Topics for Discussion

1. How likable is Stephen Dedalus? What are the positive and negative aspects of his character?

2. How does Stephen develop over his years at Clongowes school? What traits do we see in Stephen that will develop as he grows older? What traits do we see that will diminish over time?

3. How would you describe Stephen’s relationship with his family? His father? His mother? His brothers and sisters?

4. In the beginning of the book, Stephen, wrongly punished by Father Dolan, overcomes his fear to speak with the rector of Clongowes, Father Conmee. What does he learn as a result of this episode? How does his encounter with these two men influence him later in life?

5. By the end of the novel, Stephen has resolved to leave Ireland. Why?

6. In his second-to-last journal entry, Stephen writes that his mother prays that he will “learn what the heart is and what it feels.” What does she mean? Do you think Stephen understands what she means?

7. Joyce could have had Stephen tell his own story, but instead we see him described by another narrator who knows his most intimate thoughts. Why might Joyce have chosen to tell the story in this way? Having done so, why does he end the novel differently, with a series of passages from Stephen’s diary?

8. Although this novel presents us with “a portrait of the artist,” the only art of Stephen’s we actually see is one poem, his villanelle, and few readers have been very impressed by that. Why don’t we see more of Stephen’s art? What does the poem tell us about the young artist?

9. Throughout the novel we catch glimpses of a young woman identified only as E.C. who inspires Stephen’s poetry but remains, at best, a vague and silent presence. In the earlier manuscript, later published as Stephen Hero, E.C. is Emma Clery, a far more tangible character whose relationships with both Stephen and Father Moran are more fully detailed. Why do you suppose Joyce chose to obscure this character in his revisions to the novel?

10. Biographies and autobiographies are usually written in a single, continuous narrative (first this happened, then this, and so on), but Joyce’s fictional autobiography is episodic in nature: each chapter contains a series of episodes separated by asterisks. What is the effect of this method of structuring the story?

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