Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Joseph Adamson




The following thesis examines James Joyce's A Portrait of the Arlist as a young Man through the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin as expounded in The Dialogic Imagination. The theory is not so much applied to the novel as it is compared to the practice, a rather Bakhtinian course to follow since he attempts to base his theory on what the novel does rather than on what he thinks it is. The first chapter introduces a few important Bakhtinian precepts necessary to his understanding of the novel, noting especially-implicity and explicitly-their similarity to the thinking of Jacques Derrida.

The second chapter deals with the problematic narrative position adopted by Joyce in Portrait, examining its implications and concluding that Joyce writes with a comic sensibility for which he has yet to receive due credit. The comic author not only searches for laughter, but also engages in a serious questioning of any discourse with aspirations to authority. Though Portrait is sometimes funny and often ironic, it always questions the discourse that surrounds it; Bakhtin stresses the fundamental correspondence between the comic and the questions it engages, and this correspondence in Portrait is traced here.

In chapter three the thesis explores the various language systems that invade the novel and contribute to its heteroglot composition and stylistic unity. After a brief discussion of what "stylistic unity" entails, a number of different language systems are identified, though only two are examined at length: the "common" languages with which Stephen aligns himself at different moments in the novel; and the "expected" literary horizon that dialogizes the book, both from within and from without.

In the fourth and final chapter the implications of Stephen's attempts to define himself through language are examined. Stephen's self undergoes a number of changes in the course of the novel, changes reflected in the manner of the narrative stylization, but changes that are also seen in the way Stephen himself views language. From mastered he gradually turns to master, and the conflict within himself and between himself and the author leads to a Portrait that ends (or rather does not) with no definition at all.

McMaster University Library

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