A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is above all a portrait of Stephen Dedalus. It is through Stephen that we see his world, and it is his development from sensitive child to rebellious young man that forms the plot of the novel. There are many Stephens, often contradictory. He is fearful yet bold, insecure yet proud, lonely and at the same time afraid of love. One Stephen is a romantic who daydreams of swashbuckling heroes and virginal heroines. The other is a realist at home on Dublin's most sordid streets. One Stephen is too shy to kiss the young lady he yearns for. The other readily turns to prostitutes to satisfy his sexual urges. One is a timid outsider bullied by his classmates. The other is courageous enough to confront and question authority. One devoutly hopes to become a priest. The other cynically rejects religion. Stephen loves his mother, yet eventually hurts her by rejecting her Catholic faith.
Taught to revere his father, he can't help but see that Simon Dedalus is a drunken failure. Unhappy as a perpetual outsider, he lacks the warmth to engage in true friendship. "Have you never loved anyone?" his fellow student, Cranly, asks him. "I tried to love God," Stephen replies. "It seems now I failed." The force that eventually unites these contradictory Stephens is his overwhelming desire to become an artist, to create. At the novel's opening we see him as an infant artist who sings "his song." Eventually we'll see him expand that song into poetry and theories of art. At the book's end he has made art his religion, and he abandons family, Catholicism, and country to worship it. The name Joyce gave his hero underscores this aspect of his character. His first name comes from St.