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James Joyce, A Portrait of an Artist

In honor of  one of Ireland’s  finest writers to date, I take the liberty of mentioning his ability to use brutal honesty regarding his distate for many topics in Irish culture, religion, and politics, see irishhistoryonline.ie, on a day (St. Patrick’s Day) when most people celebrate the country without considering the aspects Joyce battled so adamantly and passionately that he spent much of his adult life on the mainland of Europe reflecting upon the days of his youth- they days he writes about in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Although the entire text is brilliant and exemplifies the plight of a troubled soul, I choose to highlight here a few lines that exhibit not only the confusion of youth, but the humor that goes along with searching for a place in a world filled with similarly confused people.

These words give a person who has not yet had the privilege of experiencing the full text a taste of the magic:

“Towards the others he felt neither shame nor fear. On Sunday mornings as he passed the churchdoor he glanced coldly at the worshippers who stood bareheaded, four deep, outside the church, morally present at the mass which they could neither see nor hear.  Their dull piety and the sickly smell of the cheap hairoil with which they had anointed thei heads repelled him from the altar they prayed at.  He stooped to the evil of hypocrisy with others, sceptical of their innocence which he could cajole so easily.

On the wall of his bedroom hung an illuminated scroll, the certificate of his prefecture in the college in the college of the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On Saturday mornings when the sodality met in the chapel to recite the little office his place was a cushioned kneelingdesk at the right of the altar from which he led his wing of boys through the responses .  The falsehood of his position did not pain him.  If at moments he felt an impulse to rise from his post of honour and, confessing before them all his unworthiness, to leave the chapel, a glance at their faces restrained him.

Joyce’s willingness to admit the doubts and spiritual crises all people encounter at some point in their lives is truly comforting and thought provoking.