Stephen and the Bird-Girl in Portrait

I will analyze a passage from the end of Stephen's epiphany on the strand, page 150-1, lines 854-902, beginning with the phrase “a girl stood before him in midstream...” This passage chronicles Stephen's final thoughts about his decision to reject the Jesuits offer to him to join their order. It depicts an important stage in the victory in his soul of creativity over faith. In the course of his walk on the seashore he has begun to hear “the call of life to his soul” replacing and overcoming the “inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar” but it is not until this moment that his faith really dies (Joyce 148). Joyce makes clear that this is the moment of the final death of his religion and the birth of his artistry in several ways. He does it by providing him with a new Virgin to worship, by filling the moment with bird imagery and by foreshadowing the poem he will soon write that uses religious imagery to serve his profane sensuality. The girl on the seashore wears Mary's co lors of white and blue. Stephen looks at her with a “worshipful gaze” and decides that she is a “wild angel” that has come to “throw open before him...the gates of all the ways of error and glory,” explicitly religious phrases that reveal his conversion from the worship of God to the worship of life and creativity (Joyce 150). The description of the girl compares her to a bird six times in eleven lines. Father Arnall employs bird imagery in his illustration of the eternity the condemned will spend in hell, but Joyce repurposes it to represent Stephen's escape from religion, an association made obvious by Stephen's preoccupation with birds after refusing his mother's request that he take Easter communion (Joyce 115, 197-8). Stephen calling the girl as a “wild angel” is no accident either. This word choice connects the scene to the writing of the only poem of Stephen's that we get to read, which is inspired by a vision of “seraphic life,” and which contains the line “lure of the fallen seraphim,” and portrays the girl he likes as a sultry temptress (Joyce 191). Thus Stephen's bird-girl represents his return to sensuality and creativity and his departure from the cold arms of religiosity.