What You Learn from Reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

In high school, there was one book that my A.P. English teacher could not get enough of. It was something that we read at the end of the year and it was the one novel that I think she continues to read over and over again after she’s set it down. This is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce…and this is what you learn from a brilliant, yet completely incomprehensible, Irish writer.

1. You read the first couple lines and you set it right back down. Why? Because what the fuck is this?!?!

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . .”

2. You ask yourself time and time again if this novel is about religion, education, art, beauty, maturation, identity, politics, loyalty, self-discovery….and you get confused time and time again because it’s about all of it and more.

3.  So…..what is art?

4. What is beauty?

5. What is love? BABY DON’T HURT ME, DON’T HURT ME…NO MORE…

5. Where the hell are the quotation marks?

6. You read something thinking you understand it and read it again and realize you never knew what was going on from the beginning.

7. You feel dumb reading any of Stephen’s philosophical words of wisdom:

Rhythm is the first formal esthetic relation of part to part in any esthetic whole or of an esthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the esthetic whole of which it is a part.” 

Translation: “How much wood can a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood.”

8. After reading smart people talk for so long, this is your reaction after reading: “when you wet the bed, first it is warm, then it gets cold.”

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