A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man: Themes Developed Through Allusions to
Classical Mythology


James Joyce\'s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a novel of
complex themes developed through frequent allusions to classical mythology. The
myth of Daedalus and Icarus serves as a structuring element in the novel,
uniting the central themes of individual rebellion and discovery, producing a
work of literature that illuminates the motivations of an artist, and the
development of his individual philosophy.
James Joyce chose the name Stephen Dedalus to link his hero with the
mythical Greek hero, Daedalus. In Greek myth, Daedalus was an architect,
inventor, and artisan. By request of King Minos, Daedalus built a labyrinth on
Crete to contain a monster called the Minotaur, half bull and half man. Later,
for displeasing the king, Daedalus and his son Icarus were both confined in this
labyrinth, which was so complex that even its creator could not find his way out.
Instead, Daedalus fashioned wings of wax and feathers so that he and his son
could escape. When Icarus flew too high -- too near the sun -- in spite of his
father\'s warnings, his wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. His
more cautious father flew to safety (World Book 3). By using this myth in A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Portrait of the Artist), Joyce succeeds
in giving definitive treatment to an archetype that was well established long
before the twentieth century (Beebe 163).
The Daedalus myth gives a basic structure to Portrait of the Artist.
From the beginning, Stephen, like most young people, is caught in a maze, just
as his namesake Daedalus was. The schools are a maze of corridors; Dublin is a
maze of streets. Stephen\'s mind itself is a convoluted maze filled with dead
ends and circular reasoning (Hackett 203):

Met her today point blank in Grafton Street. The crowd brought us together. We
both stopped. She asked me why I never came, said she had heard all sorts of
stories about me. This was only to gain time. Asked me, was I writing poems?
About whom? I asked her. This confused her more and I felt sorry and mean.
Turned off that valve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating
apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri. (Joyce
246)

Life poses riddles at every turn. Stephen roams the labyrinth searching his
mind for answers (Gorman 204). The only way out seems to be to soar above the
narrow confines of the prison, as did Daedalus and his son. In Portrait of the
Artist, the world presses on Stephen. His own thoughts are melancholy, his
proud spirit cannot tolerate the painful burden of reality. In the end, he must
rise above it (Farrell 206).
At first, Stephen does not understand the significance of his unusual
name. He comes to realize, by the fourth chapter, that like Daedalus he is
caught in a maze:

Every part of his day, divided by what he regarded now as the duties of his
station in life, circled about its own centre of spiritual energy. His life
seemed to have drawn near to eternity; every thought, word and deed, every
instance of consciousness could be made to revibrate radiantly in heaven...
(Joyce 142)

Throughout the novel, Joyce freely exploits the symbolism of the name (Kenner
231). If he wants to be free, Daedalus must fly high above the obstacles in his
path.
Like the father Daedalus and the son Icarus, Stephen seeks a way out of
his restraints. In Stephen\'s case, these are family, country and religion. In a
sense, Portrait of the Artist is a search for identity; Stephen searches for the
meaning of his strange name (Litz 70). Like Daedalus, he will fashion his own
wings -- of poetry, not of wax -- as a creative artist. But at times Stephen
feels like Icarus, the son who, if he does not heed his father\'s advice, may die
for his stubborn pride (Litz 71). At the end of Portrait of the Artist, he
seems to be calling on a substitute, spiritual parent for support, when he
refers to Daedalus as "old father, old artificer."(Joyce 247),(Ellman 16). Even
at Stephen\'s moment of highest decision, he thinks of himself as a direct
descendant of his namesake Daedalus (Litz 71).
Stephen\'s past is important only because it serves as the fuel of the
present. Everything that Stephen does in his present life feeds off the myth of
Daedalus and Icarus, making him what he is (Peake 82). When he wins social
acceptance