James Joyce explores the emotional, mental, and spiritual conflicts that arise through a thought provoking and complex journey of the protagonist, Stephan Dedalus', life. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays a young man's confusion with both external and internal factors of his life, as he becomes entangled in the conflict of faith and sin. Stephan's life becomes vastly altered by his present state of mind. His truth, his morals are based solely on his personal beliefs. Perspective possesses an overwhelming hold on the actions of young Dedalus, posing the questions: to what extend can our personal decisions be determined morally ambiguous? How great of a control does personal perspective hold on the outcome of our lives?
As a child, Stephan Dedalus is overwhelmed by his fierce desire to follow his school's Catholic beliefs. This almost obsessive need to become worthy of his faith fogs all contradicting perspectives from his thought. Yet he becomes baffled when an argument sparks at the family dinner table regarding politics and religion. Before this conflict, Stephan focuses solely on his attempts to become spiritually moral. However, his father's distrust and disapproval of what he deems as a hypocritical church, expands young Stephan's view of the world he lives in. Is faith questionable? Can it be challenged? What is true morality? His perspective is altered, transforming his actions as well.
As a young man, Stephan evolves into a man who claims separation from society. He becomes resentful of the church, associating it with hypocrisy, fear, and manipulation. This new "enlightenment" leads Dedalus down a contradicting path of the church: that of sin, lust, and greed. He views life as inadequate, lacking in intrigue or purpose. He no longer fears damnation, nor the judgement of his peers, instead succumbing to self-indulgent behavior. His dreary perspective of the world translates into his own life: He becomes dreary himself, a zombie to gluttony, a host of apathy.
But what is the truth? Personally I had a hard time figuring this out. The events of the novel are so skewed by Dedalus' own beliefs that it is difficult to form my own. He sees what he wishes to see, both in the world and in himself. What he believes to be true is the truth. While he numerously questions himself and adjusts his actions, Stephan possesses a strong ego that deems him perpetually correct. By the end of the novel, he creates his own morals, his own expectations. He diverts from societal norms, pursuing a more abstract way of thinking. His life mirrors his perspective. His beliefs influence his actions. And his actions form the world he lives in.
Throughout the novel, Joyce immerses the reader in the misconceptions of Stephan, illustrating a questionable reality. Due to the somewhat stream of consciousness style of the novel, we are propelled through the mind of the protagonist, through every doubt, every regret, every question. Reality is distorted through his eyes, as it is through our own eyes as well. Nothing is purely true. Nothing can be trusted. As I read the book, I came to believe that nothing is black nor white. There is no universal truth to guide us throughout life. We create truth through our perspective. We form morals through our personal beliefs. There is no definite truth to living. We are propelled aimlessly through life; it is our personal perspectives that anchor us down.