A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man would establish Joyce as a leader in the movement know as literary modernism. It is set in late 19th century Ireland, and features the education of a young man, Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's alter ego. His education is not only scholarly, but an intellectual, emotional and moral formation as he sheds himself of his Roman Catholic roots and develops as a writer.
A Portrait of the Artist is not a breezy read. There's not a whole lot of action either - it's almost all an introspective, impressionistic meandering of a budding author. The plot line and prose can be difficult, which will require a closer reading. That said, this is a cornerstone of literature for its description of a once innocent young boy who grows dissatisfied with the world, and grows at odds with himself philosophically and psychologically. Journey through Joyce's head as a young man as his Dadalus overturns nearly every facet of his life: religion, class, his education, and morality.