James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is considered to be one of the finest works of literature of all time. Herbert Gorman, an author from the early twentieth century, stated that "so profound and beautiful and convincing a book is part of the lasting literature of our age," and with good reason. The main character of the novel, Stephen Dedalus, is a complex and dynamic youth, and one who undergoes vast changes during the course of his life. The main influences on him are family and religion. As his life passes, Stephens' feelings towards these influences change drastically.
Stephen's family is very important to him. His father, Simon, plays a major role in his early life, and Stephen has great respect for him. However, there are instances when Stephen is angered by his fathers' actions, and resents his statements. The growing debts incurred by Simon lead to his son's transferring to a day school. Stephens' difficulties at his former educational institution are relayed by his father, much to the chagrin of the younger Dedalus. Later in the novel, Stephen loses even more respect for his father as the familys' debts continue to grow and they are forced to move. Once, when the two males travel to sell of the family estate, Simon returns to his former school and converses with his former classmates. Stephen is upset to hear of his father's wild behavior as a youth, and of his flirtatious nature. He begins to rebel against his strict upbringing, striking back at his familys' traditional values and way of life.
Religion is an ever present force in Stephen's life. He attends a religious school from an early age, and is a devout Roman Catholic. He has great reference for the priests at his school, and even fears the rector. As his life progresses, Stephen experiences great feelings for women, and finally gives into his desire when he encounters a prostitute in Dublin. From this point forward, he views his life as an immoral one and makes many attempts to correct it. He goes so far as to deprive all of his senses from any form of pleasure. While attending a religious retreat, Stephen takes all that he hears to heart. He believes that if he does not correct his ways, he will be banished to an eternity in Hell. Deciding that he must confess his immoral act, Stephen goes to a small parish where he is not known. He begins to overcompensate for his sins, but to no avail. His sinful ways overcome his spiritual values, and Stephen decides to abandon his religion. He vows to change his life for the better, and begins studying at a university. Here, his artistic nature surfaces, and Stephen embraces it. He explains his new theories to all who will listen, and decides to move away from Ireland and his repressed beliefs, and to a new life of freedom.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a literary work that has many distinct aspects involved in it. The stylistic method of writing that Joyce uses is perhaps the most notable of them. Not once in the novel are quotation marks used, making it difficult to judge where dialogue begins and ends. This very fact, however, lends itself towards the reader's determination of what the author had in mind by using this style. In addition to this, the plot seems to have large gaps in it at points. The time frame of the story, as well as the simple determination of Stephen's age, is difficult to grasp during certain instances. Joyce may have utilized this to allow the reader to bring a more personal approach to the reading and understanding of the work. This, too, is a fascinating aspect of the novel. Many critics believe that Portrait is an autobiographical piece of fiction. Many similarities exist between the lives of Stephen and Joyce. The strong religious upbringing of these Irishmen, their financial hardships, and the family life of each male is strikingly similar. Each attended the same schools, underwent the same mental development, and grew strongly attached to their artistic interests. However many differences between their lives, it is obvious that Joyce drew upon his own life when