Monday, March 31, 2008

David Hockney's Secret Knowledge & Hamlet

So this is more of a gathering of information and some random ideas, rather than a "thesis", but thought you all might find this train of thought interesting. David Hockney (pictured below on the cover of his wonderful book SECRET KNOWLEDGE: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters) presents a fascinating theory about the history of western art.

This book drew some pretty heavy criticism from some art historians because of Hockney's "radical" thesis. Hockney, a masterful artist himself, researched and theorized that there was a huge change in Western Art around 1500 a.d. Artists were painting much more "realistic" than they ever had, and Hockney argued this dramatic and sudden shift was due to a mechanical device known as the camera obscura. (see below)

As you can see from the diagram above, this was the very beginning of how a camera works and, Hockney argued, allowed the artist to "project" an image on a canvas while he painted or sketched it. Some Art Historians were bothered by this--arguing that he was somehow cheapening the work of masters, as if they were cheating. Hockney disagreed. Again, an artist himself, he argued that this was just another tool for the artist and someone still had to create these masterful images.

Hockney went further to prove his point with historical research and only something that an artist may have actually been able to capture--he started to show visually where and how the artists were employing this technique. (This is just something you'll have to read the book to see--I can only present a cheap argument. But one of the images that he begins with is Jan van Eyck's "Arnolfini Portrait":

As Wikipedia notes, "However, in the celebrated Arnolfini Portrait (London, National Gallery) reproduced at left, van Eyck inscribed on the (pictorial) back wall above the convex mirror "Johannes de Eyck fuit hic 1434" (Jan van Eyck was here, 1434). The painting is one of the most frequently analyzed by art historians, but in recent years a number of popular interpretations have been questioned."

Eventually Hockney moves on to Hans Holbein the Younger--(again more from Wikipedia): "(c. 1497– before November 29, 1543) was a German artist and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style. He is best known for his numerous portraits and his woodcut series of the Dance of Death, and is widely considered one of the finest portraitists of the Early Modern Period."

Hockney analyzes the shadows in the arras and the patterns in the tapestry to further his theory that it was produces with a camera obscura. Take a good look at it:

The Ambassadors
Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533
Oil on oak
207 × 209.5 cm
National Gallery, London

More from Wikipedia: "Although a German-born artist who spent much time in England, Holbein displayed the influence of Netherlandish painters in this work. This influence can be noted most outwardly in the use of oil paint, the use of which for panel paintings had been developed a century before in Early Netherlandish painting."

My question is: Would it have been really that crazy for Shakespeare to have seen this painting, and even pulled quite a bit of imagery from it for Hamlet? Look at the painting again....

Remember this passage from Hamlet in Act 3 Scene 4:


  • Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
    The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
    See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
    Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
    An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
    A station like the herald Mercury
    New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
    A combination and a form indeed,
    Where every god did seem to set his seal,
    To give the world assurance of a man:
    This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
    Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
    Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
    Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
    And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
    You cannot call it love; for at your age
    The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
    And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
    Would step from this to this? Sense, sure, you have,
    Else could you not have motion; but sure, that sense
    Is apoplex'd; for madness would not err,
    Nor sense to ecstasy was ne'er so thrall'd
    But it reserved some quantity of choice,
    To serve in such a difference. What devil was't
    That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
    Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
    Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
    Or but a sickly part of one true sense
    Could not so mope.O shame! where is thy blush?
    Rebellious hell,If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
    To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
    And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
    When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
    Since frost itself as actively doth burn
    And reason panders will.

But this still doesn't solve the problem with the image. Look at the painting again. What is that formless image at the bottom of the painting?

With a little digital / optical help, if the image is cut and rotated, this is what you would see:

...more evidence of an optical device being used by the artist, but this painting also becomes a sort of symbol for Deconstructionist Theory.

That's for another blog post though...

Hamlet Study Guide

Test and Notebook due on Thursday, April 3rd
  • Vocabulary & Terms
    -tragedy (Aristotle’s Definition)
    -tragic hero (Aristotle’s Definition)
  • Character Map
  • Plot Questions
    -order or events
  • Quote Identifications
    - class notes and dialectical journals
  • Essay
    - class notes and dialectical journals

Feel free to use this space to help each other "fill in gaps" of your notes etc.

Hamlet Act V Scene II (Kenneth Branagh)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reflective Essay

For senior internship candidates only:

You are to write a personal-reflective essay of your growth in my class for the year. I am not looking for compliments on my teaching here (and I am certainly not looking for criticism!) You should give an account of an anecdotal moment or two related to class that represent your growth for the year. Like the college essay, you are striving for an engaging memoir, not a resume or a list of achievements. And please AVOID CLICHÉ LIKE THE PLAGUE! Be specific with what we can learn from characters, events, books, how literature has or can have an impact on your life, etc.....700 words.

Due: Before I sign you out. I will sign you out only if all of this is done correctly.

detail of Lucien Freud's "Self Portrait"--which I saw in N.Y. last month at the MOMA show of his etchings...


  1. Make the above assignment your last (or latest) post—This should mean that it is the first one that appears on your blog when I visit.
  2. Then go to “Edit Posts”. After you click “edit” on whichever post you pick, there is a little box at the bottom of each post. I would like you to label each post under the following categories and republish the posts:
  • Analysis (Formal Essays)
  • Personal
  • Creative
  • Notebook Entry
  • On-demand Writing
  • Blog Writing

3. Next, I would like you to choose one piece from each of these categories, as well as your reflective essay, and create another label called:

  • Portfolio

4. Finally, I would like you to leave a comment on each of these "portfolio posts" on why you picked this assignment and what it means to you.

This way, when I click on the “Portfolio Label”, I should see your reflective essay, followed by six choices for your portfolio (feel free to include more) and your comments on each piece.

Helpful Hints:

Make sure your blog is clean: (both in content and in layout)

Your posts should be readable—! If I can’t read, they are of no value!

Include pictures in the posts—optional, but a nice touch. Come by for help if you need me to show you how.


Act 5 Scene 1 (ZEFFIRELLI- "ALAS, POOR YORICK"-1990)

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Pretty Ophelia--" (King Claudius) A4:S5

Natalie Dessay "Ophelia Scene"

Thought you all might be interested in this. Can anyone translate? We only have 35 minutes on Monday for our Student-Led-Discussion (due to the short period, early release day). I think it might help things if we figure out what we want to focus on before we come in--feel free to post your topic ideas and why before class. I think the Elaine Showalter essay should be helpful and incredibly interesting for your theories.

Please post your ideas for class discussion if you get a chance after reading....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Act 3:1 - 3:2

Most of Act 3:1 and the end of Act 3:2. Feel free to comment about what you think of this portrayal based on your developing theories of the characters involved. (You may only critique my over-acting skills if you include textual evidence from Hamlet at the beginning of Act 3:2.)

Optional of course, but I'm entirely curious...

Portrait Model Paper # 5

The True Meaning of Nature in the Life of Stephen Dedalus
Benwit L
English 12 Honors
February 7, 2008

Art and nature can be seen in a contrasting manner. For an artist, to create art is to create an image or an emotion out of nothing. However, nature has a sense of supremacy in which the objects created through nature are part of reality. Artists have attempted to mimic and even surpass the qualities of nature through their techniques. In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as Stephen grows up as a budding, young poet, he struggles with the vastness of nature and the superiority it imposes on him. Through Stephen’s artistic journey, Joyce implies that nature is genuine and can not be attained through art. Stephen is only an artist in his adult life once he learns to accept nature.

Through the innocent mind of Stephen, Joyce establishes that nature has a sense of infiniteness. As Stephen opens up his geography notebook, he reads the writing on the inside and tries to interpret it artistically by reading the verses backwards. Initially, Stephen writes:
  • Stephen Dedalus is my name,
    Ireland is my nation.
    Clongowes is my dwellingplace
    And heaven my expectation. (27)

By referring to the places as his dwellingplace and his nation, Stephen suggests that he holds some position of power in the areas and further strengthens his image. His pseudo poem dramatically ends with “Stephen Dedalus is my name” (28). The other statements give Stephen a sense of importance which heightens the effect of stating his name last. In his attempt to gain status, he is trying to compete with his surroundings which, in a psychoanalytic sense, are the father figures which are constantly hindering him. Stephen is a part of each of his environments, much like how a son resembles his father and, therefore, Stephen feels much of the oedipal uneasiness that prevents him from becoming a man on his own. Stephen does not feel as if he belongs in his environment because he lacks a definite connection to it like he would with his mother and thus wishes that he is the father figure for this brief instance. He knows that he is in Clongowes and Ireland; however, he is unable to adapt and feel comfortable like the other boys. Stephen can not help but to try to become his father. He lacks composure that the other boys seemingly have and is still very much infantile in his behavior. He continues to seek comfort in his art, treating art much like the physical connection he once had within his mother’s womb.

Although one can interpret meaning in the backwards verses, Stephen himself acknowledges that “they are not poetry” (28). In his artistic act, Stephen contemplates on what true importance he has on the world. He wonders what is beyond the universe and can think of nothing. He then speculates if there is “anything round the universe to show where it stopped before the nothing place began” (28) and if “there could be a thin thin line there all round everything” (28). Ultimately, Stephen concludes that “only God could do that” (28). God, the ultimate creator and nature itself, is the only one that has the power to do such an action. In a sense, His importance is above the importance of all others, including artists such as Stephen. God is typically referred to as a male, dominating figure, perhaps the greatest father figure that one can imagine. Stephen’s relationship with God is much like his relationship with his own father. Despite Stephen’s efforts in gathering his mother’s attention, he is unable to compete with his father, much like how Stephen is unable to compete with God, both in importance and in art. God and Stephen are both creators, a connection that creates even more competition for Stephen and only makes God seem even greater a paternal threat. At such a young age, Stephen already establishes the insurmountable gap between himself and God. No matter how hard Stephen tries to create his art, God will always be there with superior creations, aware of Stephen’s sins and looking down upon him. This gap eventually develops his fear of God as a punishing, unforgiving father figure during his adolescent years. Even without the presence of his father, Stephen continues to be pressured by a father figure, one even greater than his own father. In an attempt to create purpose for himself, Stephen unintentionally ends up mentally castrating himself but, through his castration, he gains a better understanding of the immeasurable aspect of nature and respect toward God as an artist.

If one were to assume that nature is inclusive of all things occurring naturally, then one can believe that human emotions are included in the bigger scale of nature. Like other instances of nature, emotions can not be emulated as simply as artists think. Stephen, inspired by his brooding, yearns to write a poem full of feelings of passion yet he finds himself unable to. With the intent of intensifying his emotions, he removes parts of the scene which “he deemed common and insignificant” (74). In his emotionally driven poem, “there remained no trace of the tram itself nor of the trammen nor of the horses: nor did he and she appear vividly” (74). The lovers in his poem are no longer of Stephen and EC but two unnamed protagonists. What remains is “the night and the balmy breeze and the maiden luster of the moon” (74). His poem is filled with emotions and the images he creates give the reader a glimpse at Stephen’s feeling. However, Stephen obfuscates his magical moment far too much. The elements that Stephen believes are too ordinary are what also make the moment. Without any hint of the real aspects of the scene, Stephen’s poem becomes only a description of a nearly surreal landscape. In Stephen’s attempt to recapture the moment it is unlikely that any of the truth is retained. Nothing within Stephen’s image is natural, feelings or setting.

As Stephen yearns for EC, “he senses that the object of desire is one with which he has somehow been familiar for a long time, one he knew in the ‘dim past.’ It is his mother” (Brivic 286). The woman in his poem is no doubt his mother and the man, though unnamed, is who Stephen wants to be. Stephen writes his poem to feel masculine, to show that he is capable of love toward another. However, he is unable to fully envision himself kissing his mother because he feels that he can not fulfill the role as a father and that the actual thought of making his mother into a sexual, approachable figure is wrong. Stephen is demasculated by his failed attempt, knowing he can never be his father, and quickly turns to shame. The imagery Joyce depicts is suggested to be feminine by the “maden luster of the moon” (Joyce 74). Brivic also writes that Joyce’s imagery “associates [Stephen’s] image with the womb, and he associates it too with tenderness and security” (Brivic 286). A child is unable to properly recall the experience of being inside the womb, hence Stephen’s vague and hazy descriptions. However, the same child is physically part of his mother, allowing him to feel a sense of comfort. Unsatisfied by his subconscious attempt to recreate the environment and becoming his father, “he [goes] into his mother’s bedroom and [gazes] at his face for a long time in the mirror of her dressingtable” (Joyce 74). This unnatural behavior is no doubt caused by his oedipal fixation with his mother. “Freud describes how many boys cultivate ideal, desexualized visions of their mothers” (Brivic 287). Young Stephen views EC as an untouchable goddess of sorts. He is unable to physically approach her and attempts to create art to be with her in his fantasies but he subconsciously finds himself regressing toward oedipal instincts and his attachment to his mother.

In the end of the novel, Stephen discusses his plans for the future as an artist with his companion Cranly. Ideally, Stephen wishes “to discover the mode of life or of art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom” (217), an idea that Cranly struggles to comprehend. Cranly questions Stephen, asking Stephen whether he would deflower a virgin or not, curious with what kind of response he would give. As Cranly asks for Stephen’s opinion, “[Cranly’s] last phrase, soursmelling as the smoke of charcoal and disheartening, excited Stephen’s brain, over which its fumes seemed to brood” (218). Joyce once again uses the word brood to describe Stephen’s passion for women. Stephen however is able to control his once-rampant feelings and respond calmly, and states:

  • 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. (218)

Although he does not give a direct answer, unlike the childhood Stephen, the older Stephen is no longer trying to defy nature. Part of Stephen must understand that he still has these natural yet sinful desires. Despite this, he approaches his life with sociological imagination, looking at himself as an individual in a vast world and distinguishing himself from society to develop a mindset free from the harmful influences of society. These influences of society are the paternal threats that restrict the young Stephen, that cause him to be mentally castrated. They cause Stephen to act upon oedipal feelings, threatening Stephen and restricting his potential as an artist. Rather than elevating himself above his paternal threats, he merely wishes to defend his mind, freeing himself from thoughts imposed by others. He does not want to prove a point to society and acts solely on his own accord.

Stephen now has no fear of consequences and does not fear being alone. One can argue that being alone will cause one to act on instinct, becoming more in tune with nature. Stephen considers his oedipal feelings as unnatural, that they are only natural because human interaction has made it so. He believes that there is a state of mind more natural than that following human nature. Human nature in a typical sense deals a great deal with one’s surroundings and emotional situations. By isolating himself from the people around him, Stephen is able to attain this nature mindset that surpasses human nature, therefore, being able to achieve the greatest level of art.
Joyce states that Stephen’s development is a rhythmic curve and that each triumph is followed by a fall. Stephen becomes aware of his inevitable fall. By becoming an artist from an entirely new approach, Stephen is, in fact, embracing nature rather than trying to manipulate it. He strives to attain a new level of consciousness of his environment and breaks away from the urge to become a father figure through his new awareness and thus is able to concentrate on his art.

Joyce tells the reader that recreating nature will end in vanity through Stephen’s failures. Joyce chooses the intellectual Stephen, an aspiring young artist, as the protagonist. The young Stephen is driven by the goal of all artists: to express a certain scene or emotion. As skillful as he is at his art form of choice, he is still unable to overcome the conflict between art and nature in all senses. However, the older Stephen, who is able to accept nature as it is, is able to continue growing as an artist. “He aims to re-form human consciousness by bringing a new awareness of mind through self-exploration” (Brivic 297). He no longer desires to use art as a link between himself and his mother and create an impossible fantasy. Artists should not try to become creators and should instead try to comprehend nature to the fullest extent. Nature should not be mimicked but should be left the way it is, just as portraits do not exaggerate features; rather, portraits leave them the way they are.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Act 3 Scene 1 Video Critique

You have until Monday 3.10.08 night @ 11:59 to complete this assignment.
It is worth 50 points and will be graded with the open response rubric.

Objective: Watch the following three performances of Hamlet's soliloquy from Act 3 Scene 1 (probably the most famous speech ever given in literature) and choose which version is the best interpretation of the lines. Your critique of the video must be based on your knowledge and understanding of the passage, so you must provide textual evidence from Hamlet as well as provide descriptions of the video. I can't watch the video and read your post at the same time, so you need to make me see what you see with your words. It will also help you to take notes on the video while you watch it. Pay attention to what you captures your attention. Notice what you notice!

Pay attention to:
  • delivery of the lines
  • imagery the setting / scenery
  • the portrayal of the actor
  • lighting & camera effects
  • sound effects or music

You should use the same structure for explication to develop a thesis. Post in the comment stream of the video you choose below. It should be 2-3 pages before you post. Edit and put spaces between paragraphs before you post please!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Portrait Model Paper # 4

Stephen Daedalus’ Flight from Female Influence
Christina H
Mr. Gallagher
English 12 Honors
February 5, 2008

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce marks Stephen’s bildungsroman by his efforts to break away from female influence. According to feminist critic Suzette Henke, there are three types of mothers: the biological, the ecclesiastical, and the country--all whom Stephen wishes to cast away. Stephen begins to shy away from the warmth of his mother that he was once attracted to. Joyce uses imagery to allude Stephen's unpleasant psychological return to the womb. Stephen realizes that all women--the Virgin Mary, his mother, and the prostitute--have the ability to give birth to life. Recognizing the gender differences, Stephen separates himself from the women yet the women become Stephen's source of inspiration to create art. Joyce makes allusions to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus to show Stephen's ultimate flight.

At Clonglowes, Stephen is introduced to a world of masculine competition, where he has to live by the ideas of social Darwinism. In order to survive, Stephen must adapt to his new environment and fit in with the rest of the boys. When the bully, Wells, teases Stephen for kissing and not kissing his mother before he goes to bed, Stephen feels “his whole body hot and confused” (Joyce, 27). Joyce uses heat to describe Stephen’s embarrassment and nervousness. When the body is hot, sweat and feelings of discomfort often follow. Stephen does not see any harm an innocent kiss. He assumes that all boys kiss their mothers goodnight before going off to bed. However, the other boys laugh at his behavior, so Stephen begins to question whether his actions are acceptable or unacceptable. “Stephen tries to laugh with them (27). Stephen tries to blend in with the other fellows, but, unfortunately, he realizes he is different from them, because he is the weaker vessel. Stephen’s physical appearance is not as strong and built as the other boys, so he is an easy target for bullies like Wells. Stephen does not challenge Wells; “He [does] not raise his eyes to Wells’ face” (27), because he feels inferior. Since Wells is the “third in grammar” (27), Stephen is convinced that “Wells must know the right answer” (27). Ranks and positions only serve to represent the competitive masculine society, where Stephen places himself at the lowest level.

Without protection and guidance from his mother, Stephen feels abandoned and unprepared to face the real world. When “Wells shouldered [Stephen] in the ditch the day before,” “all the fellows said” “it was a mean thing to do” (27). However, not one of them stands up for Stephen at the scene. The absence of support from the rest of the boys, show that actions like Wells’ are socially acceptable in the masculine sphere. Stephen is discouraged from snitching and forced to accept his place in society. Joyce also uses the ditch to symbolize the womb. The “cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body” (27) as Stephen emerges. By pushing Stephen into the ditch, Wells is attacking Stephen’s masculinity. Stephen is pushed back to his mother’s womb because he is not strong enough to survive in the male-dominated world. Joyce creates an image of Stephen being born. When a baby enters the real world, he is wet and cold. In addition to these conditions, he feels like a foreigner in the new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces that laugh at him. The feeling of coldness represents the harsh realities that Stephen now must face. Stephen longs “to be at home and [to] lay his head on his mother’s lap” (25). Only when he is with his mother or in the womb does Stephen feel the warmth and security he seeks. Stephen sees his mother as a “powerful and beneficent source of physical pleasure” (Henke, 318). She provides him with food, changes his diapers, and bathes him, so Stephen grows up accustomed to her taking care of him. He expects her to always be there to cater his needs. His expectations are crushed by the reality that hits him at Clonglowes as he is forced to be independent.

Stephen’s dependency on his mother lessens as he begins to feel restricted by the religious rules that he has been taught to abide by. After listening to a long lecture, Stephen returns to his room immediately after dinner. Stephen awakes in the middle of night and mentally shouts, “Help” (Joyce, 128)! Joyce uses an exclamatory sentence to express an urgent tone. The cry for help means that Stephen admits that he is in danger and that he is stuck in an undesired situation where he wishes to be freed. The shout results from Stephen’s unconscious state of mind—his dreams. Too often Stephen has had to hold back from following his instincts. The constant clash between his inner drives and the social norms causes the pressure to in crease within Stephen. When Stephen reaches his limit, he bursts out in agony, crying for help.

Stephen “flings the blankets from him madly” (128). The blankets serve to keep Stephen warm and secure like a womb. He is protected from the cold and cruel realities that exist on the other side. However, instead of treasuring warmth and protection, Stephen throws the blanket off as if he was trying to escape from the womb. Stephen, first works to “free his face and neck” (128). Joyce creates an image of Stephen being reborn. When a baby is born, he comes out head first. Instead of describing the cold slime like before to show Stephen’s fear, this time Stephen seems to want to come out. As opposed to a sanction and place of warmth and protection, Joyce chooses to use negative words to condemn the womb as “stinking, bestial, and malignant” place (128). The womb is also compared to Stephen’s “hell” (128). The word “stinking” not only sounds unpleasant, but may refer to the womb being an unbearable place. The “bestial” appearance of the womb frightens Stephen and motivates him to find a way out. Joyce also describes the womb as malignant meaning that it has dangerous and harmful influence. Stephen wishes to break away from this female influence that constantly reminds him to be “good.” Stephen starts to fight these ideas of purity that are imposed on him. From his experience with the prostitute, he realizes that woman commit impure acts that he is warned to avoid. Stephen has a difficult time accepting the fact that at one point his mother, too, must have committed an impure act to create him. Likewise, the Virgin Mary, who is the epitome of purity, must have encountered a similar experience to create Jesus.

Stephen’s contemplation leads him to question the rules that he’s been taught to live by. Instead of simply obeying and accepting the information that is being fed to him, Stephen develops decision-making skills and inserts his own reasons for his behavior.

Stephen feels the “reeking odour pouring down his neck and revolting his entrails” (128). Joyce uses imagery to show Stephen’s inner conflict. Again, the “reeking odour” proves to be unbearable and acts as a type of pressure that forces Stephen to mold into flawless and untainted human being. Stephen feels claustrophobic; He’s suffocating and drowning inside the womb. The religious influences are being pushed upon him against his will. Stephen accuses God of trying to imprison him in the womb to stunt his development and force him to be forever oppressed by maternal influence. The womb had served as his protection, but now becomes a prison. Stephen is prevented from exploration, discovery, and experimentation because he is restricted from the outside world. Stephen gasps for “air! The air of heaven” (128)! He struggles to leave the womb and breathe in fresh air, which also represents new knowledge and ideas. Stephen feels restricted to his family, religion, and country. In order to further expand his horizons, Stephen must break away from these restrictions. Stephen “stumbles toward the window” (128) and opens it. The window is opened to new opportunities and experiences waiting for Stephen to discover. There is a world outside of the Catholic boys’ school, and by opening the window, Stephen declares that he’s ready to take off.

When Stephen becomes a university student, he considers leaving Ireland in order to pursue art. Joyce differentiates the birth of the body and the “mysterious” (Joyce, 182), “slow and dark” (182) birth of the soul. It is easy to distinguish male and female based on physical and biological attributes. However, within each sex lies a greater purpose. Women have the ability to create life. It takes longer for men, on the other hand, find their purpose in life, because they must look past the incapabilities that nature has imposed on them.

Stephen falls into an argument with his friend, Cranly, who believes that Stephen should stay in his country and continue to learn the Irish language. Stephen, on the other hand, believes that “when the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight” (182). The country stands for the nation as well as the mother since every child is born from a mother. The nets serve to prevent the men from flight. The country and the women have the nets as a source of power to control the men. Men live in a “chaotic, uncontrollable world of physicality, process, and unsatisfied desire” (Beauvoir, 319). Therefore, it is expected that the women should maintain these men and keep them from acting upon their instincts and running wild. Joyce even uses the pronoun “it” instead of “him” to replace men to exemplify the animal-like traits that men share. Without the rules of mothers, religion, and the nation, the men would return to their barbaric ways. Freud’s ego and superego would not exist because the id, the unconscious part of the mind, would be in charge and influence the people’s behavior. They would act upon instinct rather than reason and values. The ideas of “nationality, language, [and] religion” (182) all deal with past traditions and history, but Stephen does not want to be restricted to these subjects. He wants to accumulate knowledge outside of these boundaries that are established by the feminine sphere and have limited him for so long. Stephen speaks with “cold violence” (182) as he compares Ireland to an “old sow that eats her farrow” (182). Joyce uses the metaphor to show Stephen’s strong disapproval of his country. Stephen exaggerates the mother pigs eat their piglets to show heavy influence that the mothers of Ireland are over their children. The metaphor reveals the cruelty of the situation. Stephen blames the mothers for the country’s weak sons, the weakness of religion in comparison to politics, and the weakness of the country of Ireland in comparison to Great Britain. Stephen drops his Irish class and decides to free himself.

Like Daedalus, in the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, Stephen attempts to “fly by those nets” (182). Both characters try to defy nature—“Mother” nature. Daedalus challenges nature, which is also connected to the gods’ powers, by creating wings that have the ability to fly and defy the laws of gravity. Similarly, Stephen attempts to defy nature by creating. Reproduction and creation is an ability reserved only for woman. Unable to cope with this fact, Stephen tries to master the art of creation through his writing. Joyce uses the “nets” as a barrier. Stephen refuses to be tied down to his country, to his religion, and to his family.

In Stephen’s second to last diary entry on April 26, summarizes Stephen’s reasoning for leaving Ireland. Even though Stephen, attempts to break away from female influence. He owes them for they become his inspiration to create. Stephen’s mother hopes that Stephen “may learn in [his] own life…away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels” (Joyce, 223). Joyce reveals the obstacle that every mother must face in the development of her children. They learn to let them go. Stephen’s mother realizes the importance of experience. The nets that have tied Stephen down since birth are finally lifted. The sensation and rush of freedom causes Stephen to cry, “Welcome, O life” (224)! All the weight—the years of being oppressed by female influence—has been lifted from his shoulders. . Stephen is now free to fly. Reality continues to haunt Stephen for the “millionth time” (224) as he attempts to “forge in the smithy of [his soul] the uncreated conscience of [his] race” (224). Stephen is aware of the restraints that nature imposes on men. However, he remains determined to create. “Smithy” denotes a blacksmith’s workshop; Joyce uses the word “smithy” to describe Stephen’s work-in-progress. Stephen’s race refers to the male species. The art of writing is the only form of creation that gives the man the power to express his inner drives. Women do not experience similar inner drives, so Stephen believes that this distinction gives the male race a purpose in life. Stephen proves that men, too, have the ability to create and pave the way for generations and generations to come by passing down their stories.

Stephen reaches manhood only after breaking all ties from female influence. As a boy, he grows up dependent on his biological mother. She is his source of food, warmth, and survival. Stephen is also brought up a religious background. From his mother and the Church, Stephen learns the difference between good and bad, which become part of his daily guidelines. It is natural for Stephen to feel pressured by the female influence as his unconscious instincts conflict with the restrictions that his country has imposed. Stephen learns to manipulate women through language and regains control over himself. He discovers that there is a vast amount of knowledge that exists outside his comfort zone. In order to pursue his art and to create, Stephen takes a courageous flight into an unknown world.


Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. 1953. Trans. And ed. H. M. Parshley. New York: Bantam, 1961.

Henke, Suzette. "Feminist Criticism. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Boston: Bedford/Martin's, 1964. 317-336.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/Martin's, 1964.

Do schools today kill creativity? Ken Robinson

Found this interesting--would be curious to know what any of you think on the matter? Feel free to post.