Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The Psychology of Conversion

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is, if nothing else, a record of the psychological journeys of Stephen Dedalus as he progresses from child to adult, unlearned rural boy to intellectual student, sinner to saint to artist. Stephen's level of devotion and intensity, regardless of the object of these feelings, seems to increase following each transformation, culminating in his "desire to press in my arms the loveliness which has not yet come into the world" (273). William James, the early 20th Century American psychologist, examined real-life experiences similar to those of Stephen Dedalus conversions, religious transformations, saintliness in his classic book on the psychology of religion, The Varieties of Religious Experience. James provides insight into Stephen's motivations, approaches, and actions by using philosophy and psychology to analyze religion, especially Christianity, and its effect on the human psyche. Of particular interest are James's discussion of conversions, especially when viewed in the light of Stephen's move from the depths of sin to the height of fanatical asceticism, following by his full embracing of art and beauty as the true object of his desire. A careful analysis of...

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