Symbols often accompany characters in the creation of an author's written work. James Joyce, in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, traces the growth and development of Stephen Dedalus as he experiences a life filled with filial, social, educational and religious constraints. As he gradually discovers his calling for a life devoted to art and writing, images of birds and flight appear in the novel to represent his quest for personal freedom. Once he determines what type of future will fulfill his needs, the limitations that once restricted his potential soon diminish.
At the beginning of the story, Stephen's last name Dedalus is the first example of symbolic flight applied (p.10, 246). Daedalus, a character from Greek mythology, designs a labyrinth for the king. Daedalus and the king's son, Icarus, are imprisoned, so Daedalus makes plans to escape by making wings for himself. He successfully escapes and survives, but Icarus meets his death because he does not heed to warnings concerning the height at which he flies; consequently, when he soars too close to the sun, the wax holding his wings together melts, and he plummets into the sea. This anecdote regarding Daedalus parallels with Stephen's life since the novel's protagonist also faces problems he must determine how to overcome; Stephen desires to flee from Ireland, yet he seems disinterested in advice or suggestions from family, religious figures, or fellow students. Stephen attempts to make his dream come true, yet he overestimates his own abilities the same way Icarus does when he flies. The name Dedalus travels with Stephen as he breaks free from the constraints, especially family-related, and discovers who he is. Stephen's family experiences financial troubles and must relocate to Dublin. The symbol of flight recurs when Stephen does not understand why his father has so many enemies, and Stephen feels as if there will be a fight because of the tension between his father's enemies and his father.