Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

According to Greek mythology, Athens paid Crete seven virgins every nine years. The children were put into the Minos maze and, no matter how they walked, they died of thirst or were eaten by Minotaur, the monster of the labyrinth. Joyce associated this myth with Finnegans Wake. Finnegans Wake is a maze like the Minos Maze. Joyce created the maze with his own rules, a game he played his own way, in which he no longer had to obey other people’s rules, nor care about their recognition or participation. Just as the fate of children lurks in the Minos labyrinth, so the Finnega’s Wake contains a prediction of the fate of mankind that others may not understand, but will happen as predicted. From this perspective, Finnegans Wake is both a Minos labyrinth and an Eden created by Joyce himself, and also a prophecy about the fate of mankind.

In fact, In Joyce’s mind, Finnegans Wake was a work on a level with the Bible and other human sacred texts that readers must read with awe and shame. Finnegans Wake talks about a letter that the hen is constantly digging. The hen searched all the winding world for a very large piece of writing paper just as the clock struck twelve. The sentence, if read in Joyce’s way of making puns, could also be interpreted as the hen searching through all the complicated polysemous words at the stroke of twelve, looking for a piece of writing paper as big as God. Joyce also makes repeated references to the 6th or 9th century Irish holy book, The Great Book of Gaelic, and the hen digs the letter in Finnegans Wake is a stylistic parody of The Great Book of Gaelic. Historically, The Great Book of Gaelic had been buried like the letter dug up by the hen to protect it from the invading Danes, and centuries later it had been excavated and worn like a letter.

The letter, The Great Book of Gaelic, and Finnegans Wake are the same thing in Joyce’s mind, and if the hen is looking for the letter in a winding world, the reader is looking for clues to the Wake in Joyce’s labyrinth of complex and polysemous words. If the ragged book of The Great Book of Gaelic requires the reverence and patience of posterity, Finnegans Wake demands that its readers devote their lives to a book written, albeit by a contemporary writer. Most notably, Joyce actually regarded his Finnegans Wake as the same holy book as The Great Book of Gaelic. It’s as sacred and profound as The Great Book of Gaelic, and the process of reading it is the same as the process of interpreting The Great Book of Gaelic, the process of interpreting scripture. In this way the reader can understand why Joyce employs such obscure language in Finnegans Wake: Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s use of enigmatic language and content to reveal the mysteries of human destiny like The Great Book of Gaelic.

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