Religion is an important and recurring theme in James Joyce's A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Through his experiences with
religion, Stephen Dedalus both matures and progressively becomes more
individualistic as he grows. Though reared in a Catholic school, several
key events lead Stephen to throw off the yoke of conformity and choose
his own life, the life of an artist.
Religion is central to the life of Stephen Dedalus the child. He was
reared in a strict, if not harmonious, Catholic family. The severity of
his parents, trying to raise him to be a good Catholic man, is evidenced
by statements such as, 'Pull out his eyes/ Apologise/ Apologise/ Pull
out his eyes.' This strict conformity shapes Stephen's life early in
boarding school. Even as he is following the precepts of his Catholic
school, however, a disillusionment becomes evident in his thoughts. The
priests, originally above criticism or doubt in Stephen's mind, become
symbols of intolerance.
Chief to these thoughts is Father Dolan, whose
statements such as, 'Lazy little schemer. I see schemer in your face,'
exemplify the type of attitude Stephen begins to associate with his
Catholic teachers. By the end of Chapter One, Stephen's individualism
and lack of tolerance for disrespect become evident when he complains to
the rector about the actions of Father Dolan. His confused attitude is
clearly displayed by the end of the chapter when he says, 'He was happy
and free: but he would not be anyway proud with Father Dolan. He would
be very kind and obedient: and he wished that he could do something kind
for him to show him that he was not proud.' Stephen still has respect
for his priests, but he has lost his blind sense of acceptance.
As Stephen grows, he slowly but inexorably...