Finnegans Wake Essay - Critical Essays

James Joyce

Critical Evaluation

Finnegans Wake sets out to render the collective unconscious in appropriate form and language. Thus, it encompasses all of human experience through the millennia in a cycle or recurring forms through a universal language, the language of dreams. To this end, it employs a language with simultaneous references to multiple tongues, expressing the major theme of the cyclical nature of history.

Thus, Finnegans Wake is not a novel with characters and plot, nor is it a narrative with mythic overtones. Earwicker and his family are perhaps best understood as contemporary, local instances of a great allegory. In reading Finnegans Wake readers confront the anxiety and confusion of their own dreams. No character exists as an independent, stable personality. Similarly, perspectives are continuously shifting between various aspects of the collective unconscious. Thus Earwicker is a kind of Everyman. He can be identified with all the characters to some extent, but whereas he can be called Adam in the biblical system, the Finn Mac Cool of Irish myth, the Tim Finnegan of popular song, or a concession to the bias of his living readers, his identity is most easily comprehended as the Chapelizod pubkeeper Earwicker.

The major themes of Finnegans Wake are death and resurrection, the Fall, guilt, family relations, generational conflict, sexual identity and desire—all marshaled under a quasi-Jungian concept of collective identity. Similarly, following Vico, Joyce presumes that all aspects of a culture—its government, religion, language, and other institutions—are related to one another and that all have a profound impact on the way that individuals within that culture view themselves and their world, since Joyce planned to portray his hero, Earwicker, as inseparable from the cultural matrix of his society. All the figures in this dream-vision are fluid composites involving an unconfined blur of myths and fictitious characters as well...

(The entire section is 808 words.)