Portrait of Innocence

O, I say, here’s a fellow who says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed. The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing Stephen blushed under their eyes and said  –I do not. Wells said: –O, I say, here is a fellow who says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed. They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh again. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? (pg 7)

His mother kissed him. Was that right? (pg 11)

Joyce, James. a portrait of the artist as a young man. New York City: Dover Thrift Editions, 1994. Print.

Notes: Both passages show Stephen confusion as a young child who feels lost in a new environment. He is a new student and cannot seem to fit in and does not know what the other children aspect of him so that he could fit in with the rest. His innocence is very apparent in both passages because as a young student in a new school he just wants to make friends and fit in with the rest of the students. These passages can be related universally because everyone has been through this kind of experience.

4 thoughts on “Portrait of Innocence

  1. radz15,
    I completely see the connection you have made, and agree that Stephen’s innocence is evident in these two passages. Between these two passages I can also see that the topic of Stephen’s mother kissing him is something that really stayed with him, as he is still contemplating a few pages later whether or not it is still acceptable for a boy of his age. The reader can see that Stephens is longing to know what is the “right” answer to the question so he can answer it accordingly and feel as if he fits in. There is an obvious contrast of a boy who is young enough to still want his mother to kiss him goodnight, yet he is living in a college-style situation. I cannot imagine how I would have felt having to leave home young enough to still have that close, nurturing, and necessary relationship with a parent . Great work, though!
    -GMD

    1. I agree with your opinion how in both of these passages, Stephen’s innocence is clearly portrayed through his imagination of his mother kissing him. Stephen’s act of kissing his mother everyday symbolizes his attachment to his mother and symbolizes how kissing his mother is a comfort source for him to adapt in this new environment. Also, Stephen’s laughing with his fellow students shows that he is trying to be cool just like his classmates so that he can fit into society and not be made fun of being close to his mother. Stephen’s act of kissing his mother, difficulties in adapting to his new environment and laughing with his fellow students are dilemmas everyone has to face at some point of his or her life and thus, everyone can relate to Stephen’s dilemmas. Throughout the novel, Joyce portrays the changes which Stephen undergoes, both physically and mentally, and anyone can relate to Stephen’s changes. For example, when Stephen sleeps with the prostitute, he loses both his innocence and virginity. Anyone can relate to Stephen’s loss of innocence and virginity since everyone loses their innocence and virginity at some point in their life. Stephen’s act of sleeping with the prostitute makes him feel guilty and thus, he confesses to Father Arnell which makes him feel much
      better. Anyone can understand Stephen’s guilt in this part of the novel because everyone commits a sin during a phase of his or her life which makes that person feel guilty and by talking it out with someone, one feels lightened and much better.

  2. I liked these two passages! I looked another passage on page 11 too. After discussing the book in class, it is easier to see how Stephen uses other voices and words to express his ideas, thoughts or feelings. Earlier in the novel, he has to use someone else’s words, or then he confuses/embarrasses himself. I also like the connection you made to innocence. I think that when he is at school, that innocence is constantly trying to be destroyed. He is constantly facing issues with teachers and fellow students. Yet, he still tries to hold onto whatever he has from his home life, even if it means being made fun of.

  3. I think both passages perfectly illustrate the very beginnings of Stephen’s inability to situate himself inside a socially acceptable realm. From the beginning of the novel, there is an overwhelming sense that Stephen is somehow different from the boys he interacts with at Clongowes and that he simply doesn’t seem to fit in. There is a thematic presence throughout the novel of a search for identity and I think the two passages here show how that is at work. In regards to the first passage, I think his both his decision to change his answer about whether his mom kisses him or not and his physical reaction of getting hot and blushing is wonderful example of the beginnings of the pervasive inner conflict that plagues him into his adult life.

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