Stephen Dedalus' Perception of Aesthetics in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Aesthetics is the philosophy of art. By appreciating the value of aesthetics, one can comprehend the meaning of the abstract notion of beauty. In James Joyce’s novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus’ perception of aesthetics is a key component in the main character’s pursuit of individuality and purpose. Through the use of literary techniques such as diction and tone, Joyce conveys the protagonist’s aesthetic development. This artistic growth, paralleled throughout the novel’s external structure with Dedalus’ coming of age, illustrates the life, purpose and aesthetic ambition of an artist: “To discover the mode of life or of art whereby the spirit can express itself in unfettered freedom” (Joyce 231). Stephen’s …show more content…
Through this initial trial of the sonnet form, Dedalus becomes aware that art should focus on the truly important and ignore the trivial: “During this process all these elements which he deemed common and insignificant fell out of the scene…the verses told only of the night and the balmy breeze and the maiden luster of the moon” (Joyce 62. Art is also shown as an outlet of the emotions when the protagonist blatantly defends Lord Byron over Tennyson, stating that the latter is only a rhymester, whereas Byron goes beyond pure conventional verse into the realm of profound meaning. Through his theatrical experience, Dedalus becomes aware of the transcendental qualities of art, and the similar nature of aesthetic expression and everyday life. Moreover, Dedalus’ moral decay, provoked by the monetary reward gained from a literary contest, exposes that art must be ideally pure in order to be aesthetically fulfilled. After indulging in sinful conduct, Stephen Dedalus is able to surpass his apparent moral degradation through his innate notion of aesthetics. In chapter three, Dedalus’ guilty tone contributes to the conflicting ideas of art which aid his spiritual development. Whereas the concept of hell is depicted as aesthetically disgusting, heaven is illustrated as aesthetically pleasing. Thus, the protagonist’s conception of art, along with the

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