.. flict for Stephen when, as time passes, he finds it more and more difficult to resist the temptations of his sexual urges. He mentally defiles “with patience whatever image had attracted his eyes” (p.99) and turns those images which had been innocent by day into cunning and sinful images at night. His urges grow and become so strong that Stephen is no longer able to resist temptation and crosses that line into wretched sinner. The next major step in Stephens transformation is his visit to the prostitute.
The setting for this visit carries all of the elements of a Black Mass. “Women and girls dressed in long vivid gowns traversed the street..The yellow gasflames arose before his troubled vision against the vapoury sky, burning as if before an altar.” (p.100). The long vivid gowns of the women and girls could be like those of the priests and the yellow gasflames are meant to conjure up images of decay upon the altar. As the prostitute approaches Stephen, Joyce uses the word “detain” to show how the prostitute may have held Stephen against his will. This word becomes significant later on in Stephens discussion with the priest in chapter five as the priest tells Stephen the difference between the traditional use of the word detain and its use in the marketplace.
Virgin Mary was “detained in the full company of the saints” (p.188) is different from “I hope I am not detaining you” (p.188). In this way, Joyce implies that Stephen was seduced by the prostitute and attempted to resist her up until the very last moment before she kissed him. Stephen does not make a move towards the prostitute, but instead waits in the middle of the room until she comes to him. He will not bend to kiss her. He feels reassured by her embrace and longed for her to just hold and caress him.
Perhaps he regarded her as a mother figure and he gained strength from this encounter. Joyces description of the room, the obscene doll with its legs spread, the way the prostitute lures him in and bends his lips to hers for him gives the reader the impression that Stephen is an innocent and the prostitute is the sinner. This scene puts a new perspective on that holy image of women for Stephen. It is a sharp contrast to those ideas of holiness and purity and innocent shyness that he associated with Emma, and of course, the Blessed Mary. It is even a contradiction to the image he had of Mercedes. Although this encounter awakens a sense of freedom in Stephen that he will not be able to suppress later on in the novel, he still cannot help but feel overwhelming guilt about what he has done.
At the retreat, he listens to Father Arnells sermon about hell that seems to be targeted directly at him, turning his tremendous guilt into fear. He has failed to avoid sin and for that he will suffer the most horrible fate that anyone could ever imagine..spending eternity in hell. He feels so ashamed that he is unable to repent in his own church at Clongowes, but rather wishes to find a place as far removed from the college as possible. This shame and guilt makes him vulnerable when the director at Clongowes confronts him about becoming a priest. He envisions the power he would have and thinks that if he were a priest that his superior piety would save him from the wrath of hell. For him it seemed the only plausible escape.
His experience with the prostitute is essential in Stephens reanalysis of his attraction to Emma Clery. He realizes now that her flirtatious gestures were not reserved for him alone, and he suspected that she flaunted her charm to many men. He becomes angry at the idea that women did not remain pure for their own sake, but only out of their religious fear that their souls would be damned if they sinned against the church. This point seems to be the height of Stephens confusion until his encounter with the Bird Girl, the final step in his complete transfiguration into the artist. While waiting for his father outside the publichouse, Stephen wandered on to Bull to reflect and to escape the anxiety he felt waiting to hear word about the university. He heard a few of his classmates calling out to him and the sounds of his own name made him think of the mythical Dedalus.
Like the myth, Stephen wanted to fly up like a bird. This may be a foreshadowing of Stephens leaving Ireland and flying past the “nets” which would hold him back. He feels as though he is being reborn into adulthood and has finally reached that point in his life where he is capable of fulfilling his calling in life. This calling that he feels is unlike anything that has ever spoken to him before and it invokes in him an incredible freedom of spirit. As his mind, body and soul are still soaring from this “ecstasy of flight”, he repeatedly mentions that he is alone. He is happy and free, but he is alone.
Then he sees her. “A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird.” (p.171). The imagery in the following passage and the particular words Joyce uses to present that imagery are very meaningful. The girl is the perfect balance between Stephens two extreme ideas of women.
“Her thighs, fuller and softhued as ivory, were bared almost to the hip..”(p.171). She is “delicate” and “pure” and she has all the qualities of innocent virginity, but at the same time, she exposes her flesh in a sensual manner and exhibits a “mortal beauty”. Stephens comparison of her to a crane and a dove shows an important relationship between the girl and Stephens freedom. She was neither virgin nor whore. She was attainable. “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him..” (p.172).
She certainly seemed divine to Stephen who associated her presence to the calling of a life of art. He knows immediately that if he had been destined to a life in the church that this would have been the kind of calling he should have experienced. Instead he realizes that he cannot become a priest because he is unable to adhere to those physiological restrictions demanding of the profession. He has also discovered that to err is human and to have desires of the flesh is natural. He is no longer disgusted by human desires and realizes how beautiful love, passion, and devotion can be from an artists perspective. Stephan Dedaluss transformation into a “priest of the arts” is parallel to the early life of James Joyce. Both struggle to deal with the conflicts of childhood and adolescence to find a balance in which they can happily live.
Since A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is written in third person, yet employs the characteristics of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, the use of descriptive language is essential to the readers understanding of the novel as a whole. James Joyce excellently uses his talent to successfully communicate Stephens feelings so that we, the reader, can understand the development of his attitudes and ideals about feminine beauty.