“Moment of Epiphany: Stephen or James Joyce himself”, the title seems quite shocking right? That why did I link Joyce with his fictional character Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? Before solving the riddle like question, first let us know what do we mean by the moment of epiphany. It is like an “Aha!” moment! It is a sudden realization triggered by some simple or commonplace occurrence or experience that bring about a change in the rest of the story. The moment of epiphany can change a person’s way of living or even his thinking pattern or just anything.
James Joyce (1882 – 1941) an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic, contributed to the modernist avant-garde movement and is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Well known avant-garde writers like Samuel Beckett was influenced by him. Joyce’s works like Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is filled with stream of consciousness. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles.
Joyce’s fictional world centres on Dublin and his characters closely resemble his family members, enemies, and friends from his time there.
There is not much difference between Joyce and his fictional character Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is believed that he tried to reflect his youth through the character of Stephen, partially and not completely. If we look through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen undergoes inner conflict throughout the novel. The struggle between his inner drive and the disciplines set by the catholic church of Ireland. Stephen and his family underwent financial instability causing them to shift from one place to another. The same crisis was faced by Joyce’ as well. Like how Stephen had to leave his boarding school due to financial instability of his family; Joyce had to move out of Clongowes Wood College and seek education at home.
My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity—home, the recognised virtues, classes of life and religious doctrines……I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me.James Joyce
From the quoted words we can link his situation as a youth boy with Stephen: The moment of epiphany which brings about a sudden realisation in Stephen takes place in the end of chapter 4. When Stephen was walking back home thinking about the proposal of accepting priesthood as it would change his life completely. Accepting priesthood means renouncing the sensual pleasures of life, intimacy, marriage, etc. As he walks by he thinks that his name Dedalus will bring him something promising.
We know about the myth of Dedalus where proving his excellence craftsmanship he gets wax wings for his son to escape. He started to feel, that soon he will start to build a new soul which will only belong to him and not controlled by others. At that moment he sees a beautiful girl wading in the sea living the moment to its fullest and witnesses a moment of spiritual clarity and a sense of artistic vocation which shakes his spiritual enlightenment. He trusts the prophecy that his name holds. Stephen considers it as an expression of communication between him and nature that life is about appreciating beauty which he cannot ignore anymore. He witnesses a moment of sudden change, the moment of epiphany. After being on the verge of becoming a priest, his inner self influenced his decision and promises him an artistic life. He takes a vow to become an artist and follow his aesthetic theory. He then decides to cross every barrier to lead a life his inner self wants by moving away from everything which acted as obligation – family, Irish land, religion hindrances.
The major moment of epiphany in Stephen’s life doesn’t completely go with Joyce either. As reality doesn’t always has a definite end. Joyce did not completely forsake his believe, if so only earlier in his life. Some believes that he reconciled his faith later in his life and some says he never actually forsake his religion. His feelings were opposed to that of the Catholic Church but still somewhere was a believer at heart. If we examine his work Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are essentially Catholic expressions. Once thinking surely reflects partially if not completely in his writings. So the fact that the moment of epiphany: Stephen or Joyce himself always remains as a question. It is because one particular person’s mentality may not stay inact for all his life. Joyce believe always remained complex to all even to Joyce himself.