As its title suggests, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a kind of self-portrait, a novel that traces the development of its central character, Stephen Dedalus, from infancy to young adulthood, as he finds himself drawn into and struggling with the social, religious, and political currents of late 19th-century Ireland. While Joyce clearly bases Stephen on his younger self, he maintains an ironic distance from his character, implying at the end of the novel that his youthful alter ego still has much to learn about both life and the art that he dreams of making.

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