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Adolescence to Adulthood:
Comparative Study of Stephen Dedalus from James Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" to Felicitas Taylor from Mary Gordon's "The Company of Women"
Stephen Dedalus, the hero in "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce, is very similar to Felicitas Maria Taylor, the heroine in "The Company of Women" by Mary Gordon. The novels they are protagonists in both track their journey from adulthood into adolescence. This paper endeavors to explore the characters of Stephen Dedalus and Felicitas Taylor in terms of how they cope with their teenage years and how their experiences and encounters influence how they turn out as adults.
Prior to undertaking an in-depth look into the nature of these two main characters of their respective books, it is important to provide a summary of the story each character is involved in and, thus, shaped by. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" relates the adventures of Stephen Dedalus, growing up in Ireland towards the close of the 1800s. He eventually decides to throw off all his social, familial, and religious restrictions to live a life dedicated to writing (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/summary.html).Each chapter reflects the advancing, internal conflict Stephen experiences in maturing to adulthood (http://www.geocities.com/nickdanger74/joyce1.html).
Chapter One records numerous 'first-times' for Stephen: he sits with the adults at the table, he converses with peers in a different location (Clongowes), he is disciplined, he looks for justice, and his peers acknowledge him in the company of others. More importantly, Stephen is compelled to solve his own problems, mustering up the courage to do so. In Chapter Two, Stephen's contentment in being victorious in the essay contest and subsequently expending his money fruitlessly results in him feeling ashamed and humiliated.
There are two things that symbolize Stephen's transition from childhood to near-adulthood: his sexual awakening and his family's move to Dublin and his own move to Belvedere College. In Chapter three, Father Arnall gives a stirring sermon that inspires Stephen to confess his sins (that of frittering away his prize money). Stephen's reconciliation, driven by feelings of guilt, symbolizes the social catharsis required in order to graduate from childhood thinking. Chapter Four involves Stephen's commitment to find autonomy. He sees himself as the mythical creature Daedalus, flying over life's hindrances on his own wings, his own steam.
When Stephen encounters the girl on the beach, he experiences an epiphany, "the awareness that he is not inherently wicked or sinful and that, perhaps, the imposition of social codes is to blame for his feelings all along." (http://www.geocities.com/nickdanger74/joyce1.html).Stephen comes to the realization that he should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about appreciating and loving beauty. Chapter Five deals with Stephen's frustrations. "He is disenchanted and frustrated by others who do not understand him and needs independence desperately. Stephen finds pseudo-freedom while attending the university, but complete freedom still eludes him." (http://www.geocities.com/nickdanger74/joyce1.html).
Not unlike Stephen Dedalus, Felicitas Taylor in "The Company of Women" also harbors aspirations for freedom. She longs to feel and give love. "The Company of Women is a tale tracing the adventures of Felicitas Maria Taylor, the group of Catholic women in her life, and numerous romantic enticements (http://english.uindy.edu/kellogg/season02/gordon.htm).Felicitas Maria Taylor attempts to merge the opulent home life of her religious childhood with the liberal feel of adulthood out in the non-Catholic and acutely sexual universe (McCormick, 1999). The novel follows Felicitas as she is reared by her intensely religious mother, her mother's equally religious friends and a well-meaning priest (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345329724/ref=ase_theatlanticmonthA/104-1).Felicitas is smart, charismatic, and yearning for a life of contentment and bliss. Her mind becomes giddy with happiness at the prospect of so much freedom as she attends college in the 1960s. While in college, Felicitas embarks on an ill-fated romance with a rogue (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0345329724).After her abandonment and impending role as a single mother in the 1970s, Felicitas discovers her real self in the company of women who raised her (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?isbn=0345329724).
When one analyzes the main characters separately, one can observe many similarities between the Stephen Dedalus and Felicitas Taylor. Stephen goes through various significant metamorphoses. The first, when he is at Clongowes, is from a protected, naive little lad to an intelligent pupil who comprehends social relations and can rationalize the universe around him. The second metamorphosis happens when Stephen has sexual intercourse with the Dublin whore, signaling his graduation from purity of heart to lasciviousness. The third transformation takes place when Stephen heeds Father Arnall's oration about death and hell. He changes from an remorseless transgressor to a devoted Catholic. Lastly, Stephen's biggest metamorphosis is from extreme religiousness to a new love for beauty and art, when Stephen rejects an offer to enter the Jesuit order. "Stephen's refusal and his subsequent epiphany on the beach mark his transition from belief in God to belief in aesthetic beauty. This transformation continues through his college years. By the end of his time in college, Stephen has become a fully formed artist, and his diary entries reflect the independent individual he has become." (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/canalysis.html).
Perhaps the most renowned element of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is Joyce's inventive employment of directly transcribing the ideas and feelings that are examined in a character's mind, as opposed to describing these feelings from the perspective of a witness. Therefore, the novel is also a record of the development and maturity Stephen goes through in his mind. In the beginning, young Stephen can only explain his world in short easy words and terms. The feelings he encounters are mixed together, along with a child's inability to rationalize the causes and repercussions of events. Next, Stephen as a teenaged religious fanatic has the capability to rationalize events in an adult fashion. This is shown through the paragraph style - more rationally ordered and Stephens ideas progress chronologically. Stephen's method of thinking is more developed and he is being more aware of his surroundings, Stephen is able to articulate his perspective better. However, his ability for rational thought is inhibited by his blind faith in the church as well as his intense feelings of guilt and religious euphoria. It is only at the end when Stephen attends university. He appears to be really rational and logical. Stephen successfully transmogrifies into an adult with a balanced emotional, intellectual and artistic mind (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/themes.html).
The progression into maturity of Stephen's mind in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is particularly compelling because Stephen's journey to adulthood provides insight into the graduation of a writing genius. Stephen's encounters convey the influences that helped Joyce become the formidable literary genius he is thought to be today. Stephen's fixation with speech; his tense attempts to reconcile faith, family, and culture; and his devotion to creating his own ideology regarding beauty, art and truth are the methods in which Joyce tried to solve to the numerous issues in his life during his pre-adult years. At the novel's conclusion, the reader learns that being proficient at your occupation still demands great labor and sacrifice, even if one is naturally gifted in the occupation (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/themes.html).
The initial lines of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" convey Joyce's endeavor to relate the thoughts of a young boy. The words are childish, immature: "moocow," "tuckoo," and "nicens" are terms a child may utter, or terms an adult may use in talking to a child. Also, Joyce attempts to convey a child's system of thought through the sentence and paragraph syntax. He bounces from idea to idea without any sense of time or motivation. The reader is not told how much time lapses between Stephen's father relating to Stephen a story and Stephen soiling his bed. In addition to this, when Stephen's thoughts become introspective mirrors the way children perceive themselves as the vortex of the universe. "Stephen is the same Baby Tuckoo as the one in the story his father tells, and the song Stephen hears is 'his song.' As Stephen ages, Joyce's style becomes less childish, tracking and emulating the thoughts and feelings of the maturing Stephen as closely as possible." (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/portraitartist/quotes.html).
The last lines of the book announce Stephen's desire to be an artist until the day he dies. The term "the smithy of my soul" shows that he yearns to be an artist whose individual awareness is the basis for all his literary endeavors. The allusion to "the uncreated conscience of my race" hints that he wants to be an artist who utilizes his own individuality to formulate a voice and rectitude for the society into which he entered at birth. The last journal entry, with its allusions to "old father" and "old artificer," underlines Stephen's objective. He conjures up his "old father" -- which can be perceived as either Ireland (the country) or Simon Dedalus -- to admit to his liability to his past experiences. He summons the "old artificer" -- his namesake, Daedalus, the expert artisan from ancient mythology -- to stress his personification as an artist. Through his…[continue]
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