Book19: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce
I dont know what drove me to pick this book up. I think I was probably watching something like "Finding Forrester" and saw Jamal reading it or something and thought "Hey, that might be worth a look." However, just as Jamal is probably an infinitely better writer, student, and basketball player than I am, he probably understood the intricacies of this book much better than I.
"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce is the story of a boy named Stephen Dedalus, growing up in Ireland during the late 1800s. The story follows Stephen as he attends catholic school as a young lad, and then into high school where he begins growing into a man and into his religious faith, and finally into college when Stephen begins analyzing all that's he's known and read and begins thinking his own thoughts and coming to his own conclusions about life and religion and faith.
From what I read on Wikipedia, "Portrait" is a semi-autobiographical story of Joyce himself. The struggles that Stephen encounters, predominantly the rigors and standards of Irish citizenship and the weight and play that the Roman Catholic religion has on the Irish people, were presumably the same or similar encounters Joyce had to face growing up. Knowing that there is some truth in the accounts of the story, to me, gives it more weight and substance. The fact that it was real makes it legitimate and important. However, despite all that, I still had a very tough time enjoying the story and, at times, understanding the story.
The biggest problem I had with the book deals mainly with the middle portion of the book. This is when Stephen is in high school and is coming to grips with his Catholic faith and what part religion plays in his life. Early on, he lived the life of sin, but after a vigorous speech from one of the Fathers or Brothers, he's inspired to be completely devout in order to turn his life around. My main quarrel with this area is the heavy preaching used. I am a Catholic, but I'm pretty picky about the priest I listen to. I do not subscribe at all to the heavy, burdening guilt of Catholicism or to the whole vengeful wrath of God or the terrors of Hell and Satan, and that's predominantly what this area involves. Granted, you have to take it with a grain of salt considering the times, but I was heavily turned off by all this preaching of Hell and fires and repenting and what not. It's not that I disagree or am trying to be naive about my religion; I just believe that there are more positive ways to preach this word. Call me a fan of "positive reinforcement" over "negative reinforcement".
The other gripe I had with "Portrait" was the narrating style and language used. I'm not blaming Joyce or anything and, again, considering when and where it was written, I should take it with a grain of salt, but I was honestly confused and had to re-read a number of passages. Joyce uses a third person narrative, but he's not very specific when he's talking about characters. Joyce uses a lot of pronouns which becomes confusing since he introduces, say, three male characters at one time and uses "he" over and over without indicating outright which "he" he is referring to. The second part to this is obviously the language. Call me slow or thick skulled or literarily obtuse, but I was missing a lot of it. Of course it's the language of the culture and the times, but between the Latin and manner of speech, as I said before, I had to re-read more than a couple of passages to decipher the message.
All in all, it was probably just me and lack of understanding or perhaps willingness to do so, but "Portrait" was a terrible experience. I basically had to drag myself through it, enjoyed or at least was at peace with so few sections of the book, and just had dreadful time. My struggle is a bit disappointing considering that the book is ranked the third greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library and of course I want to be blown away by such a highly ranked novel, but what can I say? I am what I am and I like what I like.