Stephen's Internal Existential Crisis Wk. 5 (2 of 8)

Throughout Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephan Dedalus is wrestling with an internal existential crisis;  Who and What he should be. Should he align himself to religion and the church and become a priest? Or should he dismiss the church and religion and become an artist? There is another subcategory to the Who question: Should Stephen present himself as Irish and remain loyal to his country or should he present himself as an American? Stephen is faced with many internal queries that force him to scope out his own individual conscience. Part of this process involves Stephen finding his own voice, Joyce takes readers on an exploration of language that Stephen uses as his aid in his exploration of his world and its surroundings amidst his formative transition from a young boy into a young man. At the beginning of the novel, Stephen as a very young boy does not possess the authority of leadership or confidence in himself. Joyce depicts this lack of authority through the lack of dialogue from Stephen and extreme stream of consciousness, detailing in excruciating detail the thoughts Stephen forms, but cannot speak. In comparison to the other characters, Stephen speaks the least and his dialogue is noticeably shorter, lacking flow and assertiveness when he does speak. Part of the reason for this is Stephen's feeling of alienation from the other boys; he does not feel comfortable around them, and that discomfort causes his mind to revert to his happy place- in this instance, his parents at home. "All the boys seemed to him very strange. They had all fathers and mothers and different clothes and voices. He longed to be at home and lay his head on his mother's lap" (Joyce 11). "He drank another cup of hot tea and Fleming said:

-What's up? Have you a pain or what's up with you? 

- I don't know, Stephen said. 

-Sick in your breadbasket, Fleming said, because your face looks white. It will go away. 

-O yes, Stephen said. 

But he was not sick there. He thought that he was sick in his heart if you could be sick in that place. Fleming was very decent to ask him. He wanted to cry. (Joyce 11). 

Stephen is able to think about what is wrong with him, but he is not able to articulate to Fleming that he is sick. Fleming has to point that out for him. The presence of authority is another instant in the novel we witness Stephen's apprehensiveness with speech:

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, said the prefect of studies... 

You boy, who are you?  

Stephen's heart jumped suddenly. 

-Dedalus, sir. 

-Why is he not writing, Father Arnall? 

-He broke his glasses, said Father Arnall, and I exempted him from work. 

-What is this I hear? What is your name? 

-Dedalus, sir. 

-Lazy little schemer. I see schemer in your face. Where did you break your glasses? 

Stephen stumbled into the middle of the class, blinded by fear and haste. (Joyce 45). 

During his time at Clongowes, Stephen is unfairly reprimanded by the prefects and his lack of conviction often makes him appear culpable in their eyes. As Stephen grows up and begins to trust himself more, Stephen's dialogue becomes noticeably longer, melodious, and self-assured, at times, arrogant.  His thoughts become less jumbled and more coherent. Towards the middle, to the end of the book, Stephen's thoughts and his conversations resemble high Philosophic thought. During an encounter with the Dean at the University, Stephen expounds on his advanced thought process: 

"This fire before us, said the dean, will be pleasing to the eye. 

Will it therefore be beautiful? 

-In so far as it is apprehended by the sight, which I suppose means here esthetic intellection, it will be beautiful. But Aquinas also says... In so far as it satisfies the animal craving for warmth fire is a good. In hell however it is an evil. 

-These questions are very profound, Mr Dedalus, said the dean... Only the trained diver can go down into those depths and explore them and come to the surface again. 

-If you mean speculation, sir, said Stephen, I also am sure that there is no such thing as free thinking inasmuch as all thinking must be bound by its own laws" (Joyce 163-164). 

This exchange between the Dean and Stephen shows the maturity not only of Stephen's age but of his speaking and thinking ability that are now on equal terms. He is developing his own individual conscience.