A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
James Joyce
Contributed by Cinderella Domino
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.

Stephen often evokes music to describe the intuitive, mysterious loveliness of certain experiences: the sound of the gas pipes at Clongowes is a song, the wheels of the train to Cork beat out a rhythmic music, the words in poems sound out melodies, memory itself is like music. Music also signals moments of transition and discovery; a simple melody turns Stephen away from the priesthood and reminds him of his artistic ambitions. More generally, music represents a loosening of boundaries: “the music passed in an instant, as the first bars of sudden music always did, over the fantastic fabrics of his mind, dissolving them painlessly and noiselessly as a sudden wave dissolves the sand built turrets of children.” Stephen responds strongly and intuitively to music, and it helps restore his childlike, artistic connection to the world around him.


Bats seem, to Stephen, to represent something essential about the conflicted, dark, mysterious Ireland of his childhood. He does not make the comparison entirely clear, yet he refers to it several times, with strong feeling: “he felt the thoughts and desires of the race to which he belonged flitting like bats across the dark country lanes,” he writes in one place; and “she was a figure of the womanhood of her country, a bat-like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and secrecy and loneliness.” At the turn of the nineteenth century, Ireland was emerging from many centuries of British domination to a strong sense of national pride and dreams of independence. Stephen feels that Irish identity and self-awareness is still very young and uncertain, like a blind bat flying in the dark; it is also secretive and elusive, unlike the raucous Fenian celebrations in the streets. It is his artistic ambition to capture this identity and bring it to light.

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