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Stephen's desire to attain self-perfection is abusive. He believes that Father Arnall's sermon is directed at him, and he takes the sermon of fire and brimstone to heart. He runs through the streets looking for a place to confess his sins, he needs absolution, but he also submits himself to physical abuse believing that only masochistic exercises can serve as penance for the sins he has committed. The punishments he afflicts upon himself become an addiction, and he himself punishes himself over and over again. All in all, his self inflicted torments included downcast eyes, fasting, sitting in the most uncomfortable positions possible, no singing, and no joy. This was the path he chose to self-perfection. Note, it was not a permanent path.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man