James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a novel of complex themes developed through frequent allusions to classical mythology. The myth of Daedalus and Icarus serves as a structuring element in the novel, uniting the central themes of individual rebellion and discovery, producing a work of literature that illuminates the motivations of an artist, and the development of his individual philosophy.
James Joyce chose the name Stephen Dedalus to link his hero with the mythical Greek hero, Daedalus. In Greek myth, Daedalus was an architect, inventor, and artisan. By request of King Minos, Daedalus built a labyrinth on Crete to contain a monster called the Minotaur, half bull and half man. Later, for displeasing the king, Daedalus and his son Icarus were both confined in this labyrinth, which was so complex that even its creator could not find his way out. Instead, Daedalus fashioned wings of wax and feathers so that he and his son could escape.
When Icarus flew too high -- too near the sun -- in spite of his father's warnings, his wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. His more cautious father flew to safety (World Book 3). By using this myth in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Portrait of the Artist), Joyce succeeds in giving definitive treatment to an archetype that was well established long before the twentieth century (Beebe 163).
The Daedalus myth gives a basic structure to Portrait of the Artist. From the beginning, Stephen, like most young people, is caught in a maze, just as his namesake Daedalus was. The schools are a maze of corridors; Dublin is a maze of streets. Stephen's mind itself is a convoluted maze filled with dead ends and circular reasoning (Hackett 203):