A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man tells the story of Stephen Dedalus, a boy growing up in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century, as he gradually decides to cast off all his social, familial, and religious constraints to live a life devoted to the art of writing. Right at the beginning of the novel is the epigraphy Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. This loosely translates into “he sent his soul into unknown arts.” This epigraphy is the bases of the novel; how Stephen explores is body and soul to find out who he really is. The unknown arts are ways in which Stephen finds his inner self and then is able to live life to the fullest. Like his namesake, the mythical Dedalus, Stephen hopes to build himself wings on which he can fly above all obstacles and achieve a life as an artist.
Throughout the novel there are certain moments when Stephen gives his soul to these unknown arts. One moment is at the end of Chapter 1 when Stephen decides to stand up for himself after he was unfairly punished. During a writing lesson Father Dolan notices that Stephen is not writing and demands to know why. Father Arnall tells Father Dolan that Stephen has been excused from class work because his glasses are broken and he cannot see well. Stephen is telling the truth, but Father Dolan still hits Stephen hand with the pandybat. After some encouragement from his peers, Stephen decides to go to the rector’s office and tell him what happened. The art here that he has pursued is courage. We see a heroic side of the young boy that we have not seen before. Even though Stephen needed the rest of the schoolboys to tell him to this action, he didn’t do it to satisfy them or to fit in. Rather, this denouncing of Father Dolan’s injustice was to be a moral triumph for Stephen. His walking through the corridor to the rector’s office was like the passage through the birth canal. It was a rebirth for Stephen and for his soul. At this point, we begin to see Stephen stepping away from the...
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