Finnegans Wake Summary

James Joyce

Finnegans Wake

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Finnegans Wake Summary

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James Joyce’s experimental novel Finnegan’s Wake (1939) is considered a revolutionary masterpiece. The comic novel is a classic of modern Irish literature. Written over the course of nearly two decades, Joyce attempted to create a nocturnal, dreamlike state. The dreams relive major conflicts from both history and mythology. Finnegan’s Wake is considered one of the most difficult works of fiction written in English.

Joyce, like the eighteenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, believed that history is cyclical. Finnegan’s Wake is modeled on this concept. The story is written in a circular structure with no beginning or end. In fact, the novel’s opening line is a fragment of a sentence from the novel’s closing line which was left unfinished.

In addition to not having a normal storyline, Joyce writes the novel using a language of his own invention. Joyce’s inventive language includes a blend of English, multilingual puns, and portmanteau words. Portmanteau are words that blend the sounds and combine meanings from two other words. Adding to the dreamlike effect of the novel is Joyce’s use of stream of consciousness writing and use of literary allusions.

During the day, Mr. and Mrs. Porter live above their pub in Chapelizod, a suburb of Dublin. They live a normal, boring life. They are the parents of twin boys named Kevin and Jerry. They also have a daughter named Isabel, nicknamed Issy.

The characters’ names and the setting change when Mr. and Mrs. Porter enter their dreamworld. Their fantastical dream life sharply contrasts with their banal daytime existence. The land of dreams starts in the upstairs bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Porter’s home in Chapelizod.

In the dreams, the family becomes the Earwicker family and takes on many different names. The main protagonist is the archetypical husband-father. He goes by up to an astonishing one thousand different names over the course of the book, including Humphrey Chimpden Earwick and Here Comes Everybody. He is often called HCE. In the dreams, the wife goes by Anna Livia Plurabelle, ALP. The twin boys become Shem the Penman and Shaun the Postman. Issy remains Issy.

Due to the complicated and fluid nature of the novel, critics find it difficult to summarize the plot. The novel does not have a single plot;instead, it has many stories of various lengths ranging from a few words to several pages.

HCE commits some sort of sexual indiscretion at Phoenix Park. This event is important to the entire dream sequence. HCE feels burdened by guilt for what he has done. He is an everyman with shortcomings and failures. HCE claims he is innocent, but feels guilt. While HCE dreams, he revisits many different versions of the offense.

HCE’s misdeed with two girls was witnessed by three boys or soldiers. HCE’s sons Shem and Shaun sometimes represent the boys or soldiers. Shem and Shaun always represent opposite types of characters such as introvert versus extrovert, or bohemian vs. conservative.

Rumors and gossip circulate about HCE. In particular, Four Old Men help to spread the rumors. Throughout the novel, HCE’s accusers appear in fours. They are often joined by twelve other people, who may be apostles, members of a jury, or people drinking.

His wife, ALP, is the universal wife-mother. She is personified in the dreamscape by the River Liffey, which as it flows, is constantly in a state of flux. ALP tries to exonerate HCE of his deed by writing a letter. The novel ends with ALP reciting a monologue at dawn while she tries to wake up HCE who is asleep. Her monologue ends in a fragment sentence.

In addition to the story of HCE, we hear about the novel’s namesake, Tim Finnegan, in the first part of the novel. Tim Finnegan is a builder. Finnegan falls from a ladder while constructing a wall.He dies. During Finnegan’s wake, his wife, Annie, puts out his corpse for people to eat. None of the mourners do so. During his wake, whiskey gets spilled on the corpse during a fight.

Born in Dublin in 1882, James Joycewas one of the most respected writers of the twentieth century. A modernist writer, his works are also known for examining major events through the day-to-day small events in everyday life. In 1914, he published his first book, Dubliners, a collection of fifteen short stories. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man came out two years later and was praised by Ezra Pound, an American poet. Following the publication of Ulysses in 1922, Joyce published Finnegan’s Wake in 1939. In his personal life, he and Nora Barnacle had two children together, Georgio and Lucia. James and Nora were not officially married until three decades after they met. James Joyce died on January 13, 1941, after an intestinal surgery.