Portrait Of The Artist As Young ManReligion is an important and recurring theme in James Joyce’s A Portrait of theArtist as a Young Man. Through his experiences with religion, Stephen Dedalusboth matures and progressively becomes more individualistic as he grows. Thoughreared in a Catholic school, several key events lead Stephen to throw off theyoke of conformity and choose his own life, the life of an artist. Religion iscentral to the life of Stephen Dedalus the child.
He was reared in a strict, ifnot harmonious, Catholic family. The severity of his parents, trying to raisehim to be a good Catholic man, is evidenced by statements such as, “Pullout his eyes/ Apologise/ Apologise/ Pull out his eyes. ” This strictconformity shapes Stephen’s life early in boarding school. Even as he isfollowing the precepts of his Catholic school, however, a disillusionmentbecomes evident in his thoughts. The priests, originally above criticism ordoubt in Stephen’s mind, become symbols of intolerance.
Chief to these thoughtsis Father Dolan, whose statements such as, “Lazy little schemer. I seeschemer in your face,” exemplify the type of attitude Stephen begins toassociate with his Catholic teachers. By the end of Chapter One, Stephen’sindividualism and lack of tolerance for disrespect become evident when hecomplains to the rector about the actions of Father Dolan. His confused attitudeis clearly displayed by the end of the chapter when he says, “He was happyand free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would be verykind and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind for him to showhim that he was not proud.
” Stephen still has respect for his priests, buthe has lost his blind sense of acceptance. As Stephen grows, he slowly butinexorably distances himself from religion. His life becomes one concerned withpleasing his friends and family. However, as he matures he begins to feel lostand hopeless, stating, “He saw clearly too his own futile isolation. He hadnot gone one step nearer the lives he had sought to approach nor bridged therestless shame and rancor that divided him from mother and brother andsister.
” It is this very sense of isolation and loneliness that leads toStephen’s encounter with the prostitute, where, “He wanted to sin withanother of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult withher in sin. ” He wants to be loved, but the nearest thing he can find isprostitution. In the aftermath of this encounter and the numerous subsequentencounters, a feeling of guilt and even more pronounced loneliness begins toinvade Stephen’s being. Chapter Three represents the turning point of the novel,for here Stephen turns his life around.
After the sermon on sin and hell,Stephen examines his soul and sees the shape it is in, wondering, “Why washe kneeling there like a child saying his evening prayers? To be alone with hissoul, to examine his conscience, to meet his sins face to face, to recall theirtimes and manners and circumstances, to weep over them. ” Religion pushesits way suddenly and unexpectedly back into Stephen’s life. After his confessionat the end of Chapter Three, he begins to lead a life nearly as devout as thatof his Jesuit teachers and mentors. Even as he leads this life, however, shadesof his former self are obliquely evident through statements such as, “Thisidea had a perilous attraction for his mind now that he felt his soul beset onceagain by the insistent voices of the flesh which began to murmur to him againduring his prayers and meditations.
” Here it is evident that, even as hislife becomes more and more devout, he can never lead the perfect and sinlesslife of the Jesuit. The offer of a position as a priest is met by memories ofhis childhood at Clongowes and thoughts such as, “He wondered how he wouldpass the first night in the novitiate and with what dismay he would wake thefirst morning in the dormitory. ” Stephen realizes that the clerical collarwould be too tight for him to wear. A walk on the beach confirms this thought inStephen’s mind through the statement, “Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soulin an outburst of profane joy.
” The sight of a woman and the knowledgethat, as a priest, he could not even talk to her, finally convinces Stephen toabandon religion.