In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce develops the character of Stephen Daedelus through the use of language and symbols to heighten the conflict of his view toward women, drive him to seek women as an instrument of knowledge, and initially transform him into a man who learns from what he lacks.
In the first chapter Stephen is put in a situation where he is under the paternal threat of Well’s and other kids that are in his school because they tease him about kissing his mother. In this passage James Joyce suggests that Stephen Daedelus is striped of his innocence and in times of discomfort Stephen reverts to the thoughts of his mother. This is related to Sigmund Freud’s oedipal complex that a boy has repressed unconscious desires to be with their mother and want kill the father figure or paternal threat in order to accomplish the maternal goal.
O, I say here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed. They all laughed again. Stephen tries to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right way to answer the question? (27)
By laughing along with the kids, Stephen is trying to accept their jokes and be more like them as if he were included but that is impossible because they are teasing him and he is being emasculated, or castrated for not knowing the correct answer when asked if he kissed his mother. Stephen tries to not give in to the paternal threat by laughing along but in the end he is let down and mad a fool of. “He did not dare raise his eyes to Well’s face. He did not like Wells. It was Well’s who shouldered him into the square ditch… and how cold and slimy the water had been” (27). Well’s can be looked at as the paternal threat in this passage that Stephen is in conflict with. The fact that Stephen can not meet the eyes of Well’s is related to the idea of castration and Oedipus complex. Oedipus gouges out his eyes in realization of sleeping with his mother and it is marked as a symbol of making himself less of a man similar to how Well’s has made Stephen feel less of man for kissing his mother before he goes to bed. The dislike that Stephen feels towards Well’s makes the competition more obvious to the reader and makes it easier to know that Well’s is a paternal threat. Stephen is almost instantly thrown into confusion and embarrassment under the masculinity of others, under their eyes, and under their laughter.
There is imagery in the environment of the square ditch that Stephen is pushed into by Well’s. “The cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body; and when the bell rang for study and the lines filed out of the playrooms, he felt the cold air of the corridor and staircase inside his clothes” (27). The cold slime is imagery of a mother’s womb. Stephen longs to be comforted by his mother. He mind wanders back to the thought of his mother at times of discomfort because his mother is initially the first thing that Stephen has ever experienced as physical pleasure and comfort. The womb is not warm and comfortable though in this passage because in the ditch it is cold, and damp which signifies Stephen’s deeper confusion of his thoughts about his mother because he has been forced into this ditch by a paternal threat so that it is no longer a warm comfort. Stephen could feel the cold air inside his clothes. The feeling has been absorbed into his clothes and he could feel it now and it was really cold almost as if it was an awakening. At this point in the story Stephen innocence is shattered and he realizes his current thoughts before may be wrong due to the reaction of others.
James Joyce tries to help the reader understand Stephen Dedalus’s feelings without straight out telling the reader. Joyce’s does this by allowing the reader to connect stories and feelings from the present and past by the use of flashbacks to further show the height of confusion and embarrassment; the present feeling of hotness from embarrassment opposing with the past feeling of the coldness of the ditch.
Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? What did it mean to kiss? You put your face up like that to say goodnight … Why did people do that with their faces? (27)
Joyce’s style of writing in this passage makes it seem as if Stephen is really troubled. Questions are asked over and over, repetition is used to show the readers the distortion of Stephen’s thoughts. Throughout the novel Stephen comes into contact with a paternal threat while he is trying to reach his maternal goal.
Stephen struggles by trying to balance the image of a woman between a strumpet and a virgin. Stephen creates his own fantasy similar to the story The Count of Monte Cristo and in the romantic adventurous fantasy Stephen pictures himself with a girl by the name of Mercedes. The fact that Stephen creates his own love fantasy can be a way that he displays his love as defense mechanism or sublimation. This can also be related to idea of displacement, when ideas are shifted to be less threatening and more acceptable through dreams, fantasies, and ideas and not actual acts. In his fantasies Stephen is can do whatever he wants in the story because it is his story. There is no paternal threat present and Stephen is in complete control of the women in his story therefore he feels that he is the paternal authority in his fantasies.
Stephen does not view Mercedes as an object of sexual desire but more as an instrument of knowledge. He refuses her offer of muscatel grapes (67). The grapes are symbolic of sexuality and a way to be free by means of ecstasy and his proud refusal shows that he is not interested in Mercedes that way. The refusal of the grapes may also be symbolic of Stephen refusing to give in to his desire for women. Grapes are associated with Dionysus who is also known for youth, healing, joy, and freedom by madness and ecstasy just as how drinking a large amount of wine can relieve thoughts and free the mind.
He returned to Mercedes and, as he brooded upon her image, a strange unrest crept into his blood. Sometimes a fever gathered within him… He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how. (69)
When Stephen thinks of Mercedes he gets excited and aroused. It is kind of a sexual thought when he thinks of Mercedes. Stephen wants this dream of his to be real. He feels like he needs to experience his fantasy because he is still not experienced and the lack of this experience holds him back from being a successful artist. In order to create art and language there must be some level of experience and Stephen feels like he lacks this. He longs and aches for some type of experience but he does not know where to find it.
But a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst…They would be alone, surrounded by darkness (69)
The idea that “They would meet as if they had know each other” ties into Mercedes being symbolic of a mother figure. Stephen feels as if they have known each other before he is referring to the idea of his mother. Stephen knows that he does not have to do anything in order to have this experience because “without any overt act of his it would encounter him”. Without looking in terms of sexuality, this passage is referring to the things that a person may learn from a motherly figure as far as from what is right and what is wrong. Stephen feels that he can learn a lot from a mother. A mother teaches a child many things from the time of their birth, a mother figure is the nurturer and sense of comfort in a child’s beginning life. In the fantasy of Mercedes, Stephen longs for Mercedes to teach him just as a mother would therefore viewing Mercedes as a pure virgin-like figure just like how he views his own mother. Stephen longs for his mother in the fantasy that he longs for Mercedes which is tied back to the oedipal complex. The darkness that surround Stephen and Mercedes in his fantasy brings out the secrecy of his thoughts. Stephen’s thoughts of Mercedes is essentially thoughts of his mother and therefore they must be secret because having feelings for his mother is not socially acceptable. Repressed feelings are feelings that have been filtered by the ego by society and morals and therefore put into the unconscious mind. Usually darkness is associated with uncertainty and can symbolize Stephen’s struggle of knowing what is right and wrong as he grows up.
And in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then. In a moment he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall form him in that magic moment . (69)
Stephen feels that in a moment he would turn into something that is difficult to perceive and understand and that he would change. In that moment Stephen would learn and be experienced and therefore be capable of changing and transforming into the artist. The weakness and timidity and inexperience that fall from him can also be interpreted as the loss of self. The technique of using dreams to bring out all these unconscious feelings is related to the ideas of Freud how dreams and language are just projections of our unconscious desires that are being masked and revealed through interpretation and analysis. (263) Stephen feels that when he comes in contact with a woman he will no longer be weak timid and inexperienced. Therefore it is revealed to readers that Stephen feels that women are strong, don’t fear anything, very confident, and experienced. Stephen feels that when he is with a motherly figure that he will learn to be more like them and gain experience so that he may produce art.
In Stephen’s final stages of maturity he feels the need to flee from the mother figures in his life such as his real mom, the church mom, and mother of Ireland.
The image of woman metonymically absorbs all the paralyzing nets that constrain the potential artist ...Stephen resolves to detach himself from “the sufferings of women, the weakness of their bodies and souls. In casting off the yoke of matriarchy, he asserts his manhood in filial collusion with the Daedalus, his classical mentor. (Henke 331-32)
Stephen’s art is an outlet for his emotions. The constant struggle between reaching the maternal goal with the paternal threat, and the back and forth conflict of different views of women confuse Stephen’s emotions therefore can be seen as “paralyzing his art.” In this passage there is imagery of Stephen taking off the yoke of matriarchy. The yoke is essentially a device or frame that is placed on oxen so that they can be enslaved and controlled to pull a load of materials. The image of Stephen taking off his yoke that has been set on him by a matriarch, mother figure, shows the freedom that Stephen will accomplish once he flee from Ireland.
By getting rid of the yoke that he feels has been place upon him by the women in society he is trying to take away the power and effect that women have on him. In psychology Karen Horney developed the theory of womb-envy to counter the theory of Sigmund Freud and the penis envy. The womb-envy theory states that women are only envious of men because of their status in society but men have an unconscious jealousy of women because of their capability to bear children and create life. “The artist must successfully usurp her procreative powers” (332). Stephen Dedalus must successfully take away the power that women are able to carry children. The only way that Stephen would be capable to do that is if he was capable of impregnation as well. Stephen takes his art as a form of impregnation. His creation of art makes up for the fact that he cannot create life. Stephen relates this to the Virgin Mary’s impregnation of the Holy spirit and he imagines his own impregnation which results in his art and poetry.
Henke’s choice of wording “filial collusion with Daedelus his classical mentor” shows the real intent of James Joyce’s choice of naming the main character after the tragic hero in the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. The idea that removing his yoke of matriarchy and how it asserts his manhood in relation to Daedalus opens a comparison between the two characters that are similar in many ways. Stephen Dedalus, like Daedalus/Icarus both are imprisoned and they are both trying to escape whatever is trying to hold them back. Stephen feels like the women in Ireland hold him back so he tries to escape that and Daedalus/Icarus feels that his imprisonment holds him back so he tries to escape by flying away on wings. They both reject authority into their lives. Stephen’s rejection of authority may also be looked at as rejection of fear.
“I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too” (218)
In this passage Stephen is depicted as a fearless person because he does not fear what most people are fear. Fear can be capable to hold a person back from acting. Fear can bring out the cowardice in a person but Stephen is not afraid. Stephen is at the peak of his maturity and feels that he can not achieve his potential if he was to remain in Ireland. He needed to break free from the things that hold him back from experiencing and open up in order to become an artist and dedicated to art. He is aware that women inspire his art but now that he feels that he has learned to be less timid, more experienced, and strong Stephen feels that he just needs to get away and fulfill his destiny of being an artist.
James Joyce develops the character of Stephen Dedalus as the artist as a young man. He follows up the experiences that Dedalus goes throughout his lifetime that initially lead him to his an illuminating discovery, realization of his own nature as the artist.