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What is Joyce's attitude to Stephen Dedalus? Joyce's attitude to his protagonist is a complex question, on which many critics have disagreed. For many years, critics assumed that Stephen Dedalus was a faithful autobiographical portrait of the author.
In this view, Stephen is, for all intents and purposes, the young James Joyce, and he is presented in a wholly admirable, even heroic light by the author the original draft of Portrait was called Stephen Hero.
Stephen is a hero who breaks through the restrictions of family, church and nation to shape his own destiny according to his inner lights. He overcomes the limitations of his culture and environment, and soars into a higher realm.
Other critics, while accepting that it was Joyce's intention to present a heroic Stephen, have censured Stephen because he comes across as a bit of a prig and tends to isolate himself from everything around him-not admirable qualities.
Noting this discrepancy, other critics, endorsing the perception that Stephen is not entirely the romantic hero that some assumed him to be, have claimed that Joyce in fact intended this effect. According to this view, the presentation of Stephen is riddled with deliberate irony.
Joyce distances himself, and therefore the reader, from his protagonist.
This is an alternative explanation for the fact that Stephen does not come across as particularly likeable. He often seems self-absorbed and even arrogant, refusing to be sociable or to blend in with his community. He seems obsessed with his own theories of art and beauty, which separate him from human community rather than uniting him with it.
In this view, then, the Portrait is an ironic look by the older-and presumably wiser-James Joyce at his youthful self. Other critics argue that neither position is wholly correct. They claim that in Stephen there are elements of the romantic hero as well as the ironic undercutting of such a figure.
According to this view, Joyce presents a sympathetic portrait of the trials of a sensitive, intellectual young man as he grows up, and the novel is at once an attempt to understand the young man as well as expose some of his faults.
What did Joyce mean by the term "epiphany"? By epiphany, Joyce meant a sudden revelation, a moment when an ordinary object is perceived in a way that reveals its deeper significance. An epiphany can produce in the perceiver a moment of ecstasy. The word epiphany does not actually appear in A Portrait, but Joyce does use it in Stephen Hero, the draft on which A Portrait was based: He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.
He bases this theory on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic theologian. According to Aquinas, the three things needed for beauty are integrity, symmetry, and radiance. It is when the last quality, radiance, is perceived, that an epiphany occurs.
This is how Stephen explains it in Stephen Hero: The soul of the commonest object.
The object achieves its epiphany. Stephen explains, "The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state" p.
The most famous epiphany in A Portrait is the moment Stephen perceives the girl wading in the strand: She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful sea creature" p. Another epiphany occurs later, when Stephen watches the swallows from the steps of the library pp.
The penultimate entry in his journal "Welcome, O life! What role do women play in A Portrait? Stephen's relationships with the many female characters in the novel suggest that he has difficulty in coming to terms with the feminine aspect of life.
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