Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1004
Finnegan, the title character, whose name is derived from Finn MacCool, for two hundred years the legendary captain of Ireland’s warrior heroes; the name change is coined in a Joycean pun “Mister Finn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain.” Finnegan, a hod carrier, has fallen from a ladder and is apparently dead. The fall is symbolic of the various falls (with implied corresponding resurrections) of humankind. At the wake, Finnegan’s friends become noisy and unrestrained, and in the course of the festivities, at the mention of the Irish word for “whiskey” (usquead-baugham!), Finnegan sits up, threatening to rise. The mourners soothe him back. With Finnegan’s demise, a new day is structured, and the hod carrier is supplanted by a man who has arrived to start life as Finnegan’s successor.
Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker
Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, also Here Comes Everybody and Haveth Childer Everywhere. HCE, the newcomer, is a tavern keeper. In keeping with the metamorphosis, his initials are a carry over from Finnegan’s vocation of “hod, cement, and edifice.” Another connection between the two men lies in Earwicker’s emerging from Howth Castle and Environs, to which locale Finnegan’s interment fades in the story. HCE has wandered widely, leaving his progeny along the way, from Troy and Asia Minor, through the lands of the Goths, the Franks, the Norsemen; he has traveled in Britain and Eire; he has Germanic and Celtic manifestations; up through history he becomes Oliver Cromwell. In short, he is Here Comes Everybody and Haveth Childer Everywhere, representing civilization. At present, he is Earwicker, HCE, a sympathetic character, harrowed by relentless fate. In Phoenix Park (the Garden of Eden), he is caught exhibiting himself to several girls. This impropriety and the Dubliners’ resentment of HCE as an intruder give rise to rumors that plague Earwicker, as the scandal takes on aspects of troubled times throughout history. The tumult in Earwicker’s soul is consistent with the struggles of all battles in the past. The trials and tribulations of HCE continue until, after a description of the shadows on a windowblind of him and his wife in copulation, HCE turns from his wife. He is now the broken shell of Humpty Dumpty. The hopes of the parents are in the children. The cycle of man is ready to start anew.
Ann, also Anna Livia Plurabelle, HCE’s wife. Just as Earwicker becomes Adam, Noah, Lord Nelson, a mountain, or a tree, so is ALP (as Ann is referred to generally throughout the book) metamorphosed into Eve, Isis, Iseult, the widow who serves at the wake, a passing cloud, a flowing stream. In this last transformation, as the River Liffey (which flows through Dublin), Ann plays her most important role. At the source, as a brooklet, she is a gay, young girl. Passing her husband’s tavern, she is comely, matronly. Flowing on through Dublin, she becomes the haggard cleaning woman, carrying away the filth of the city. She finally moves on to the ocean, from which she rises again in mist to become rain and start again as a mountain stream. As Earwicker’s wife, Ann plays the part of the motivator of her husband’s energies. She is the housekeeper. She is the mother of his children. Among the various polarities spelled out in the book, Ann is love, opposed to war as depicted by Earwicker.
Kevin, also Shaun the Postman, Chuff, Jaun, and Yawn, one of their sons. In his domestic role as Kevin, he is the extrovert, the man of action. He is the political orator, the favorite of the people, policeman of the planet, bearer of the white man’s burdens. He is the aggressor and the despoiler. As the symbolic Shaun, he is the Postman delivering to humankind the great message discovered and penned by his brother Jerry. Shaun, whose advice is “Collide with man, collude with money,” enjoys the rewards of the carrier of good tidings. Shaun is one of the opposites in another polarity stressed by Joyce, the opposites being the principals in the Brother Battle.
Jerry, also Shem the Penman, Dolph, and Glugg, Kevin’s twin brother. As the polar extreme of his brother, Jerry acts on in-turned energy. The books he writes are mortifying in that they lose the lines of good and evil; they are rejected by the decent. Erratic in his introversion, he vacillates between vehement action and unselfish forgiveness. His uncontrolled love is as dangerous as his wanton hate. Among the domestic scenes, the personalities of the two boys are shown, as Glugg (Shem) loses to Chuff (Shaun) in their fights for the approval of girls. Also, as Dolph and Kevin working at their lessons, Dolph, the studious one, helps his brother with a problem; Kevin indignantly strikes Dolph, who forgives.
Isobel, HCE and ALP’s daughter and sister of the twins. In the domestic scene she behaves as the child of an average family—playing, studying, and brooding on love. Symbolically, Isobel figures in episodes involving Swift and Vanessa, Mark and Iseult. Identifying her with Tristram’s Iseult, HCE has illicit desires for Isobel; also, he envisions her as the reincarnation of the wife. These thoughts keep him young. Among the myriad other characters—local and historical—that are intermingled in this poetic, convoluted account of birth, conflict, death, and resurrection are two significant groups:
Twelve Stately Citizens
Twelve Stately Citizens, who are variously a jury sitting in judgment on HCE, constant customers of Earwicker’s tavern, leading mourners at Finnegan’s wake, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Four Old Men
Four Old Men, who are intermittently four senile judges, the four winds, the four recorders of Irish annals, the four phases of the Viconian cycle: theocratic, aristocratic, democratic, and chaotic. This last phase, marked by individualism and sterility, represents the nadir of man’s fall. Yet humankind will rise again in response to the thunderclap, which polysyllabic sound Joyce uses to introduce his story.