Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Characterize aesthetic ideas discussed in the play?


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University has provided crucial intellectual material for Stephen's growth. His aesthetic theory, very sophisticated for a college student, is deeply indebted to Aristotle and Aquinas. Stephen's methods and manner of reasoning also shows the influence of the Jesuits and the education he received from them. The kinds of questions he poses about beauty have a similar character as questions he posed about theology in early chapters; Lynch tells him that his methods have "the scholastic stink" (244) which refers to the Catholic philosophy, first developed in the Middle Ages, that synthesizes Greek philosophy with Christian teaching.

At the same time, Stephen has gotten everything that he can out of university. We see him bored in lectures; he also has a very unsatisfactory conversation about beauty with his Dean of Studies. We see Stephen as a very isolated young man, too individualistic and critical to remain happily in Ireland, even in an intellectual community. He feels trapped. In the long conversation between the boys on the steps of the library, he says nothing. And even with Cranly, an intelligent and challenging friend, Stephen realizes that their days of friendship or coming to an end.

His new ideas about beauty are his obsession. This chapter shows the growth that Stephen has undergone; he has moved from sensitivity and unfocused love of beauty to an obsessive and methodical contemplation of aesthetics. His obsession with Emma is more aesthetic and abstract; he has admired her from afar for ten years, but in truth he does not know her that well. His contemplation of her is based on a very abstract idea of woman. He can only damn her or worship. His ideas about woman are actually very shallow. Emma exists more as Stephen's muse than as a flesh and blood woman. In his diary entry, we finally see a conversation between the two of them: Stephen warms up and feels "like" for her, which is new. It hints at the growth that he still has to undergo, which is reiterated in his mother's wish that Stephen learn something of the human heart.