I'm not a hero

In its immediate narrative context in Telemachus, “I’m not a hero” refers to Stephen’s morbid fear of water and to his nonaggressiveness. But it also constitutes a pointed reference to his original fictional name. When Joyce stayed with Gogarty in the tower he was working on a book called Stephen Hero, a long and eternally unfinished autobiographical novel whose materials Joyce eventually reworked into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The title does not imply straightforward glorification of the protagonist. Ellmann speculates that when Joyce sought a new one, it was “because he felt the first title might imply a more sardonic view of his hero than he intended” (193).

JH 2011

New Directions edition of Stephen Hero.