A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Major Characters
Stephen Dedalus: The 'artist' of the novel's title, whose life and thoughts are at the center of the story. The book follows Stephen's life from his nursery, to his upbringing in a home with lots of financial, religious and political tension, to religious school where he decides not to become a priest, and finally to the university, where he is seen by his peers as a poet and is working to develop his own theories of art and beauty. Stephen's trials show us not only the life of a growing boy in late 19th century Dublin, but also the thoughts and decisions a person has to deal with in order to become an artist. Even though he writes only one poem, the implication is that Stephen has made the decisions necessary for a life of art. Stephen's experiences are very similar to Joyce's, making the novel a loose autobiography.
Stephen's father (Simon Dedalus): Described by Stephen near the end of the novel as ' medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody's secretary, something in a distillery, a taxgatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past' (pg. 262), Stephen's father is in turns a model and an embarrassment to his son. His passions about religion and politics make these topics a big part of Stephen, too, and Mr. Dedalus' drinking and financial troubles force Stephen and his family to move around a lot when he's growing up.
Stephen's mother: Mrs. Dedalus has a less direct effect upon Stephen than does his father, although she surely has a hand in forming his expectations of women. Stephen seems to outgrow his mother, especially after he is teased by his schoolmates at Clongowes for answering that yes, he does kiss his mother before bed. Mrs. Dedalus is not mentioned much in the middle of the book but she reappears at the end. Having borne a lot of children and characterized by her steady faith in God, Stephen is troubled about whether to comply with her wishes that he participate in a religious Easter ceremony.
Uncle Charles: Uncle Charles lives with the Dedalus family at Blackrock and is Stephen's constant companion during that summer. He buys Stephen treats and takes him along to church, though soon grows witless and disappears from the novel.
Dante Riordan: A character modeled on Joyce's aunt, who was his first educator as a young boy. In Portrait, Dante comes to Christmas supper and gets in a huge religious argument with another dinner guest. Like her real-life counterpart, Dante's uncompromising faith in priests and the Catholic faith has a strong effect upon the young boy. Dante does not appear in later parts of the novel.
Parnell: An Irish political figure who was very much on the minds of the people during Stephen's childhood. Parnell was a Protestant and a leader for the common people, but lost many of his fans when he was caught in an adulterous affair with the wife of a political colleague. Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey are pro-Parnell; Dante is decidedly against him.
Father Arnall: A priest and teacher at Clongowes. Father Arnall sits by and does nothing when Stephen is unfairly pandied (beaten with a type of paddle ). He also leads the religious retreat that so affects Stephen.
the prefect (Father Dolan): Even though the prefect only shows up in one scene, his cruel pandying (beating) of Stephen shakes loose some of the boy's faith in religious authorities. Later in the novel, Stephen's father mentions that he's seen the prefect and they'd had a good laugh about the incident, which further disturbs Stephen's notion of religious authority.
Mr. Casey: A friend of Mr. Dedalus', who gets into a shouting match with Dante at Christmas dinner. This is the only scene in which we see Mr. Casey, although his dramatic shouts 'No God for Ireland!' surely have a lasting effect upon Stephen.
Emma (the girl from the tram): Emma is the girl most on Stephen's mind. As children, Stephen and Emma have a memorable ride home from a party together (on a tram), after which Stephen tries to write a poem to her. Emma appears often later in the novel, although she's not usually mentioned by her name. She continues to be Stephen's primary muse.
the bird girl (the wading girl): Stephen sees this girl standing on the beach right when he's in the process of deciding that he will definitely not join the priesthood. Her beauty inspires him and he takes her to be a muse, a reason and an inspiration to choose a life of art and beauty rather than religious devotion.
Cranly: A friend of Stephen's at the university who has a long discussion with Stephen about religion and Stephen's artistic ambitions near the end of the novel. Stephen likes Cranley, though it's suggested that a life of art may mean that Stephen will not be able to keep friends like this. Stephen is also a bit suspicious that Cranley may have some sort of relationship with the same girl he's after.
Athy: A boy that is in the infirmary with Stephen at Clongowes. Later, Athy has the information that several boys who are in trouble with the school were caught smugging (having sexual relations with other boys using the hands).
the director of Belvedere: The director is a priest who calls Stephen in one day to discuss the possibility that Stephen has a divine calling to become a priest. Stephen refuses in part because the director has such a weary, saggy look.
the dean of the university: Stephen has a long conversation with the dean in one of the classrooms as the dean is building a fire. An Englishman, the dean stirs up some feelings of superiority and alienation in Stephen, who is beginning to feel that the language of the English is not his own.