Smugging in the Square: Homosexuality as a Literary Device in James Joyce's "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man."

Topics: Homosexuality, Sexual intercourse, Gender Pages: 9 (3682 words) Published: October 6, 2008
What can be said of the menacing literary masterpiece that is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is that the gender issues Joyce so surreptitiously weaves into Stephan Dedalus’s character create sizable obstacles for the reader to overcome. Joyce expertly composes a feminine backdrop in which he can mold Stephan to inexplicably become innately homosexual. As Laurie Teal points out “… Joyce plays with gender inversion as a uniquely powerful tool of characterization.”(63) Stephan’s constant conflict with himself and what he wants generate a need for validation that he tries to simulate through day dreams and fantasies but is ultimately unable to resolve. Through exploring the tones of characterization and the character development of Stephan himself, I will argue that Stephan Dedalus rejects his heterosexuality in favor of homosexuality so that he may eventually find himself. Dedalus’s character must inherently be homosexual in able for his story to progress believably. Joyce conceives his character, a hero in fact, in a moment of genius. A hero must have a fatal flaw. I wish to clarify Joyce’s work and explain how homosexuality IS present in Portrait and does work in creating a hero.

Stephan rejects possible companion after companion yet ceaselessly alludes to his constant social isolation. On Stephan’s definition of normal, Garry Leonard has this to say, “Although Stephan strives for such a system, he also seeks relief from it, declaring all responses illegitimate except for a state he calls ‘esthetic stasis.’”(Leonard, 81) Joyce’s decision to create “such a system” within Stephan demonstrates Joyce’s choice to make Stephan unable to delineate from what is normal and was is not. Stephan is confused with himself and with his surroundings. Here, we are able to see that if there was even a chance for Stephan to understand himself at some point, it is now gone. In his creation of a system, Stephan actually makes it harder for himself. He cannot now arbitrarily choose whether something is normal or not, he must run it through his skewed system. Stephan’s sexual relations with the women in the novel are examples of him following this system, in regards to women in a sexual manner and using them as the base sustenance his body needs. He decides that it is normal to experience sex, to view it as a bodily need rather than an intimate connection. However Stephan’s psychological relations with the women he encounters are three hundred and sixty degree turns from the sexual. He regards each female as an example in which to measure himself against. “He is moved partially by what he perceives as the messy, degrading aspects of womanhood to write his Villanelle: "a tender compassion filled his heart as he remembered her frail pallor and her eyes, humbled and saddened by the dark shame of womanhood" (P 222). The muck of menstruation humbles her in Stephen's imagination.” (Scott, 173) Bonnie Kime Scott illustrates here that Stephan takes this womanly bodily function, that men do not, and usually wish not to understand and uses it to define an opinion. Stephan even creates with this idea. He takes menstruation and uses it as an inspiration and a subject for his writing; writing that is possibly may be the most viable example of Stephan’s true self we are offered. Stephan is not heterosexual here. He definitively offers the reader a genuine glimpse of his character, a glimpse that can only be construed as homosexual.

I believe that Stephan’s homosexuality is extremely deeply rooted in his development at Clongowes. Stephan’s experiences with Father Dolan created contempt of masculinity. Here, Stephan connects masculinity with Dolan’s indifference to his explanation of his broken glasses and the subsequent beating Father Dolan gives him: “And his white-grey face and the no-coloured eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand first with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better...
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