the story of a search for true identity. We know from the title that the protagonist’s fate is to become an artist, but we still follow the emotional suspense of his periods of uncertainty and confusion. Our hero struggles with the sense that there is some great destiny waiting for him, but he has difficulty perceiving what it is. His consistent feeling of difference and increasing alienation show that he sees himself as someone marked by fate to stand outside society. Speaking of society, Joyce also questions the value of Irish national identity in a country on the brink of revolution.
Questions About Identity
We know that Stephen identifies himself as an artist – what other roles or concepts could we use to define his character?
How much does Stephen’s awareness of his Irish heritage shape his identity?
What models does Stephen use in crafting his identity? How much of his persona is consciously constructed, as opposed to being shaped by his culture?
Do you find Joyce’s narrative strategies successful – does the novel leave you with the sense that you understand Stephen as a real person, not simply a character?
Chew on This
The purpose of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is to give readers a universal model for the development of an artist’s identity.
Despite Stephen’s distrust of Catholic guilt and dogma, the Church is the institution that shapes him more than any other.