Bird Imagery In Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man Essay

Bird Imagery in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The works of twentieth-century Irish writer James Joyce resound
vividly with a unique humanity and genius. His novel, A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is a convincing journey through
the inner mind and spirit of Stephen Dedalus. Portrayed with incredible
fluency and realism, imagery guides the reader through the swift current of
growth tangible in the juvenile hero. Above all heavy imagery in the novel
is the recurring bird motif. Joyce uses birds to ultimately relate Stephen to
the Daedelus myth of the ?hawklike man;? however, these images also
exemplify Stephen’s daily experiences, and longing for true freedom
(page169). By using imagery of birds as threatening, images of beauty, and
images of escape, the reader can unify the work and better understand
Stephen’s tumultuous journey through life.
The opening scene of Chapter one portrays a conversation between
a very young Stephen and Dante, Stephen’s nanny. She scolds him for an
unconventional thought, warning him that ?the eagles will come and pull
out [your] eyes?(8). This obviously graphic image suggests to Stephen the
threatening presence of eagles that are minding all his thoughts. Joyce’s
vividness with such gruesome imagery has a real effect on Stephen; he
repeats Dante’s caution in his childish song, chanting: ?Pull out his eyes,
Apologize? (8). A playful, yet sensitive Stephen must immediately conform
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even his innocent unorthodox actions in fear of the threatening phantom
eagles to save the consequences they will bring. His thoughts are
threatened again by birds when he meets an acquaintance named Heron
when walking down a dark street. Stephen immediately notes the peculiar
image of Heron’s ?bird face as well as a bird’s name?(76). Through
descriptive images of Heron’s ?mobile face, beaked like a bird’s? and his
?close-set prominent eyes which were light and inexpressive,? Joyce
enables the reader to not only envision his birdlike characteristics but also
adds insight to Stephen’s thoughts toward his unchaste peers (76). Heron
taunts Stephen, sardonically naming him a ?model youth? who ?doesn’t
flirt and doesn’t damn anything or damn all? (76). This blatant remark by
the bird-like boy is an obvious verbal threat to Stephen’s character.
Continued as Heron and his friend viscously chide Stephen for his
admiration for Byron’s poetry, Joyce’s bird imagery bears in this scene a
restraint of Stephen’s uniqueness by threatening his self-expression.

As Stephen mentally develops in the progression of the novel, he
begins his search for the ?freedom and power of his soul, as the great
artificer whose name he bore? would have done (170). Stephen is now at
the beach, pondering his new sense of maturity as he grows ?near to the
wild heart of life?(171). Walking down a rocky slope, he takes notice to a
girl ?alone and still, gazing out to sea?(171). Stephen watches her, and
awed by her ?likeness of a strange and beautiful sea-bird,? he realizes she
is the epitome of all that is ?the wonder of mortal beauty?(171). Painted by
Joyce’s radiant imagery of the ?darkplumaged dove? he sees before him,
this rationalization is the basis of Stephen’s internal epiphany; she is, to
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Stephen, ?an envoy from the fair courts of life? (171, 172). This wholesome
bird-like girl with ?long slender bare legs (that) were delicate as a crane’s,?
gives Stephen a perception of a true virtuous beauty he has never known
before, and a calling to ?recreate life out of life,? as is the role of the true
artist he aspires to be (171, 172).

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A few years later on the steps of a library adolescent Stephen
stands, wondering ?what birds are they? as he watches dozens of birds fly
free above him, their ?darting quivering bodies flying clearly against the
sky? (224). Now more restless and philosophical, he wonders at their
images. Joyce’s truly audible imagery of the birds’ ?cry (that) was shrill and
clear and fine and falling like threads of silken light? is, for Stephen,
?inhuman clamour [soothing] his ears? (224). Stephen Dedalus sees
solace in the birds’ ?flutter of wings;? they are the fundamental symbol of
the freedom he is ready to have for his own (224). He wishes to have their
liberation from the society he knows as he reflects on:
?The correspondence of birds to things
of the intellect and of how the creatures
of the air have their knowledge and
know their times and seasons because
they, unlike man, are in the order of
their life and have not perverted that
order by reason?(224).

In order to seek true emancipation, Stephen ?must go away for they were
birds ever going and coming…ever leaving the homes they had built to
wander?(225). Stephen resolves to leave his Irish homeland; free and wild
as his images of the birds.
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The attributes which mold Stephen Dedalus’ growing integrity and
life decisions stem from the actions which surround him. The reader
associates Stephen by the images he encounters and his reaction to them.
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen’s
connection with bird imagery helps to define his search for a role in his
society, and helps readers define and identify with his quest.


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