A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Summary

Chapter 1 Part 1The novel begins with the childhood of Stephen Dedalus, a young boy growing up in Dublin, Ireland, where he attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit school. Stephen, who is somewhere between six and nine years old, is a sensitive boy, smaller than the others, who is often teased and bullied. Nasty Roche, for example, teases him about his last name. Another boy, Wells, pushes him into a cesspool and later teases him for admitting he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed. Stephen does not like the rough game of rugby football that is played at the college, and he prefers to be in the study hall. Even at this young age he feels the power of language, and is fascinated by the simple sentences in his spelling book. Stephen is also good at mathematics, which is taught by Father Arnall. But he would sooner be at home than in school, and he looks forward to the Christmas vacation when he will go home to his family in Bray. Just before the vacation he becomes sick and is taken to the infirmary, where he shares a room with a boy called Athy and is cared for by Brother Michael. During his stay in the infirmary, he hears of the death of Charles Parnell, an Irish patriot who campaigned for independence from Britain.

The first section is an example of Joyces use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, which tries to capture the flow of a characters thoughts, emotions and sense impressions as they happen, without the use of the intellect to order and make sense of them. In this case, since the protagonist Stephen is a young boy, there are many simple sentences, and the effect is sometimes choppy and disjointed, as one impression gives way to another, sometimes unrelated one. The style well captures the curiosity, vulnerability and bewilderment of a child as he learns about a world in which much does not make sense or cannot be understood.