Study Guide

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Transformation

By James Joyce

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One might argue that the only things that actually happen in Portrait of the Artist are a series of transformations. One might then argue that this demonstrates that growing up is simply a series of transformations. Either way, transformation in this text is associated with two things. First, it’s related to the slow shift from childhood to adulthood. Stephen has to pass through distinct phases before he is an independent adult. Secondly, transformation is likened to the process of artistic development; his intellectual transformations help forge his identity as an artist and shape his future writing. The proof of this is Joyce himself – after all, this story partially stems from his own experiences.

Questions About Transformation

  1. We know that Stephen undergoes transformation after transformation in this text – does anyone else change, or are the other characters largely static?
  2. Is this a classic caterpillar-to-butterfly story? Has Stephen found his true form by the end?
  3. We see how clearly marked Stephen’s different phases are from an internal perspective; do the other characters seem to notice the changes in his character?

Chew on This

Each of Stephen’s transformations (from child to sinner, sinner to Catholic, Catholic to artist) is motivated by a sudden and personal epiphany in the text.

If, like his nationalist friend Davin, Stephen felt it were truly possible to transform his homeland he would not have to leave Ireland.

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