Finding Epiphanies - English 12
Finding Epiphanies - English 12
A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Alex Anderson, Stephen Koh, Daniel Mason, Anupam Kumar
Epiphanies: a Quick
A sudden experience of understanding
and realization that someone (in this
case, a character) undergoes which
influences his point of view and
understanding towards the world.
AIM: Where are the epiphanies in A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man?
DO NOW: What are epiphanies one might find in pop
Within the past few years, posters labeled "WHEN YOU SEE IT..." have
become popular around the internet
These images require viewers to notice something unusual about a
seemingly normal picture, or have an epiphany regarding the image
Examples can be seen on the following slides; see if you can spot what's
unusual about each example
Chapter 1: Socializing
Daedalus realizes people don't always have a right answer.
The significance of this event is that in Chapter 1 Stephen is young. Growing
up, his father put him in a boarding school where Stephen regularly scored at
the top of his class. Consequently, this reinforced his idea that there is a right
choice for every situation in life. Realizing that this is incorrect may seem
simple for us. But for a naive young child, such an understanding would be
difficult to accept.
Chapter 1: Cont'd
Stephen understands the severity of religion
(Daedalus undergoing a Prometheus).
Everyone who follows Catholicism has probably
believed, at one point, that the religion was
gentle and liberating. But as Jack Donaghy
will testify: followers eventually realize that
after all the baptisms and confessions comes
an all consuming guilt and fear concerning
the wrath of God. "Kiss the Son, lest He be
angry, and ye perish from the way, when His
wrath is kindled but a little" Psalm 2:12.
Stephen likely realized this when Dante, a
nun told him that birds would rip out his eyes
if he fell in love with a protestant, thus
shattering his innocent belief that religion was
without harsh restrictions. This situation has
similarities to Zeus' punishment of
Chapter 2: Daddy Issues
"Father is not infallible, he can boast,
complain and fall from grace like any
other man in the world."
Chapter one saw Stephen's faith in a
gentle world shattered. Next is the
unwavering faith he has for his father.
Every child eventually discovers that
daddy isn't perfect. Stephen realizes
this earlier on when his father belittles
his beating at school and openly
mocks him in public for his physical
weakness. You know you have a
messed up relationship when it's the
habitue of the local pub who stands
up for you during a bashing from your
Chapter 2: Cont'd
Dedalus wants sex. No matter how terrible it is, how sacrilegious or
profane, he understands that the urges will never leave or ever be
For those in the room who already understand that sexual urges don't go away,
and that Stephen is an idiot for not realizing this sooner, keep in mind that
Christianity in the early days saw chastity as something akin to virtue.
If you were a true child of God, you kept it until marriage and only traded it for
reproductive purposes. If you felt inclined to give it away any earlier, the
more severe clerics (Dante anyone?) would say you had the devil in you.
So, for Stephen, admitting that his fantasies about dirty, mindless, and impure
sex wouldn't stop was the same as being guaranteed a spot in Hell. That's
about as big an epiphany you can find within the text, as a similar
conclusion brought by reasoning would be harder to accept, due to denial.
Chapter 3: Repentance
Paraphrase: "If I die now without confessing, I will go to Hell. I don't want to
go to Hell. Oh God (forgive me) I need to confess!"
Summary: Stephen becomes more insecure about the sins he has committed
after hearing Father Arnell’s three sermons on how horrible hell is. Stephen
feels guilty to the point that he wants to confess, but he ends up asking for
God’s forgiveness because he doesn't want to confess in front of the entire
Analysis: Stephen never says it, but it's clear that he likes the church. It's
virtuous, orderly, disciplined and (as far as he knows), will reward him for
the time he has invested in it. It's natural he'd be scared to jeopardize that
by admitting he has committed some forbidden sin. However, the fact
remains that he must confess and repent or the consequences will be dire.
Granted, this is more of a forced epiphany since Stephen only acted when
Arnell finished his lecture, however it's important to note that every big
realization is usually caused by a trigger. Though admittedly, a trigger isn't
as direct as a priest shouting that "you will go to Hell!" in over 80,000 words.
Chapter 4: Religion
The first part paraphrased: "I will avert my wandering gaze, I will not deny
the sounds around me, I will remain a dead fish in bed, I will not taste my
food, I will not scratch my itches, I will smell stale urine whenever I have
the chance and I will never fantasize about sex ever again. If I do all this
and continue my prayers, God will love me."
Stephen thinks he has the system all figured out. If he lives in discomfort for the
rest of his life, he can spend the rest of eternity singing praises to God. This
is considered an epiphany because Stephen thought his suffering was a
fool-proof plan to get into heaven, and he believed it enough to follow it with
excruciating thoroughness for years without complaining. Imagine going
through life with a tight mask covering your face completely. Aside from
oxygen, the mask is tight enough that you can't see, smell or taste anything,
and it's thick enough that you can't hear or feel any information from the
outside world. Imagine living like that for years, now imagine what you
would have to think in order to choose to live like that. Faith on that level is
nothing less than an inspiring revelation.
Chapter 4: con't
Stephen took the last few years of his life, all the sacrifice and discomfort
and control, and let go of the rewards because he realized they weren't
what he wanted.
It's clear that this is a big moment in the story, perhaps the climax. Stephen is
offered a vocation, and before he even goes to pray and reflect on his
choice, he asks himself, "what am I doing here?" and he responds "I don't
know." This is the most open he has ever been with himself, and with his
newfound clarity, he discovers that rather than having a place in the church,
he doesn't want to be a part of the church. This leads to him turning his
back on his family, his old beliefs, everything he has worked for in the past
all in order to find what he wants to do, and embrace it.
Chapter 5: University
Stephen was asked by Cranly what he loved, to the extent that he would
never part with it under any circumstance. Stephen responded that he
wanted to give up everything for the sake of freedom, regardless of the
loneliness he would have to suffer.
Daedalus has lost a lot in the past few years. Among them are his baby fat, his
religion, his loyalty to Ireland, his bonds to his family and his restraint.
Daedalus is brilliant. He carries profound ideas and has the potential to
fabricate new ideas or break down vast and broad concepts until they're
unrecognizable. That takes talent. But, talent, like so many other things in
the world, requires certain conditions to be used to it's fullest. In Stephen's
case, his gift requires absolute freedom with no worldly attachment.
Ironically the life Stephen envisions is most similar to that of a monk, except
more demanding. What makes this an epiphany is not that Stephen finally
understands what he wants - it's that he finally accepts that what he has to
do will make him happy, regardless of the hardships and pain he has to