Comparing The Dead And A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

3433 words - 14 pages

The Dead and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

 
Unlike the preceding stories in Dubliners, which convey the basic theme of paralysis, "The Dead" marks a departure in Joyce's narrative technique.  As one critic notes, in this final story of Dubliners:  "The world of constant figures has become one of forces that, in relation to each other, vary in dimension and direction" (Halper 31).  Epstein has offered some insight into Joyce's technique in Portrait: "Each section . . . contains significant 'timeless' moments in the life of the artist, selected from a lifetime of events.  The reader's attention traces the line of the curve from one point to the next until the complete curve is defined. . . . Both he [the artist] and the reader became completely aware of the landscape of his soul and the nature of it"  (103).

The above excerpt is provided for the benefit of the student only.  The complete essay begins below.

To venture into the morass of Joycean scholarship reminds one of the closing lines of the poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold.  It reads:

...The world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night. ( 1148 )

The sense of anxious hope captured in these lines is much like the struggle experienced by one seeking to offer a fresh perspective on the complex works of James Joyce.  On a deeper level, though, the poem suggests an important aspect of Joyce's prose.  Arnold's poem is often singled out as a prime example of a literary work possessing liminality, a term which refers to the state of being on a threshold in space or time (Holman and Harmon, 266).  Similarly, in "The Dead" and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce created characters and setting infused with liminality.  While many critics have discussed certain temporal and spatial qualities of the works of Joyce, few have focused on the theme of liminality as it relates to Joyce's presentation of the artist's development.  Here, then, is my exploration of the significance of liminality in these two works, as it pertains to the development of two similar, yet different, artists:  Gabriel Conroy and Stephen Dedalus.  At the outset, it will be useful to separate this discourse into three basic parts:  the first being a comparison/contrast of the characters of Gabriel and Stephen;  secondly, a  discussion of examples of liminality in A Portrait and "The Dead"; and, finally,   an interpretation of the closure of these two works.

David Wright has pointed to Stephen Dedalus and Gabriel Conroy as two characters which are based largely on Joyce himself.  However, Wright concludes:

In his earlier works, Joyce had allocated some of his creative energy to...

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