The story follows Dedalus from birth to age 22, usually skipping a few years between each episode. He grows up, over about 300 pages, from a schoolboy in rural
What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawk-like man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born 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?
Dedalus struggles against Irish culture at a time when Irish nationalism was gaining popularity. He’s initially embarrassed by his people’s history, their language and their religion, which is another thing that he slowly comes to terms with. Joyce left a lot of pieces of the story to be filled in by the reader; a lot of important events in Stephen’s life are only vaguely alluded to in the narration of his train of thought. Also the reader is subjected to a miserable thirty pages of fire and brimstone sermon, and, later, another equally miserable thirty pages of philosophical discourse on the aesthetic. There’s a lot to dig through, but there’s also a lot to say about personal growth, and “finding yourself.” I’ll bet it spoke volumes to the Irish in the early 1900’s. I, unfortunately, cannot identify myself as such, but thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Note: I’d recommend this version (pictured at the top of this review), published by Penguin, with a black cover and a picture of Joyce, for its great introduction and tremendously helpful notes in the back. I, regrettably, bought the shittier version, and had to borrow a friend’s to find out what doing something “for a cod” meant (it does not mean doing something in order to get a fish, as I had previously assumed).