Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man discussion: Chapter 3

I finished the book a while ago but have been too busy to write. So going from memory on what I read a couple of weeks ago…

The retreat in honor of St. Francis Xavier takes up the bulk of this chapter. As the book progresses, previous events are directly or indirectly echoed while additional comparisons are introduced. The use of Mary and prostitutes is simultaneously disturbing and humorous: Stephen dreams of both, similar language is used to describe them, both provide him with escape, while the same mouth used to kiss the prostitute receives the Sacrament. In one of the sermons, Father Arnall’s exhortation to live a good life harks back to Simon’s encouragement to his son. The comparison and contrast of punishment to this point is highlighted—most of it has been unfair, yet Father Arnall’s graphic description of hell makes everything else pale in comparison. One last example I’ll mention is the repetition of “confess”, bringing to mind Stephen’s schoolmates’ taunt of “admit” in the previous chapter.

The atmosphere at the start of the chapter is set by constant use of words like “dull” and “gloomy,” but the imagery lightens up at the end after his confession. Even though he heads back to school at night, many uses of words like “light” and “gay” turn the mood positive. The approach of the chapter mimics this movement as well with passive listening yielding to action only when Stephen searches for a church where he will not be recognized. At the start of the chapter, Stephen feels alienated from God and religion. “What did it avail to pray when he knew that his soul lusted after its own destruction?” Not content with his own destruction, he projects his own hypocrisy onto others. The retreat offers a different goal with its temporary alienation—“to understand better why we are here in this world.” Dreams also fill the chapter, and not just of Mary and prostitutes. Stephen's dreams involve all of the cosmos. The music and rhythm of his lessons lull him into escapist flights of fancy. Troublesome dreams related to Father Arnall’s version of hell appear, while after confession his existence is a dream-like state.

While Stephen developed consciousness in Chapter 2, here he develops his conscience. The retreat is billed as focusing on death, judgment, heaven and hell, yet no sermon about heaven is recounted here. It has been noted that the long sermon is similar to a sermon by Giovanni Pietro Pinamonti, published in 1688, translated into English in 1844 as Hell Opened for Christians. The text can be found here.

The sermon on hell and the grotesque images called forth evokes Dante’s Inferno. Dante and Stephen descend through all the levels of hell (literal or self-imposed) before they can ascend toward redemption and salvation. Dante the pilgrim and Stephen find themselves lost in a figurative dark wood, with Mary summoning both upward to be united with Beatrice/Emma. An additional reference I felt in this chapter, intended or not, was Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine and Stephen are at the mercy of their lust despite valuing the intellect, yet neither can commit to Christianity until an epiphany occurs. While both take control of their lives by submitting to God, their paths will markedly diverge.

No comments: