Michael Barr ’18

Project Title: Honors Thesis on the Novels of Joyce
Mentor: Martin Hipsky

In forging Stephen Dedalus, a character central to James Joyce’s novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and epic, Ulysses, Joyce relies heavily on the events of his own life as source material. Joyce, who spent most of his life in Dublin, Ireland, introduces Stephen as a child in A Portrait. Stephen’s intellectual persona congeals as the corollary of a contrast between Dublin’s literary circles and Catholic values. By the end of Ulysses, the twenty-two years of Stephen’s life are similar to that of Joyce’s, yet Joyce manifests his own passage of lived experience through the foundation of a Nietzschean narrative structure. My paper examines the transition of Stephen Dedalus that occurs from his youth in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to his young-adulthood in Ulysses. In this period, we are introduced to a clever, pious child interested in poetry. Poetry evokes, for him, a meaningful description of the world that he aims to continually hone with a ken that soon reaches beyond the limits of Catholic culture. As he grows older, Stephen begins to gravitate away from the church, focusing instead on secular humanism. Through his devotion to literature, philosophy and art, he creates a hierarchy of beliefs representative of himself rather than his former faith. Particularly, my paper traces Stephen’s intellectual transition from Catholicism to humanism through a Nietzschean, protoexistential lens.

The discourse of modernity largely emerges from Nietzsche’s seminal and polemical positions concerning value, history and morality. Once called by Joyce, “that strong enchanter,” scholars had begun the translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work from German to English near the time that Joyce had begun working on A Portrait. While no conclusive account confirms Joyce’s reading of Nietzsche, Stephen’s intellectual development from A Portrait to Ulysses progresses in a direction highly reflective of Nietzsche’s foundational principle – the “Will to Power” (der Wille zur Macht).

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