Joyce as an Artist

“He closed his eyes and the train went on, roaring and then stopping; roaring again, stopping” (9).

“The guards went to and fro opening, closing, locking, unlocking the doors” (17).

James Joyce is an artist in the way that he paints with words. The way in which he constructed these sentences (and the rest of the novel, for that matter) is quite telling of his abilities to create a portrait without ever picking up a brush and pallet. He combines the past tense with the progressive tense, painting an image of something that has already occurred and yet is still occurring at the same time. A painting, for example, shows an image of something that occurred in the past, but to the onlooker in the present the image is still continuing. In Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, the night he painted passed, but to the person viewing the image the night is still occurring. Similarly, Joyce is an artist who is painting a portrait of the events that took place in the main character’s life – events that took place and are still taking place simultaneously.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Huebsch, 1918. Internet Archive.

1 thought on “Joyce as an Artist

  1. This is an interesting interpretation of both the title of Joyce’s novella and the use of shifting tenses to create an effect of both action and vivid memory. I would be interested in hearing more of an elaboration on how Joyce presents action through the narration; is this story narrated, or recalled? How reliable can a narrator be when s/he relies on a reflection of human memory, which we know all too well is imperfect? Is the narrator relying on memory? If so, whose memory, and are we to trust it?

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