A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man

“Now, at the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been borne to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being?” (Joyce 163)

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Bantam Books, 1992. Print.

In this passage, Stephen Daedalus has a revelatory moment where his heritage and his future culminate and he crosses over from boyhood to manhood, albeit in his own, self-aware way. The word “artificer” implies a multitude of people who have “crafted” Stephen, so to speak. It most likely points to the mythological Daedalus, whose name causes Stephen’s revelation, but it also points to his own Father, Simon Dedalus, and even to God who supposedly created all things. This moment, and Stephen’s vision of Daedalus flying towards the sun, constitute a “quaint device” not just for Stephen but the novel itself, acting as a symbol for both the character and the work itself. This symbol of Daedalus’ invention (which kills his son Icarus) relates also to the work of an artist, described as a “being.” This compares art to Daedalus’ inventions, but the word “being” draws a comparison to his son as well, ultimately construing art as the sort of living, “imperishable” child of Stephen Dedalus.