Künstlerroman Plot And Features Of Modernism In James Joyce’s Novel A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

January 12, 2022 by Essay Writer

Künstlerroman Plot

Künstlerroman is a novel type, also known as “novel of the artist”. It examines the process of the artist from childhood to adulthood when he or she realizes his or her artistic potential. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical main character Stephen Dedalus Joyce’s mythical representation of himself. The story shows us how he grows as a Jesuit in childhood, how he goes to Paris to fulfil his dreams and struggle between finding his identity.

‘I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, and cunning.” (p. 191). When Stephen accepted his artistic identity he becomes one with the author, James Joyce.

Modern Language in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce used mythology, history and literature to create innovative symbols and narrative techniques. For instance, the last name of main character referring to Greek mythology and style used for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man stream of consciousness technique, enable reader to read main character’s mind, was an innovative technique in that times. Joyce uses symbols to show its themes. This is shown by the following example: “White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colours to think of. And the cards for the first and second place and third place were beautiful colours too: pink and cream and lavender. Lavender and cream and pink roses were beautiful to think of. Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colours and he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place. But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could.” (p. 7). Stephen mentions white and red roses and implies the need for a green rose. Purity, passion, and his admiration for Ireland seem to suggest these colours.

Result and Discussion

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of the pioneers of Kunstlerroman (an artist’s Bildungsroman) in English literature in which we can observe the process of an artist from his childhood to his early adulthood. The novel is about the development of an artist, not just any young man.

The modernist novel is revolutionary in its kind. With its different narrative style, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man put forward the consciousness of individual human mind.

According to William James, who is famous American philosopher and psychologist, conscious experience is described as continuous and unbroken, referring to the never-ending associative flow of thoughts, perceptions and feelings in Principles of Psychology (1890)

The technique that Joyce use in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is free flowing which is following Stephen’s conscious though. This is inevitible style for modernist novel since it is create another imaginariy reality. The stream of consciousness technique was used by modernist writers aspecially by James Joyce who give more importance individual than society.

Individualism came with romanticsm went one step forward with modernism by using interior monologue and stream of consciousness technique. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man written in third-person narrative with few dialogues. The novel tell story of Stephen from his childhood to his adulthood, when he finally decides to leave Ireland to fulfil his dreams. The reader can observe modernist features in the all stages of novel.


One of the pioneers of modernist writers, James Joyce, take modernism to a different level with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The novel which is written in Künstlerroman plot details Joyce life through Stephen. All the features of modernism; a strong desire to go beyond the rules, a celebration of inner power, concerning with the sub-conscious, quest for searching man’s position in universe exist in the novel. Althoug it can be hard to understand because of changing chronological order, with interior monologue and stream of consciousness technique has managed to be one of the leading novels in its genre. James Joyce has created incredible works even if it was hard to adapt changing world in terms of politica, religion and capitalism called into question such as many writers Virginia Woolf, T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound.

Using stream of consciousness technique, Künstlerroman plot and modern language made A Potrait of an Artist as a Young Man appreciated novel in its time. Virginia Woolf who is also a modernist writer, seems to understand and absorb essence of modernist writing according to one of her writings: “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions-trivial, fantastic, evanescent or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old… Life is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. It is now the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit whatever aberration or complexity it may have with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible” [2]


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