Chapter Two Assessment of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

January 18, 2010
By Anonymous

Our Sophomore English course encompasses the question, ‘Who am I and who do I want to be?’ Chapter Two in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce focuses on Stephan answering this question. It is during the teen years of young adulthood that kids really focus on what kind of person they are. When they are younger their images of who they are and who they want to be are distorted. It is up to the teenager to grow up and take the risks needed to become the person they want to be. Everything everyone experiences contributes to their ideal image.
A great influence on this image are inspirational characters from books and novels. Stephan greatly identifies with Edmond Dantes, the hero of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. He reads the novel over and over again and creates his own fantasies in which he can take on the Count’s character, “in his imagination he lived through a long train of adventures, marvelous as those in the book itself…” He spends his time in an alternate reality where he is as adventurous as his hero. Stephan has a desire to be dangerous and heroic while in previous chapters he has been described as timid and shy.
Sometimes people of all ages, but especially teenagers, get into this mindset that something external that they have no control over has the power to change their life. They put all their faith in a single possible fantasy hoping that if it comes true all their problems will be solved. Stephen longs for this while brooding over the character Mercedes from The Count of Monte Cristo. He dreams of meeting her and when they meet he will be transfigured, “he would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment.” This is highly unlikely to Stephen or any other teenager. Transformations do not just happen in one second. If someone wants to make a change they have to step up to the plate and make it themselves, no one is going to do it for you. If Stephan desires to become a stronger more masculine young adult like Dantes, he can not just wait around for the impossible to happen. Joyce is suggesting that Stephan must take his life into his own hands and become the person he wants to be.
Stephan’s fantasies and adventures entertain him but after the thrilling affect wears off, a sense of disappointment lingers, “He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld.” He is experiencing what every teen feels, the intense feeling to be someone who you are not and the unfortunate realization that our imagination is not reality. If Stephan learns that these images we create are not always going to come true than he will be able to break free of these influences much faster. We can learn from people and characters that inspire us but we will never be that person. The key to becoming completely confident in ourselves and who we are is being our own person.

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