In Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, what I find most intriguing about the developmental patterns, as I read through Book One and Book Two, is Stephen’s development as a character- specifically, the transformation that occurs as he is experiencing the transition from boyhood to manhood. This is a pretty traditional coming-of-age story aspect you see often in a novel, but the way Joyce tells it is different from anything I’ve ever read. The difference in Portrait is the way Joyce uses narration. Stephen is our narrator, and we learn things directly from his own stream of thoughts, which can be jumbled around and jump from topic to topic, the way actual human minds work. After having read a short story written by Joyce before and delving into a bit of Ulysses, I was quite prepared for this style, and it certainly makes Stephen’s story more interesting, though sometimes confusing.
In Book One, the very first couple pages show us the way Stephen’s brain works. It starts off with a story his father tells him about a moocow and a little boy called “baby tuckoo”. Immediately, Stephen relates himself to this character. This tells me that not only is he listening to the story for entertainment, he is actually interpreting what the story is saying and taking it seriously by comparing himself to one of the characters at a pretty young age, so he definitely has an artistic mind. I think it’s safe to guess Stephen is around seven or eight years old at this point, just because of the things he thinks about and how quickly his thoughts switch from subject to subject (the story-his father-his neighbor-a song he likes-wetting the bed). When Stephen goes off to school, we can see that he is different than most all of the other boys there. When the others are socializing, he tends to drift off into his own little world, thinking hard about the meaning behind it or how he can relate to it: for example, on page 8, he becomes completely distracted from the soccer game he is supposed to be playing when a boy called another boy, Simon Moonan, “McGlade’s suck”. Then on the following page, while Stephen and his classmates are playing a game in math, the teacher assigns them two teams- Lancaster being red roses and York being white roses- and while they are supposed to be working on problems, Stephen thinks of the colors of the roses, “White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colors to think of. And the cards for first place and second place and third place were beautiful colors too: pink and cream and lavender.” I think he feels uncomfortable at this age with himself, because of the fact that he is different and doesn’t quite feel a part of or fit in with the others.
In Book Two, we see that Stephen is definitely growing and changing, and the time seems to be going by pretty quickly. As a young boy in Book One, he was very obedient and more of a dreamer. His belief in his and his families faith, Catholicism, was solid. In the summertime he and his Uncle Charles would visit church, but Stephen’s unwavering faith wasn’t all there anymore. He didn’t feel as serious about it and wondered what the big deal was, “He often wondered what his granduncle prayed for so seriously. Perhaps he prayed for the souls in purgatory or for the grace of a happy death or perhaps he prayed that God might send him back a part of the big fortune he had squandered in Cork.” Now that he is getting older, things in his life are suddenly becoming more real. We learn that Stephen’s family has lost a lot of money, forcing them to move to Dublin, and Stephen must go to a new school. Though the changes in Stephen’s life become more serious, he’s still a dreamer. He just isn’t the little boy we read about at the beginning of Book One. No longer “baby tuckoo”, he finds he loves The Count of Monte Cristo, wishing to be the adventurous male character, and re-reads it over and over again. This is where literature starts becoming more of an influence on his newly forming love life. He likes the idea of romancing a girl and sweeping her off her feet. He even writes a poem influenced by Lord Byron, although in person he is more awkward in his pursuits, rather than swoon-worthy.
This tale of Stephen Dedalus may seem like a fairly traditional coming-of-age type novel you might read- young boy starts out a dreamer, then a romantic, rejects social norms, doesn’t fit in with friends or family, questions religion- but, as you read through each chapter in Portrait, you will notice each one becoming more difficult to read, upping the reading level with each flip of the page. This makes us feel as if Joyce is using this as a reflection of Stephen’s transformation from boyhood to manhood in the novel, as the novel goes on, the older Stephen gets, the more mature he becomes, the more difficult the reading! Pretty cool thing/transformation/trick you pulled right there, Mr. Joyce.