A good place to start with Joyce. His works are about as challenging as they come in the literary world. Keep “Ulysses” or “Finnegan’s Wake” once you are done with the potrait. Not that it is easy to get along with though it will be very rewarding to the persistent ones. “Portrait” is certainly not a light read. Joyce’s meandering narrative and curvatious prose can be confusing. One could quite possibly find one self reading a sentence about five times in order to figure out what one has has just read.
All its wordy content aside, “Portrait” is an essential read because the story of Stephen Dedalus carries so much resonance. One can relate pretty easily to his search for answers. Stephen faces existential questions that should ring true for any young person coming from any culture at any time.
He tries to find satisfaction by giving in to his lust, and when that doesn’t suffice he jumps to another dimension in seeking fulfillment through religious devotion. In the end, however, neither of these extremes provides answers he’s looking for. Stephen’s story demonstrates one unfortunate fact of life: when you’re on the quest for the meaning of it all – there are no easy answers.
Ultimately, as Stephen tells his friend Cranly, he decides that his solution is to “express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can,” even if it means making mistakes or being spurned by society. In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Joyce sketches some important brain fodder that have since become prominent in literature, notably noncomformity, self-expression, coming of age, and the nature of religious belief.
“Portrait” was written with plenty of intelligence and tonnes of soul, no surprises as to why it’s still read after all these years.