Joyce, “Portrait,” Ch. 1-2

“Some weeks Jack Lawton got the card for first and some weeks he got the card for first. His white silk badge fluttered and fluttered as he worked at the next sum and heard Father Arnall’s voice. Then all his eagerness passed away and he felt his face quite cool. He thought his face must be white because it felt so cool. He could not get out the answer for the sum but it did not matter. White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colours to think of. And the cards for first place and second place and third place were beautiful colours too: pink and cream and lavender. Lavender and cream and pink roses were beautiful to think of. Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colours and he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place. But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.”

“It could not be a wall; but there could be a thin thin line there all round everything. It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. He tried to think what a big thought that must be; but he could only think of God. God was God’s name just as his name was Stephen. DIEU was the French for God and that was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said DIEU then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. But, though there were different names for God in all the different languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages, still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.

It made him very tired to think that way. It made him feel his head very big. He turned over the flyleaf and looked wearily at the green round earth in the middle of the maroon clouds. He wondered which was right, to be for the green or for the maroon, because Dante had ripped the green velvet back off the brush that was for Parnell one day with her scissors and had told him that Parnell was a bad man. He wondered if they were arguing at home about that. That was called politics. There were two sides in it: Dante was on one side and his father and Mr Casey were on the other side but his mother and uncle Charles were on no side. Every day there was something in the paper about it.”

-James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”
(1916)

Notes: These passages both contain good examples of Joyce’s use of wordplay, repetition, and color symbolism in his early work. More of Joyce’s tone comes across through his diction and specific syntax (meant generally in “Portrait” to reflect the growth of a young mind) than through the actual content of a given passage.

Notes: Modernist perception of time, modernist perception of the individual, Bildungsroman, prose style, character naming, color symbolism, Joycean epiphany (see: Stephen Hero)

1 thought on “Joyce, “Portrait,” Ch. 1-2

  1. These passages are really interesting. Joyce’s use of color symbolism is fascinating in that it makes you think of the color and it alters the mood as you’re reading. I also agree that the diction and syntax works in a way that truly makes you feel as if your are in Stephen’s head.

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