A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, strictly speaking, is not an autobiographical novel, and yet in the novel, Joyce attempts to weave much of the fabric of his real life into an artful tapestry of fiction. Most of the following characters in the novel are based on people who actually existed in Joyce's life; in almost every case, he portrayed them as fictional representations of religious, social, and cultural elements of Ireland as they influenced Stephen Dedalus, a maturing, sensitive young artist.
The Dedalus Family
Stephen Dedalus Afflicted with poor eyesight and lacking both physical stamina and athletic prowess, Stephen develops an early, introspective, intellectual curiosity. Like many sensitive young men, Stephen is ashamed of his family's ever-strained finances. Later, he is troubled when he realizes the ineffectiveness and emptiness of both Irish nationalism and Catholicism. Eventually, Stephen feels himself becoming increasingly isolated from others. Finally, he vows to escape all forms of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual repression. He leaves Ireland for the Continent, in search of his artistic soul.
Simon Dedalus Stephen's ineffectual father; a good-natured, but weak and undependable man who prefers to live in the self-deluded reveries of his past rather than fulfill the role of a responsible parent. An overly sentimental, staunch Irish Nationalist, he is a poor role model for his son. Seemingly, Simon's only bit of advice for Stephen is to choose his friends well and never "peach" on them. In Chapter V Stephen describes Simon as less a father than "a medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor . . . a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller . . . and . . . a praiser of his own past."
Mary Dedalus Stephen's mother; deeply religious and apolitical, she feels martyred by frequent pregnancy, poverty, and her burdensome, weak-willed husband. She fears that Stephen will be unhappy living abroad — away from family, friends, and the Catholic faith. She is heartbroken when he leaves Ireland at the end of the novel.
Maurice Dedalus Stephen's younger brother. Stephen's father calls Maurice a "thickheaded ruffian." Like Stephen, Maurice is sent to Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school.
Uncle Charles Stephen's granduncle (great-uncle) who lives with the Dedalus family. He is an aging, "hale old man with welltanned skin, rugged features and white side whiskers." He spends memorable mornings walking with young Stephen, visiting neighboring vendors, and pilfering items for Stephen's consumption. A relic of Ireland's hearty and spirited past, Uncle Charles resides with the family until his death.
Aunt Dante (Mrs. Riordan) Not an aunt by blood or by marriage, this "well-read, clever," and overzealous Irish governess of the Dedalus children values "God and religion before everything!" During Stephen's first Christmas dinner with the adults in his household, Dante's firm religious convictions clash violently with Mr. Casey's political opinions regarding Charles Stewart Parnell. Her final denunciation of Parnell, directed at Simon and Mr. Casey, leaves both men weeping over the fate of their fallen leader and the precarious future of their country.
Katey, Maggy, and Boody Dedalus Stephen's younger sisters. They appear only momentarily in Chapter V as they help Stephen get ready to leave for the university.
Mr. (John) Casey A close friend of Simon Dedalus, he is present at a climactic Christmas dinner, where he engages in a heated argument with Mrs. Riordan about Charles Stewart Parnell. A devoted supporter of the Nationalist cause, and one who has been jailed on several occasions for making public speeches in favor of Parnell, Casey expresses his resentment against the local clergy who used the pulpit and confessionals to whip Parnell with the scourge of immorality, thereby subverting his political effectiveness. Parnell's highly publicized affair with Kitty O'Shea led to the downfall of his once-glorious political career.
Eileen Vance The daughter of the Dedaluses' Protestant neighbors. As a young child, Stephen said that he was going to marry Eileen; Dante was livid, and instantly and firmly, she discouraged the possibility of such a "sinful" association. Thus, a pattern was begun. For young Stephen, Eileen was the first in a long line of women who were desired by Stephen but who were condemned by other people for one reason or another. Specifically, Stephen remembers Eileen's cool, soft, "long white hands"; the image of Eileen's hands enables Stephen to understand the meaning of the term "Tower of Ivory," a phrase which he had often repeated without comprehension in the Litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eileen's characteristics eventually blend with other female "E" references in the novel — "Emma" and "E — C — " and Emma Clery — all revealing different facets of Stephen's ambiguous, confused, conflicting sentiments about the women in his life.
Clongowes Wood College (Chapter I)
Father Arnall A stern, intolerant, easily angered Latin teacher who punishes Stephen's friend Fleming for writing a poor Latin theme by making him kneel in the middle of the classroom floor. He appears later in Chapter III as the retreat master who delivers the "fire and brimstone" Judgment Day sermons.
Father Dolan The bespectacled, arrogant, and sadistic prefect of studies whom Stephen describes with a variety of rat-like characteristics, including a "whitegrey face and [cruel] noncolored eyes." Dolan humiliates Stephen by accusing him of avoiding Latin classwork, even though Stephen explains that he broke his glasses. The prefect calls Stephen's answer an "old schoolboy trick" and punishes him by violently smacking his palms with a pandybat. Afterward, Stephen begins to doubt the integrity of those in the clerical professions.
Father Conmee The charitable rector of the school; he has a "kindlooking face" and "a cool, moist palm." Stephen seeks his counsel regarding the unfair pandying incident. Father Conmee is just and compassionate, and he assuages Stephen's doubts by excusing him from work pending the arrival of his new glasses. He also promises to resolve the unfortunate matter with Father Dolan. Later, however, Father Conmee's duplicity is revealed; we learn that he regarded the pandying incident as a joke, laughing broadly about it with Stephen's father. Stephen learns about the laughter, and, once again, he feels betrayed by his father, by the Jesuits, and, by extension, by the Church.
Brother Michael A cheerful, "reddish grey hair[ed]" attendant who cares for Stephen during his stint in the school infirmary. Brother Michael is a non-threatening authority figure for whom Stephen feels pity because of Brother Michael's sadness as he reads aloud the newspaper article about Parnell's death.
Fleming A "decent," attentive, and reassuring friend to Stephen. He is the first to notice Stephen's ensuing illness after the ditch incident, and it is he who writes a playful verse on one of Stephen's textbooks, confirming Stephen's presence in the universe. Later, like Stephen, Fleming is pandied for what his teacher perceives as idleness.
Jack Lawton A friendly rival of Stephen's; he is head of the Lancaster scholastic team, which is pitted against Stephen's Yorkist team.
Nasty Roche The wealthy, pampered son of a magistrate; he is the first person to question Stephen about his family and about his unusual name. Later, Roche is so angered by Father Dolan's unfair attack on Stephen that he encourages Stephen to visit the rector, Father Conmee, and defend himself.
Wells An abrasive, unruly student who mocks Stephen's sensitivity with questions about whether or not Stephen kisses his mother. Later, he pushes Stephen into the "square ditch" (a cesspool); as a result, Stephen develops a fever and has to be admitted to the school infirmary.
Athy The son of a racehorse owner; he befriends Stephen during his stay in the infirmary He shares Stephen's affection for Brother Michael and admits that he, like Stephen, also has an unusual last name.
Rody Kickham, Cecil Thunder, Simon Moonan, Hamilton Rowan, Dominic Kelly, Tusker Boyle, Jimmy Magee, Paddy Rath, Corrigan, Cantwell, Saurin and Anthony McSwiney Other students at Clongowes Wood College; they serve as foils and sharp contrasts to Stephen. They represent the opposite of Stephen's artistic temperament and introspective behavior. For the most part, they are either crude, disrespectful, or overtly physical.
Aubrey Mills He becomes Stephen's friend and summer companion. Together, they pursue many adventures — exploring gardens, dueling on the seaside rocks, and taking turns riding a mare amidst the cows on a dairy farm. Their exploits provide a carefree, bucolic memory of Stephen's summer at Blackrock before he enters Belvedere College.
Mike Flynn A decrepit friend of Simon Dedalus; he has tobacco-stained fingers, a "flabby stubblecovered face [and] lusterless blue eyes"; he acts as Stephen's "track trainer" during Stephen's summer at Blackrock.
Belvedere College (Chapters II-IV)
Vincent Heron With a "high, throaty voice" and a "pale dandyish face," Vincent has the name and appearance of a bird. He is Stephen's friendly rival as a leader at Belvedere; he often ridicules Stephen for his overly conservative attitudes and behavior.
Wallis A close friend and loyal follower of Vincent Heron. Although he tries to imitate Heron's mannerisms and cavalier attitude, he is uncomfortable and generally unsuccessful in his efforts.
Bertie Tallon He is a subject of ridicule during the school play because he has to take the role of a sunbonneted girl, which necessitates his wearing a wig and makeup, and performing a solo dance.
Boland A boy with a "large grin"; Stephen refers to him as "a dunce." He is a typical bully and taunts Stephen into discussing his favorite poet.
Nash Stephen's classmate with a "great red head"; he is a close friend of Boland. Stephen calls Nash an "idler." Nash's assertion that Tennyson is a better poet than Byron causes Stephen to respond vehemently.
Father Arnall The Jesuit priest who pandied Fleming in Latin class (Chapter I). In Chapter II, he conducts a three-day religious retreat. His vivid hellfire-and-brimstone "spiritual exercises" scare the wits out of Stephen and cause him to seek immediate absolution for his sins.
Johnny Cashman A "brisk old man"; an old friend of Simon Dedalus. Stephen finds the old man's humor offensive; he is particularly disgusted by his portrayal of Simon and Stephen's great-grandfather as womanizers and heavy drinkers.
University College, Dublin (Chapter V)
Dean of Studies An English Jesuit priest who has a discussion with Stephen regarding the difference between moral beauty and material beauty. While discussing Stephen's preference for Aristotle and Aquinas, the dean says that he himself prefers a more "practical" application of the arts to Stephen's "liberal" interest in them. Compared to Stephen, the dean's views are pedestrian and lack philosophical insight.
Cranly Stephen's humanitarian friend with the "priestlike face" and "womanish eyes"; Stephen confides the "tumults and unrests and longings in his soul" to Cranly. Cranly fears the sense of loneliness that Stephen seems to welcome (and even accept) as an essential part of an artist's life, and he warns Stephen about the dangers of alienation and faithlessness, urging him to reconsider his decision to leave Ireland.
Lynch Stephen's irreverent, crude, and superficial friend, whose reptilian eyes reveal a "shriveling" soul. During one of their walks together, Stephen uses Lynch as a sounding board, explaining his theory about two philosophical definitions not addressed by Aristotle. As he talks with Lynch, he explains his personal theory of aesthetics.
Davin A solid, provincial Irish peasant lad; Stephen's friend and fellow student. Davin's fierce Irish nationalism reveals both the intensity and violence in the lives of the Irish peasant class and is proof, to Stephen, that a life of unquestioned patriotism is one to be avoided.
MacCann A "squat figure" and "self-proclaimed democrat" dedicated to circulating a petition in favor of "social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of Europe of the future." Because Stephen refuses to conform to MacCann's demonstrative social conscience, MacCann labels Stephen an egocentric elitist.
Temple A highly emotional "gypsy student" who admires Stephen's keen intellect and passionate individuality. Temple respects Stephen's decision not to sign MacCann's petition, and he uses this issue to emphasize his open dislike of Cranly.
Moynihan, MacAlister, Donovan, Dixon, O'Keefe, Goggins, Glynn, Shuley, Ennis, and Connelly These young men represent the intellectual and cultural diversity of Dublin's typical University College students, from whom Stephen differentiates himself both in attitudes and in actions.