Portrait of an Artist-Societal Structure-(3 of 8)

Stephen Daedalus is born into a small world that expands with time, however, because of the nature of the society he lives in, it is still small. The societal structure ruled by Irish law and religion, which have the power to name and label everyone who lives in this society as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Stephen was sent to learn at a religious school from an early age, where he quickly learned the labels that one is supposed to live with for the rest of their life if they want to be entry into this society. Rather than focus on doing righteous works to help others, the school’s interpretation of religion is to focus on sinning. More than anything else, it is important not to be labeled as a ‘bad person’ who sins against church and society, as all sins are to be taken as grave charges.  

Because of this emphasis on sinning and hell, Stephen is put through his own existential crisis on the question of religion and his place in society. Stephen is also deeply hurt when church elders use their position of power to abuse the students, because the teachers are automatically labeled ‘good’, and the students are ‘bad’ and always sinning, thus they can never be trusted. What does this kind of thinking do to a person’s sense of self? It sounds destructive. He also feels deep shame in being impoverished, which is labeled as ‘bad’ in his society, and Stephen is mocked for his tattered clothes. He tries to find escape in hedonism with prostitutes, but eventually finds this will not fulfill his needs, not because of sinning, but because he can’t live life purely as a pleasure seeker: he needs to create and find meaning and purpose. With this troubled state of mind, Stephen eventually wishes to escape this small world of harshly defined roles. He dreams of a place that is not labeled so rigidly, where he, as an artist, can challenge these labels and find nuance in people. Rather than saints and sinners, Stephen wants to find beauty even in ordinary things, like a woman cooling her feet at a beach. Without labels, he can finally see her humanity and all the colors of her (and his) true self.