Bird Imagery In Portrait Of The Artist

As A Young Man Essay, Research Paper

Bird Imagery in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The works of twentieth-century Irish writer James Joyce resound

vividly with a unique humanity and genius. His novel, A Portrait of the

Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is a convincing journey through

the inner mind and spirit of Stephen Dedalus. Portrayed with incredible

fluency and realism, imagery guides the reader through the swift current of

growth tangible in the juvenile hero. Above all heavy imagery in the novel

is the recurring bird motif. Joyce uses birds to ultimately relate Stephen to

the Daedelus myth of the ?hawklike man;? however, these images also

exemplify Stephen?s daily experiences, and longing for true freedom

(page169). By using imagery of birds as threatening, images of beauty, and

images of escape, the reader can unify the work and better understand

Stephen?s tumultuous journey through life.

The opening scene of Chapter one portrays a conversation between

a very young Stephen and Dante, Stephen?s nanny. She scolds him for an

unconventional thought, warning him that ?the eagles will come and pull

out [your] eyes?(8). This obviously graphic image suggests to Stephen the

threatening presence of eagles that are minding all his thoughts. Joyce?s

vividness with such gruesome imagery has a real effect on Stephen; he

repeats Dante?s caution in his childish song, chanting: ?Pull out his eyes,

Apologize? (8). A playful, yet sensitive Stephen must immediately conform

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even his innocent unorthodox actions in fear of the threatening phantom

eagles to save the consequences they will bring. His thoughts are

threatened again by birds when he meets an acquaintance named Heron

when walking down a dark street. Stephen immediately notes the peculiar

image of Heron?s ?bird face as well as a bird?s name?(76). Through

descriptive images of Heron?s ?mobile face, beaked like a bird?s? and his

?close-set prominent eyes which were light and inexpressive,? Joyce

enables the reader to not only envision his birdlike characteristics but also

adds insight to Stephen?s thoughts toward his unchaste peers (76). Heron

taunts Stephen, sardonically naming him a ?model youth? who ?doesn?t

flirt and doesn?t damn anything or damn all? (76). This blatant remark by

the bird-like boy is an obvious verbal threat to Stephen?s character.

Continued as Heron and his friend viscously chide Stephen for his

admiration for Byron?s poetry, Joyce?s bird imagery bears in this scene a

restraint of Stephen?s uniqueness by threatening his self-expression.

As Stephen mentally develops in the progression of the novel, he

begins his search for the ?freedom and power of his soul, as the great

artificer whose name he bore? would have done (170). Stephen is now at

the beach, pondering his new sense of maturity as he grows ?near to the

wild heart of life?(171). Walking down a rocky slope, he takes notice to a

girl ?alone and still, gazing out to sea?(171). Stephen watches her, and

awed by her ?likeness of a strange and beautiful sea-bird,? he realizes she

is the epitome of all that is ?the wonder of mortal beauty?(171). Painted by

Joyce?s radiant imagery of the ?darkplumaged dove? he sees before him,

this rationalization is the basis of Stephen?s internal epiphany; she is, to

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Stephen, ?an envoy from the fair courts of life? (171, 172). This wholesome

bird-like girl with ?long slender bare legs (that) were delicate as a crane?s,?

gives Stephen a perception of a true virtuous beauty he has never known

before, and a calling to ?recreate life out of life,? as is the role of the true

artist he aspires to be (171, 172).

A few years later on the steps of a library adolescent Stephen

stands, wondering ?what birds are they? as he watches dozens of birds fly

free above him, their ?darting quivering bodies flying clearly against the

sky? (224). Now more restless and philosophical, he wonders at their

images. Joyce?s truly audible imagery of the birds? ?cry (that) was shrill and

clear and fine and falling like threads of silken light? is, for Stephen,

?inhuman clamour [soothing] his ears? (224). Stephen Dedalus sees

solace in the birds? ?flutter of wings;? they are the fundamental symbol of

the freedom he is ready to have for his own (224). He wishes to have their

liberation from the society he knows as he reflects on:

?The correspondence of birds to things

of the intellect and of how the creatures

of the air have their knowledge and

know their times and seasons because

they, unlike man, are in the order of

their life and have not perverted that

order by reason?(224).

In order to seek true emancipation, Stephen ?must go away for they were

birds ever going and coming…ever leaving the homes they had built to

wander?(225). Stephen resolves to leave his Irish homeland; free and wild

as his images of the birds.

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The attributes which mold Stephen Dedalus? growing integrity and

life decisions stem from the actions which surround him. The reader

associates Stephen by the images he encounters and his reaction to them.

In James Joyce?s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen?s

connection with bird imagery helps to define his search for a role in his

society, and helps readers define and identify with his quest.


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