Study Guide

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Literature and Writing

By James Joyce

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Literature and Writing

Literature and Writing provide the underlying backbone of meaning that draws this whole text together. This theme plays a fundamental role in the lives of both the fictional Stephen and the real Joyce, even beyond the obvious fact that both of them are writers. The idea of Art as a calling becomes central to the eventual understanding of spirituality in the text, since observing and creating objects of beauty is a fundamental part of experiencing the life that Joyce describes. The role of the writer, as it appears here, is to shape language the way a craftsman might shape wood or clay. This alignment of literature to fine art is extremely important; through his work, Joyce attempts to demonstrate that the novel, a relatively young literary form, is as important and valid as any other form of art.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. What do you think of Stephen’s declaration that he will "forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race" – does he think that writing has more power than institutions like government and the Church?
  2. We know that this book is heavily based upon events in Joyce’s life. Stephen, however, tells us that the artist is ideally removed from the work, like a distant observer of the characters. Bearing these two things in mind, should we identify Joyce with Stephen as we read? Is the fact that Joyce produced this book a signal to us that Stephen will succeed as an artist?
  3. Can A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man be categorized in Stephen’s system of lyrical, epical, and dramatic art?

Chew on This

The Aristotle and Aquinas texts cited by Stephen in Chapter Five replace religious doctrine in his self-created spiritual system.

Stephen’s attempts to create a new identity through writing culminate in the journal entries at the end of the novel.

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