defying organized religion

“He passed along the narrow dark corridor, passing little doors that were the doors of the rooms of the community.  He peered in front of him and right and left through the gloom and thought that those must be portraits.  It was dark and silent and his eyes were weak and tired with tears so that he could not see.  But he thought they were the portraits of the saints and great men of the order who were looking down on him silently as he passed: saint Ignatius Loyola holding an open book and pointing to the words Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam in it, saint Francis Xavier pointing to his chest, Lorenzo Ricci with his berretta on his head like one of the prefect of the lines, the three patrons of holy youth, saint Stanislaus  Kostka, saint Aloysius Gonzaga and blessed John Berchmans, all with young faces because they died when they were young, and Father Peter Kenny sitting in a chair wrapped in a big cloak” (57).

“They made a cradle of their locked hands and hoisted him up among them and carried him along till he struggled to get free.  And when he had escaped from them they broke away in all directions, flinging their caps again into the air and whistling as they went spinning up and crying:” (60)

Joyce, James.  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Notes:   When Stephen is unable to study because his glasses are broken, Father Dolan reprimands him.  The broken glass represents religions distorted view of the world–that people should not live their lives based on religion’s dogmatic teachings.  When Stephen’s friends encourages him to report the incident to the rector, he passes by a hallway which was dark and silent to convey the kind of lives that people lead that suppress their views in favor of religion.  As he passes the hallway, it is filled with pictures of saints as if to imply to Stephen that what you are doing is wrong and that you should not report Father Dolan to the rector.  Ironically, Joyce does not capitalize the word “saint” to refer to the religious figures.  As if Joyce is conveying that religious figures are no different from you and I and that their orders and teachings should not be followed blindly.  After reporting Father Dolan to the rector, Stephen is hoisted up in the air as if to signify his triumph over religion.

1 thought on “defying organized religion

  1. I’d be wary of stating any symbol definitively represents something, but your interpretation of Stephen’s literal blindness as an precursor to Stephen’s future plight with how to understand religion is very interesting, especially your note on the status of the saint as opposed to a Saint. Considering Stephen’s future parallel to Satan when he says “I will not serve” and your analysis of the hoisting as an acknowledgment of a triumph over religion, could Stephen not be at his highest, quite literally, when he turns away from religious practice by opposing the idea that religious study should trump all earthly impairments. However, this could also be flawed because as Stephen reports Father Dolan to the rector, is he not doing the opposite of turning away from religion and instead following an orderly doctrine of how to handle complaints and dissatisfaction. I think both views have their merits, even if conflicting, and simultaneously, contribute to the heartbreak and disillusionment when the rector betrays Stephen’s trust.

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