Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stephen as Prisoner

Stephen Dedalus is something of a prisoner in many aspects. As he says, "I am the servant of two masters... an English and an Italian... And a third... there is who wants me for odd jobs" (20). He is referring to England (which rules Ireland), the Roman Catholic Church, and Ireland. THese are the three masters that are keeping him from achieving full independence, from fully recognizing himself as an artist.

Buck notes that Stephen's Catholic visions of hell have thwarted his art, and he is not far from the truth; Stephen's life is stunted by these visions... he hears a thunderclap and thinks of God's anger and his own impending death, and he is plagued by the ghost of his dead mother, who he had refused to pray for. I would add another prison (albeit one that he has effectively escaped from), and that is family. He has abandoned his struggling family and his absent drunk of a father, but he hasn't completely escaped. He is held there by his conscience, which recognizes his abandonment, especially when he sees his sister Dilly, who resembles him in so many ways: "she is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite... Agenbite of inwit. Inwit's agenbite. Misery! Misery!" (243). He abandons her in fear that she will drag him down with her and compromise his own freedom, but his guilt continues to hold him to that psychological prison.

His last name, Dedalus, recalls the Greek artificer who created the prison-like Labyrinth, was himself imprisoned, and flew to freedom by fashioning himself a set of wings. Like Daedalus, Stephen is trying to escape his prisons, to free himself as an artist.

1 comment:

Clay Mason said...

I agree. Stephen certainly seems like he is unable to escape the many constraints in his life. Sometime he seems to use these obvious obstacles as crutches to prop himself. I wonder how much of this is within his control and how much he brings upon himself?