James Joyce: Portrait

“It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak. When would he be like the big fellows in poetry and rhetoric? That they had big voice and big boots and they studied trigonometry. That was very far away” (13).

“And the whitegrey face and the nocouloured eyes behind the steelrimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand firs with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better and louder” (43).

Both passages mark this sense of innocence and smallness that as children we all feel. In the first quote Stephen reminds us what it’s like to want to grow up and how badly it’s wanted. That, a bit later on, he begins counting the semesters until he realizes that being grown-up is too distant a place to count to and then submits to that it will just come, eventually. In the second quote there is another sort of innocence. Stephen is positively naïve while his punishment is ongoing that this trusted figure will still be good, and how the shock occurs reverberates, long after the action has ended. His innocence is perhaps not shattered, but he has learned to distrust.

1 thought on “James Joyce: Portrait

  1. I think your analysis about Stephen’s innocence in the two passages connects with this passage later on in the novel: “Their banter was not new to him and now it flattered his mild proud sovereignty. Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy. So timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal his own mood, that all ages were as one to him” (James 142).

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

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