Childhood

He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? You put your face up like that to say goodnight and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips to his cheek; her lips were lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces? (11)

His fingers trembled as he undressed himself in the dormitory. He told his fingers to hurry up. He had to undress and then kneel and say his own prayers and be in bed before the gas was lowered so that he might not go to hell when he died. He rolled his stockings off and put on his nightshirt quickly and knelt trembling at his bedside and repeated his prayers quickly quickly, fearing that the gas would go down. (15)

Within both passages Joyce explores the childish innocence that Stephen views the world. In the first passage, Stephen questions whether it is right or not to kiss his mother. He demonstrates this curiosity in kissing itself by analyzing the entire act. In the second passage, Stephen shows his innocence in his fear of not being in bed before the gas was lowered. Joyce emphasis the boy’s sense of urgency through the repetition of words such as “quickly”.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

1 thought on “Childhood

  1. Stephen’s childhood was my favorite part of the book. His childlike questioning of things like kissing, or the dual meaning of words ~ “That was a belt round his pocket. And belt was also to give a fellow a belt” (7), show the inquisitiveness and exploratory nature of children but also of the artist that Stephen was to become. He questions language and words, kiss, belt, suck, as well as colors ~ ivory and white. There is a solitariness and sadness in Stephen as a child. He separates himself, hiding under the table, detaching himself from a football game, counting the days until he goes home. It is as if being detached from the world around him gives him the power of observation an artist needs. “It pained him that he did not know …where the universe ended. He felt small and weak” (13). Stephen’s mind constantly works to figure out the world and his place in it.

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