Connor Johnson
Mr. Kearney
Modern Irish Lit. P. 6
5 April 2016
The Copycat Mary
Mary is one of the biggest figures, especially for mothers, in all of Christianity. Joyce writes Mary Dedalus into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to have her try and take on the role of the virgin Mary. Mrs. Dedalus, a God fearing prayerful woman dedicates her life to the pursuit of being a great mother. No matter how hard she tries with her kids she becomes like Sisyphus, all of her work being undone. Mary tries to compare herself in actions to the virgin Mary, but fails constantly in her endeavors, inevitably ruining those she tries to help.
The virgin Mary, conceiving a child without sex is the ultimate sign of her purity. In her constant struggle to compare herself to the likeness of the virgin, the nine children of the Dedalus household attest to how far from purity Mary Dedalus really is.
Cranly cut him short by asking:
—Has your mother had a happy life?
—How do I know? Stephen said.
—How many children had she?
—Nine or ten, Stephen answered. Some died (Joyce 301)
Stephen states that some of Mary’s children died which further reinforces her faults and fall from purity. If Stephen wasn’t able to easily say she had a happy life with her numerous children, it easily shows she struggled with something. This statement, put so close to the revealing of the death of her children gives insight that her struggle had to do with her family. Shortly after the previous conversation, Cranly questions what Stephens father did for work. Stephen revealed that his dad did a lot of everything. The man doing so much more than her speaks to her inadequacy.
A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a story-teller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past. (Joyce 301)
Mary’s inadequacy is also intertwined into areas of the book where she isn’t mentioned. Mary, a very religious lady, looks up to the trinity as well as the virgin Mary. Though this coming of age story focuses around breaking away from parents and family, Mary Dedalus is hardly ever mentioned. Mary the virgin is written into Mary parts of this story though, leaving Mrs. Dedalus to be lost in the background. Mary’s religion plays a large role in her life, yet as much as she tries she can’t pass that love for religion to her kin.
From the earliest time in Stephens life Mary had tried to get him involved in the church. This forcefulness into religion went so far as to send him to a Christian boarding school. Things start to look good as Stephen becomes attracted to the church, but as much as Mary keeps trying to nurture the Christian flame, Stephen falls to corruption and darkness. After an argument between Stephen and his mother about his attendance at Easter mass, he divulges to Cranly that he doesn’t believe in the Eucharist. This is the final nail in the coffin of Mary’s failure as a Christian mother.
—Do you believe in the Eucharist? Cranly asked.
—I do not, Stephen said.
—Do you disbelieve then?
—I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it, Stephen answered. (Joyce 299)
Stephen does leave some hope for the future in his comment saying he doesn’t “disbelieve” (299), but on the path he’s currently taking, he is falling farther and farther from god.
Mary while being hardly mentioned in the story plays a large dynamic in Stephens growing up. With her pushing him away into boarding school as a child he wanted to be more family oriented in the priesthood, but as she forced religion more and more upon him he grew to dislike it. Her constant want to be the perfect mother eventually is her folly. It doesn’t lead to her downfall but rather that of her son.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Viking, 1964. Print.