A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Metaphor Analysis

Music is a recurring motif in the novel. Either heard directly or remembered or imagined in the mind, music acts for Stephen as an emotional trigger, shifting his moods, conjuring up past memories, revealing something to him that otherwise was inaccessible. For example, just as Stephen is wandering around outside the theater, before his performance in the play, the side door opens and he hears a burst of music: “The sentiment of the opening bars, their langour and supple movement, evoked the incommunicable emotion which had been the cause of all his days unrest . . .” (p. 78). Another example occurs as he is about to leave the study of the director of Belvedere College, who has just asked him to consider becoming a priest. Stephen hears four young men singing to the accompaniment of a concertina, and this music “passed in an instant . . . over the fantastic fabrics of his mind, dissolving them painlessly and noiselessly as a sudden wave dissolves the sandbuilt turrets of children” (p. 173).
Shortly after this, as he relishes the prospect of attending University College and discovering his true destiny, he imagines his new adventure in terms of music: “It seemed to him that he heard notes of fitful music leaping upwards a tone and downwards a diminished fourth, upwards a tone and downwards a major third, like triple-branching flames leaping fitfully, flame after flame, out of a midnight wood” (179). Music, then, whether heard directly or imagined, offers Stephen a way into the depths of his being.
The labyrinth is an implied metaphor throughout the novel. It is linked to Stephens last name, Dedalus. In Greek mythology, Daedalus was a master craftsman and inventor. In Crete, King Minos commissioned him to construct the Labyrinth, as a means of hiding the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster. The Labyrinth was so constructed that anyone who did not know the secret would wander in its maze forever, unable to find the way out. Minos later imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth, but Daedalus fashioned wings from wax and feathers and flew away with his son.
So too Stephen Dedalus is trapped in a labyrinth that consists of the paths made by others, such as family, religion, and nation. Following the paths laid out by others leaves him wandering in a maze that offers him no fulfilment. There are a number of false exits in the labyrinth, times when Stephen feels elated and free, but none of these is the real escape route. Examples include the incident at the end of Chapter 1, when he is greeted as a hero by the other boys for reporting his unfair beating to the rector; the intoxication he feels when he has his first sexual experience with a prostitute; and the relief that follows his confession to the priest. All these moments offer temporary relief only. Permanent escape comes only when, like Daedalus, he fashions his own wings and realizes his destiny as an artist.