As a coming-of-age novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man depicts the growth of the protagonist Stephen from childhood to adolescence. It tells the story of a child growing up in an Irish Catholic family. It is both an autobiographical novel and a work of fiction. This novel mainly describes how a young Dubliner Stephen Dedalus tries to get rid of all kinds of influences that hinder his development — family constraints, religious traditions, and narrow nationalist sentiments, and pursue the true meaning of art and beauty.
The novel is mainly composed of two narrative clues, one is the growing process of the hero Stephen, the other is Stephen’s psychological activities. The first chapter of the novel describes the birth and growth of Stephen, and the second chapter describes his experiences as a teenager and his budding pursuit of women that lead him to the brothels for pleasure. The third chapter mainly describes that Stephen frequented brothels and his sexual hunger was satisfied, but the contradictions in his heart became more acute.
He proudly refused to repent, knowing full well his guilt. One day he heard the sermon of the Father Arnall on death, judgment, hell, and heaven, and he began to hate himself and to loathe himself exceedingly. After much mental struggle, he went to the chapel to confess his sins to the priest, and at last found peace of mind. The last chapter is about Stephen’s hard works, which were appreciated by the church who gave him a glorious opportunity to enter the ministry.
Many of the details in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are based on Joyce’s early life, and the novel’s protagonist, Stephan Dedalus, has much in common with Joyce. This autobiographical novel portrays the image of a young artist from childhood to maturity and expresses a flying theme. Joyce describes Stephen’s experiences at different stages of life in children’s style, youth’s style, and adult’s style, and demonstrates Stephen’s inner feelings and ideology by means of spiritual insight and stream of consciousness.
As a coming-of-age novel that describes the inner process of young people, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man profoundly describes the psychological growth process of Stephen, a young artist, from his baby’s hazy period to his youth’s mature period. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is arguably the most profound novel that traces the inner workings of young people in the 20th century. Each chapter of the novel revolves around a major event in Stephen’s formative years. The parts are linked to each other and follow the course of events step by step. Readers can clearly see Stephen’s growth path from a child to a young artist, and truly feel his pain and joy.