The Modernist Narrative Technique in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


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Joyce’s writings are affected by modernism including the text selected here, in which its writing style has modernist features as interior dialogue and the use of ellipses. In his semi-autobiographical novel, the modernist techniques link the character of Stephen to Joyce; the artist himself. Both directly and indirectly “Did you believe in religion when you were at school? I bet you did… I did, Stephen answered. I was not myself as I am now, as I had to become”. (Joyce 300). Stephen will not believe in religion as Joyce. Though conveyed in the third person (with a bit of first-person near the end, in Stephen’s diary entries) There are many characteristics of modernism techniques within the novel but the most common ones are the use of “stream of consciousness” style and individual yet subjective theme

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The novel concluded the focus on subjective consciousness. Stream of consciousness derived from William James’s explanation of the mind’s experiencing thoughts, perceptions, memories, associations, and sensations. In Principles of Psychology (1890), the viewpoint of James about the conscious experience has been explained the full extent of thoughts that one can be aware of which is non-stoppable thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s style is a freestyle of Stephen’s unrestrained conscious thought. That was an important part of modernism since it shows a psychic reality that is far from true reality “stream of consciousness” Like how it is shown from this text:

“What did that mean, to kiss? You put your face up like that to say goodnight and then his mother put her face down. That was to kiss. His mother put her lips on his cheek; her lips were soft and they wetted his cheek; and they made a tiny little noise: kiss. Why did people do that with their two faces? ”. (Joyce 13)

The style of this passage certainly has features of an interior monologue as Stephen considers what a kiss is, freely indicates his innocent eagerness. It puts a question mark above reality and creating individual reality, by combining second and third-person narration. This technique was amply used by Modernist writers, particularly by Joyce who preferred to write about individuality rather than society. By using the interior monologue and the stream of consciousness, by his concern with the individual rather than the external reality, the stream of consciousness is showing the inner life of the character in an uninterrupted of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes separately from the sequential order of events. The writer doesn’t rearrange this flow of thoughts coherently.

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