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Prose Analysis of “From a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by James Joyce 

By: Soobin Ryu

The prose “From a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by Jame Joyce is about the protagonist Stephen Daedalus imagining a visit to the city, where his state of mind of both hope and fear is expressed by techniques like adjectives, contrast, and personification to show his isolation and his desires. This possibly infers to his desires to express himself as an individual in a society, yet the restriction of his past isolation limits his desires to be expressed.

This is introduced firmly in the opening paragraph, where the setting seems oppressive yet enticing. The month of “December” symbolizes dullness and coldness, while it is also a month of celebration with family and friends. James Joyce contrasts this oppressive mood of December with the repetition of the adjective “dull” to describe the day and setting with enticing elements of home like “stew for dinner” with familiarity shown with the adjectives “bruised” and “fat” to describe the ingredients of the food. The hunger expressed in the opening paragraph emphasizes the desire he has for a sense of family and togetherness. The inner person in the protagonist’s mind emphasized by the use of imperative verb phrases of “stuff it into you” as a tool to express those true desires.

Both isolation and desires are shown to reflect his conflicting state of mind, especially by the use of contrasting adjectives and verbs. The night is depicted as “gloomy” like the “fear” he feels, but there is a sense of hope to his desires and “joy” as “the yellow lamps would light up, here and there” not once, but many times. The desires of comfort and companionship is again emphasized by his want for “sudden call to his sin-loving soul”, however this is expressed as unlikely “stultified only by his desire” inferring to a sense of determinism of his current state, almost as if the desire for a change from his isolation is “wound[ing]” and “sham[ing].” This uncertainty and unlikelihood are emphasized by his dialogue with a pigeon, which is a rather unrealistic. Moreover “stars” most likely symbolizing hope are expressed as “indices” like a guide or a clue for to meet his desires. However again the sense of determinism and uncertainty is show by it “appearing and disappearing” which are direct antonyms of each other. Moreover the “music” personified as coming “nearer” to Stephen in the last sentences depicts the liveliness and communal harmony and expression, which can merely be achieved alone. Possibly this infers to a calling to achieve his desires for creation like an “artist”. However, in the last sentence all the hope given is greatly diminished to almost nothing as a sense of determinism starting from the personification of the moon as “wondering companionless” to the “stars” of hope beginning to “crumble” and “fine stardust fell through space.” Joyce’s choice of the verb “crumble” makes it more realistic to the readers as it triggers our senses of both sound and sight.

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