In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the author James Joyce suggest that Stephen Dedalus is trying to develop into an artist by letting go of his struggles with women in order to solely focus on being a genuine artist. Throughout the novel Stephen struggles between the love and lust of a women’s image. He cannot separate or define either of the two, which creates conflict through his search to become an artist. By focusing on the imagination of who his ideal woman is, James Joyce, through Stephen Dedalus, creates the center of his own conflicts that eventually lead him to exile his homeland.
As a young man Stephen is unsure about the security he feels with his mother. He isn’t sure how to separate himself as his own being from his mother and the comfort she consistently offers and at times, overwhelms him with. Jacques Lacan’s theory of child development explains the psychoanalytic theory behind Stephen’s struggle. “During the Mirror period, the child comes to view itself and its mother, later other people as well, as independent selves,” Beyond the other adolescent inner conflicts that Joyce provides Stephen at Clongowes, it is the motherly affection that coincides with growing up that Stephen has the most trouble with, especially in trying to be an artist. “Such constructions, according to Lacan, are just that: constructs, products, artifacts-fictions of coherence that in fact hide what Lacan called the “absence: or “lack” of being” (269).
As a student he is ridiculed by many of the boys that represent a paternal threat because of the parental love he feels for his mother, leading him to be unsure of what to say, or even how to react to their bullying.
Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother every night before you go to bed?
Wells turned to the other fellows and said:
O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed. (27)
Stephen openly admits to kissing his mother before he goes to bed but the response he receives from the boys only makes him more insecure about his answer, forcing him to change his mind under the adolescent and yet paternal scrutiny.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing. Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
I do not.
O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed. (27)
Stephens “blushing” exemplifies his anxiety and uncertainty about how he should have reacted to the question of if he kisses his mother. This uncertainty shows the affect that women have in his maturing. Even at this time in his life, the fact that he kisses his mother is holding back his ability to socialize and connect with other boys his age, despite the threat they pose. He is unable to relate to these boys because he does not understand how to let go of his need for a motherly figure in his life. He is still connected to his mother and yearns for her security, especially during this struggle at Clongowes. This causes him to shy away from the boys and it stops him from being able to “raise his eyes to Wells’s face”(27) proving that Stephen is overtly ashamed with himself and not confident when it comes to facing or associating with the other boys. This damper on his social endeavors secludes him from the rest of his peer, which in essence, allows Joyce to give Stephen a different thought process in the maturing stages of his mental ability throughout his adolescence because his ideas are not shaped through other’s thoughts but his own mind and imagination.
The cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body; and, when the bell rang for study and the lines filed out of the playrooms, he felt the cold air of the corridor and staircase inside his clothes. He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother?
Even though Stephen is soaked with “slime” he cannot stop focusing on the struggle within himself between his love for his mother and the want to fit in with the boys at school. “The cold slime of the ditch” in a way, symbolizes a mother’s womb, which comforts Stephen to think about his mother. This emphasizes Stephens need to “kiss” his mother; the kissing is a reassurance of his mothers comfort which reassures his security. Stephen “develops a conviction that women are bound by the generative demands of the species, and the presence of his own mother becomes a reminder of contingency, the shame of his animal nature and the threat of personal extinction.” (Suzette Henke 319). Henke’s feminist take in her essay shows Stephen’s inability to separate himself from the comfort of his mother’s womb and how he labels women to certain roles as other beings. One of these roles is Stephen’s assumption created by Joyce, that women comfort their children.
Stephen wants to rid himself from all of the motherly figures in his life “biological, ecclesiastical, and political” (Suzette Henke 331) and in order to achieve this he pushes away from his mother creating frustration and conflict between him and his mother. “The image of women metonymically absorbs all the paralyzing nets that constrain the potential artist” (Suzette Henke 331). Stephen starts to feel his mothers ridicule about his perseverance in his quest to become an artist. This causes a strain in their relationship that also leads to his eventual exile.
Mother indulgent. Said I have a queer mind and I have read too much. Not true. Have read little and understood less. Then she said I would come back to faith because I had a restless mind. This means to leave church by backdoor of sin and reenter through the skylight of repentance. Cannot repent. Told her so and asked for sixpence. Got three pence. (220)
In this passage it is clear that there is significant separation between Stephen and his mother. Joyce uses fragmented sentences to highlight the fragmented relationship Stephen now shares with his mother and while his mother thinks Stephen “reads too much”, he believes he has “read little and understood less”. Through this misunderstanding, Joyce portrays the reluctance Stephen’s mother has towards the importance of Stephens love for the art of literature The clash also exemplifies the separation of their thought processes because she believes it is unnecessary for him to indulge himself in his books. Their argument then turns to faith, which is the “ecclesiastical” mother that Joyce uses as another mother Stephen is trying to escape. This shows that his mother does not truly understand his desire to become an artist. She is limiting him to his “faith” she claims he has a “restless mind” that portrays her lack of understanding of Stephen’s ambition and quest to become a genuine artist. She believes his restless mind will lead him nowhere and tries to convince him that his only success will be through his faith. But Stephen openly disagrees saying that he “cannot repent”; this only distances their relationship even more so because what his mother believes is right for him, he refuses to accept. It ensures Stephens need to break from her because her motherly traits will only set him back in his artistic ventures.
The issue of Stephens mother trying to defy him by only giving him three pence when he ask for six shows her reluctance towards him, showing the real change in their relationship. This is because usually a mother gives into a child and makes them happy. His mother is unwilling to give into Stephen because Stephen is not doing what she wishes at that point in his life as a young adult. The break in the relationship shows the intensity of Stephen’s will to achieve becoming an artist which makes it easier for him to break away from his comfort zone and become independent with no security, leaving his friends, other family, and beloved E—C.
15 April: Met her today pointblank in Grafton Street. The crowd brought us together. We both stopped. She asked me why I ever came, said she had heard all sorts of stories about me. This was only to gain time. Asked me was I writing poems? About whom? I asked her. This confused me more and I felt sorry and mean. Turned off that valve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus…(223)
Stephen is a young man that has longed to be loved by a woman. Yet he tries to shut women out of his life “she asked me why I never came” indicates his reluctance to peruse any women in his life. The turning off of “that valve” shows how Joyce shuts off Stephen’s emotions towards women. He does not allow himself to feel for any women because he does not want emotions to get in the way of his art. His “spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus” represents himself trying to save himself through what he thinks is a heroic action but this action is cold and machine-like, also representing his heartless venture through life because he is unable to love a woman and be loved by a woman in fear of it taking over his ambitions through art, including E—C and his mother. This apparatus proves Stephen’s only true function when it comes to emotions, which is shutting them off in a way as to freeze them and turning away from any feeling he has towards relationships. This is his true “psychological flight from woman” (Suzette Henke 330) because he is unwilling to show any sexual or physical emotion towards this girl.
Yes, I liked her today. A little or much? Don’t know. I liked her and it seems a new feeling to me. Then, in that case, all the rest, all that I thought and all that I felt I felt, all the rest before now, in fact… O, give it up, old chap! Sleep it Off! (223)
Stephen suddenly has a change in emotions throughout his journal entry. He seems to realize that he can have emotions towards a woman but he is still uncertain about this. “ I liked her today”. Not a common affair to Stephen, Joyce gives the impression that Stephen is unwilling to truly open to women. Stephen is unsure about his emotions, towards E--C “A little or much? Don’t know.” Making him unable to pinpoint his level of feelings for a woman because he is scared to truly feel anything. “It seems a new feeling to me” shows that Stephen hasn’t yet allowed himself to feel this way for anyone. This scares him and lowers his confidence in his feelings, adding to the escalating fall that he feels he must delve into by exiling the political mother, his motherland, Ireland. He tells himself to “give it up, old chap! Sleep it Off!” ultimately showing that Stephen does not take his feelings serious. He thinks they are something that he can simply sleep off, this is because he is not aware that it is ok to have these feelings.
Throughout the novel Stephen struggles with his emotions with women. He cannot separate his desire for women and his role as an artist, which causes internal conflicts. Stephen sees women as an object that will hold him back from becoming an artist. He feels a desire to “flee from all women who have served as a catalyst in his own adolescent development.” (Suzette Henke 334). Joyce shows Stephen’s need to truly separate himself from women through his development and maturing stages that suffered greatly through his relationships with women. Stephen believes that the only thing that a woman will bring to his life is a set back. He cannot explore his art without being distracted by the lust and love he feels for any woman. He believes that all women are weak like him self and that he must fully leave them in order to be successful.
Stephen tries to fulfill his dreams as an artist by forcing himself to shut out all mother figures. He wants to be in full control of his art and he wants to control the woman through his art. This is the only way he will ever be able to be in control over women. This is because women have the ability to create through nature whereas men do not. Therefore Stephen longs to create his ideal women through his text. Joyce shapes Stephen’s imagination of what an ideal women is, past interactions with them. He is forced to draw his on conclusions on women through his own actions creating a sense of uncertainty and lust that he chases thorough his adolescence. His final exodus is a reflection on the conflicts James Joyce introduces to not only Stephen, but to the readers, as an artist himself.