Sexuality and Religion in Literature

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Sexuality and religion are to things that sometimes do not go well together, like peanut butter and onions. It is a contrast of what feels good and what feels right. As the Catholic church says, “If it feels good, stop it.” Both sexuality and religion are dominant themes in Madame Bovary by Flaubert and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by Joyce. It is also the theme of contrast between sexuality and religion that dominates, more in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man than Madame Bovary. It is very apparent in both novels that you won’t get one with out the other. One theme provides as a nexus for the other. For many, sexuality is a component towards achieving fullness in life. In my many high schools all over the world a kid is not truly a man or “cool enough” until he loses his virginity. It is this insatiable need to have companionship that drives many people towards a life of constant searching. They search for that loved one, such as we see in Charles and in Emma. But some do end up like Emma Bovary, looking death straight in the eyes, unfulfilled by love or partnership. And some end up like Stephen, never to love because they have pushed other away completely. This push for sensual completeness starts at birth, with our need to be held by our mothers, such a need that should never be denied to any living soul. But religion has its own way of putting stop to sensuality. It creates guilt in the minds of young children to prevent them from ever touching another human being, to be completely devoid of the sensual touch of another. This theme holds true in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”.

In James Joyce’s novel “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” delves deep into the life of young boy, Stephen Dedalus, who, by all accounts, is an extremely pious young man with a strong devotion to God and the beliefs of the Catholic faith. What Stephen goes through is something that many young people go through at some stage in their lives. This is the resistance of religion as it applies to our own specific lives. Where we differ is how we go from there. Many return back to religion, sometimes a person returns in the form of another faith. The rest stay away from religion, never to enter another church, temple, or mosque ever again, at least by choice. Our character Stephen undergoes several important transformations over the course of the Joyce’s novel, All of these transformations lead to a different character compared to the one we are given at the start of the book. The first transformation occurs during his first years as Clongowes. Stephen transforms from sheltered little boy from a strict Irish-Catholic family to a bright student who understands social interactions and can begin to make sense of the world around him. The second is Stephen’s transformation from innocence to debauchery. This occurs when Stephen sleeps with the Dublin prostitute. The third occurs when Stephen hears Father Arnall's speech on death and hell. He is turned from an unrepentant sinner to a devout Catholic. Stephen's greatest transformation is from near fanatical religiousness to a new devotion to art and beauty. This transition takes place when he is offered entry to the Jesuit order but refuses it in order to attend university. Stephen's refusal and his eventual epiphany on the beach mark his transition from belief in God to belief in aesthetic beauty. This transformation continues through his college years. By the end of his time in college, Stephen has become a fully formed artist, and his diary entries reflect the independent individual he has become. He has since broken away from his closed beliefs as a catholic and has come to appreciate beauty in its fullest, both sexually and aesthetically.

From a very young age, religion was as important in Stephen's life, almost as important as breathing. Stephen was brought up in a strict Catholic family. The demand for strict followings that was placed on Stephen shaped...
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