The Substantial Image in Ireland: An Analysis of the Artist and Community in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
AbstractWhile writing Dubliners, James Joyce wondered why Dublin had not yet been portrayed by any artist: "When you remember that Dublin has been a capital for thousands of years, that it is the ‘second’ city of the British Empire, that it is nearly three times as big as Venice it seems strange that no artist has given it to the world" (Ellmann, 208). Joyce takes this mission upon himself but chooses to depict "his" city with the paintbrush of a realist artist and the spray can of a graffiti expert. He salutes Dublin by flattering it with his attention, yet he recognizes its faults. He zooms in on the elements of Dublin that make for shaky foundations and analyzes those elements by portraying the characters involved in them. These elements are the communities of Ireland. I would like to examine the effects a society has on an individual who relies on his environment and involvement with others in order to draw artistic nurturance as well as practical sustenance. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is considered the classic example of a Bildungsroman or "novel of development" (Mitchell, 72). It narrates the education of a young person, but more emphatically, a young artist. The society occupies a major role in this novel form, acting as the geographic locus for characters and efficiently packaging the flavor, that is, the culture, beliefs, temperament, norms, values and history of their homebase. But for the protagonist of the novel, society establishes a standard and status quo: …the novel of development has always had a strong interest in the relationship of the individual to society, the values and norms of that society, and the ease or difficulty with which a good man [or artist] could enter into it (Mitchell, 72).