“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Review” Book Review

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Review Book Review

Jackie Collver, Writer

Spoilers ahead!!! 

Seniors who are taking AP Literature with Mr. Proctor remember the James Joyce novel we read, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The novel takes place in Ireland and follows Stephen as he grows from a child to a young man during a time of growing tension between Protestants and Catholics. Despite its interesting historic plotline, the novel wasn’t popular amongst my classmates.  

Students’ biggest complaints included Stephen’s ego and having to look at the footnotes every other sentence. Although I felt the same way, I enjoyed the novel overall.  

As annoying as it was to flip back to the footnotes to see what certain words and phrases meant, it forced me to slow down when I read. When I have reading for a class, I often skim through its pages because I have a lot of other homework to finish. After all, it is easier to make up literary devices you noticed in a section of a novel than to make up the answer for a math problem. 

Another issue I heard from my classmates was the difficulty of language used in Portrait. This is a valid struggle – the novel was published in 1916! However, the metaphors, run-on sentences and lack of clarity about how Stephen knows certain characters in the novel were some of the things from the novel that I liked. Not knowing how Stephen knows certain people in the novel gives his character more depth. Readers can assume he met these people from the parts of his life that were emitted from the book which makes Stephen seem more like a real person because he has a life that readers don’t know about.  

Just like real people, Stephen certainly has flaws. His selfishness and ungrateful attitude made him hard to stand in some parts of the novel. The main scene that stuck out for me was when Stephen asked his mom for money, and then complained that she gave him less than the amount he requested. What business does Stephen have for complaining like that?  

The end of the book consists of Stephen’s journal entries, making it an easier read. This surprise suddenly transfers the narration of the book from third person to first. It was cool to see Stephen’s internal dialogue! And even cooler? His selfish, “I’m smarter than everyone else,” attitude was no longer there.  

This is tremendous growth for Stephen, and it gave me a huge feeling of relief.  

My relief faded, though, when I realized that the novel ended through these journal entries. We saw Stephen grow from a seven-year-old to a young adult. In a way, I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to read Stephen’s dialogue again and know how he turned out. Of course, we can assume he would have been like Joyce, because his story was based on Joyce’s own life.  

Still, it was frustrating for me and a little sad that I can’t know how Stephen turned out as an adult, nor read about him again.  

Besides the amazing character development, the imagery throughout the novel is amazing. There’s one scene in a church, with sunlight illuminating candles, and it’s simply beautiful. This scene has stayed with me, even weeks after finishing the book.  

Through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, readers are introduced to this beautiful imagery, and so many more examples of the amazing writing that Joyce is capable of.  

Despite the beautiful imagery, it was difficult for me to understand some parts in the religious school and church scenes because religion isn’t a large part of my life. Throughout the novel, Catholicism and its hierarchies are mentioned and play important roles. Even with the footnotes, having previous knowledge of roles in the Catholic church would have been nice to better understand Stephen’s roles in the church, and the importance and roles of other characters.  

Because Joyce was writing the novel in the early twentieth century, religion was much more prominent than it is today, so it’s likely that people reading this when it was first published understood the religious terms better than readers today. 

Seniors just finished struggling through reading A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and their challenges in reading the novel aren’t surprising. The run-on sentences, complex metaphors and mystery to characters throughout the novel makes it hard to follow. However, Stephen’s character development and Joyce’s beautiful use of imagery throughout the novel makes it worth it.