Essay on Bird Imagery in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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Bird Imagery in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The works of twentieth-century Irish writer James Joyce resound vividly with a unique humanity and genius. His novel, A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, is a convincing journey through the inner mind and spirit of Stephen Dedalus. Portrayed with incredible fluency and realism, imagery guides the reader through the swift current of growth tangible in the juvenile hero. Above all heavy imagery in the novel is the recurring bird motif. Joyce uses birds to ultimately relate Stephen to the Daedelus myth of the “hawklike man;” however, these images also exemplify Stephen’s daily experiences, and longing for true freedom
. By using imagery of birds as
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Heron taunts Stephen, sardonically naming him a “model youth” who “doesn’t flirt and doesn’t damn anything or damn all”. This blatant remark by the bird-like boy is an obvious verbal threat to Stephen’s character.
Continued as Heron and his friend viscously chide Stephen for his admiration for Byron’s poetry, Joyce’s bird imagery bears in this scene a restraint of Stephen’s uniqueness by threatening his self-expression.

As Stephen mentally develops in the progression of the novel, he begins his search for the “freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore” would have done. Stephen is now at the beach, pondering his new sense of maturity as he grows “near to the wild heart of life”. Walking down a rocky slope, he takes notice to a girl “alone and still, gazing out to sea”. Stephen watches her, and awed by her “likeness of a strange and beautiful sea-bird,” he realizes she is the epitome of all that is “the wonder of mortal beauty”. Painted by
Joyce’s radiant imagery of the “darkplumaged dove” he sees before him, this rationalization is the basis of Stephen’s internal epiphany; she is, toStephen, “an envoy from the fair courts of life”. This wholesome bird-like girl with “long
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