Date of Thesis



This essay on Irish literature juxtaposes James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices. O'Brien wrote her novel twenty-five years after A Portrait was published, in part as a response to the masculine narrative Joyce depicts in his Bildungsroman. The Land of Spices responds to A Portrait's male-dominated character list by providing a cast of mostly female characters. Anna Murphy's greatest influence and most influential authority figure is a woman, and that woman's efforts to help Anna towards her artistic goal contradict the callousness which Stephen Dedalus is shown by his authoritative fathers. Both coming-of-age novels can be considered Künstlerromans, as they explore their protagonists' journeys towards linguistic and artistic freedom. Julia Kristeva's semiotic theory functions as a lens through which these two contemporary novels can be analyzed and compared, and it is through a discussion of the paternal symbolic and maternal semiotic that such artistic journeys can be contextualized. Kristeva posits that subjects-in-process develop semiotic rhythms while they are in their mother's womb, and thus are born into the semiotic realm of non-communicable language. As they grow, however, they must learn to navigate the paternal symbolic, foregoing their grasp of the semiotic as they begin to abide by the law of the father. The two protagonists of this paper, Stephen Dedalus and Anna Murphy, both desire freedom from the confines of their everyday lives. According to Kristeva's theory, subjects-in-process always retain a trace of their unique, semiotic rhythms, even after an entry into the symbolic language is complete. Though the paternal symbolic tries to suppress those maternal rhythms by imposing conformity on its subjects, they continue to manifest themselves as gestures. The symbolic is the language of absence and desire, and it is always seeking to communicate that object of desire, or a sign of which there is no communicable referent. There can never be a true understanding through the symbolic language, because were a sign truly understood, there would be no need to use language to convey its truth. Silence, then, indicates a semiotic understanding of a sign, and Stephen and Anna both strive towards this artistic goal by attempting to break from the confines of the symbolic as they consciously rebel against the imposing law of the father.


James Joyce, Julia Kristeva, Kate O'brien, The Land of Spices, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, semiotic theory

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

John S. Rickard