Religion and Its Effect on Stephen Dedalus

Religion is an important and recurring theme in James Joyce\'s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Through his experiences with religion, Stephen Dedalus both matures and progressively becomes more individualistic as he grows. Though reared in a Catholic school, several key events lead Stephen to throw off the yoke of conformity and choose his own life, the life of an artist.
Religion is central to the life of Stephen Dedalus the child. He was reared in a strict, if not harmonious, Catholic family. The severity of his parents, trying to raise him to be a good Catholic man, is evidenced by statements such as, "Pull out his eyes/ Apologise/ Apologise/ Pull out his eyes." This strict conformity shapes Stephen\'s life early in boarding school. Even as he is following the precepts of his Catholic school, however, a disillusionment becomes evident in his thoughts. The priests, originally above criticism or doubt in Stephen\'s mind, become symbols of intolerance. Chief to these thoughts is Father Dolan, whose statements such as, "Lazy little schemer. I see schemer in your face," exemplify the type of attitude Stephen begins to associate with his Catholic teachers. By the end of Chapter One, Stephen\'s individualism and lack of tolerance for disrespect become evident when he complains to the rector about the actions of Father Dolan. His confused attitude is clearly displayed by the end of the chapter when he says, "He was happy and free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would be very kind and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind for him to show him that he was not proud." Stephen still has respect for his priests, but he has lost his blind sense of acceptance.
As Stephen grows, he slowly but inexorably distances himself from religion. His life becomes one concerned with pleasing his friends and family. However, as he matures he begins to feel lost and hopeless, stating, "He saw clearly too his own futile isolation. He had not gone one step nearer the lives he had sought to approach nor bridged the restless shame and rancor that divided him from mother and brother and sister." It is this very sense of isolation and loneliness that leads to Stephen\'s encounter with the prostitute, where, "He wanted to sin with another of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult with her in sin." He wants to be loved, but the nearest thing he can find is prostitution. In the aftermath of this encounter and the numerous subsequent encounters, a feeling of guilt and even more pronounced loneliness begins to invade 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 was he kneeling there like a child saying his evening prayers? To be alone with his soul, to examine his conscience, to meet his sins face to face, to recall their times and manners and circumstances, to weep over them." Religion pushes its way suddenly and unexpectedly back into Stephen\'s life. After his confession at the end of Chapter Three, he begins to lead a life nearly as devout as that of his Jesuit teachers and mentors. Even as he leads this life, however, shades of his former self are obliquely evident through statements such as, "This idea had a perilous attraction for his mind now that he felt his soul beset once again by the insistent voices of the flesh which began to murmur to him again during his prayers and meditations." Here it is evident that, even as his life becomes more and more devout, he can never lead the perfect and sinless life of the Jesuit. The offer of a position as a priest is met by memories of his childhood at Clongowes and thoughts such as, "He wondered how he would pass the first night in the novitiate and with what dismay he would wake the first morning in the dormitory." Stephen realizes that the clerical collar would be too tight