“There remained no trace of the tram itself nor of the trammen nor of the horses: nor did he and she appear vividly. The verses told only of the night and the balmy breeze and the maiden lustre of the moon. Some undefined sorrow was hidden in the hearts of the protagonists as they stood in silence beneath the leafless trees…having hidden his book, he went into his mother’s bedroom and gazed at his face for a long time in the mirror of her dressing table.”
Joyce, James, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Dover, 1994. 49.
Stephen tries to recreate the scene with Ellen, but cannot evoke an image of himself: he sees himself as a “protagonist,” –a character– which is fitting since he is writing a poem and technically the protagonist. But since he has struggled with the writing process and cannot picture himself, it suggests he may see himself as a protagonist in his own life, that is, an unidentifiable being. There is some sort of dissociative break with the self as he struggles through adolescence. Hence the long staring at himself in the mirror, perhaps to reassure himself of a rooted, singular identity. Begs the question, why?