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Stephen Dedalus : a psychoanalytic interpretation Arthur, Henry

Abstract

The main thesis of this essay is that Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce's novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, is dominated by an inverted Oedipus complex. Contrary to the usual pattern for males, he hates and fears his mother, while loving and desiring his father. This thesis leads to a reinterpretation of several crucial aspect of the two novels. The earliest clear indication that Stephen fears females is the "eagles" scene near the beginning of Portrait. His aunt Dante and his mother together threaten him with the loss of his eyes, with castration in psychoanalytic terms. This female threat to Stephen is reenforced during the Christmas dinner argument about Parnell. He identifies with Parnell, and with his father and John Casey, and thus participates in their crushing defeat by, again, Dante and his mother. In the face of these drastic female threats, Stephen turns to incipient homosexuality as a sexual strategy at the all-male Clongowes school. He is attracted by the touch of male hands, but his attraction is challenged by a pandying given him by Father Dolan, the prefect of studies. He triumphs over this castrating male threat, but not over his engulfing female enemies, who eventually drive him out of Ireland. He flees, calling Ireland itself a devouring female, "the old sow that eats her farrow." In Ulysses, we learn that Stephen returned home to Ireland in response to a telegram from his father that his mother is dying. This message fulfills Stephen's deep wish that she should die in order to clear the way for unhampered relations between himself and his father. But at the time of Ulysses, almost a year after she has died, Stephen is caught in a psychic, sexual, creative paralysis. He feels guilty that he has caused his mother's death, and is haunted by her "breath ... of wetted ashes" in a vividly remembered dream. He also has two dreams expressing in disguised form his continuing thwarted wish for sexual reconciliation with his father. One is of flying as Icarus with his father Daedalus. The other is of being beckoned into a sexual hallway by his disguised father. During the day Stephen writes a short poem. Together with his thoughts as he composes it, it reveals his incestuous homosexual desire to be kissed by his father, along with the parallel wish to completely eliminate his mother, and an overwhelming fear of her reprisal for both the desire and the wish. In the nighttown scene of Ulysses, Stephen experiences a series of hallucinations which begin by dramatizing his wish to be reconciled sexually with his father, but end by dramatizing his continuing and overwhelming fear of his memory of his engulfing mother. He eventually is knocked out by a soldier, then called back into consciousness by the bending figure of Leopold Bloom. His reawakening is described partly in terms of reconciliation and rebirth. But he later undercuts these positive indications by retreating from the friendly human contact of Bloom. And at the end of Ulysses, the indications for Stephen are that he has not yet dealt with the roots of his relational and creative paralysis, and goes forth from Bloom's house more likely to drown than to fly. In the Afterword, I deal with the interaction among characters, author, and reader, using Stephen's interpretation of Hamlet to demonstrate the dangers of psychologically self-serving interpretation. I suggest that a psychoanalytic awareness can offer the reader, through interpretation of the text, insight into his or her own unresolved psychic tensions and unconscious motivations, and can therefore help to prevent misreadings caused by them. In the Appendix, I outline the evidence that Joyce knew and used something of Freudian psychoanalysis when he was writing Ulysses, but that he consistently derided it throughout his life.

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