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  • A Mirror of the Whole:Shaun in Book III, Chapters 1-3
  • Larry Smith (bio)

Even a cursory reading of Finnegans Wake should reveal that its larger encompassing forms are constantly mirrored within individual sections. Thus, for example, the fourfold Viconian superstructure of the entire work is, obviously enough, represented by the numbers of chapters within each section. Or Joyce's trinitarian preoccupations will be echoed in any number of formal permutations and combinations. It is certainly not too much to suggest that any puzzling or seemingly arbitrary aspect of the book can be illuminated by recourse to Joyce's established formal patterns. We must just be attentive, not only to the lexical gymnastics, but to the action, such as it is, of any passage in order to find the clue that will unravel the meaning.

When we turn to Book III, Chapters 1-3, we are stymied not so much by problems of clarity—Chapter 2 is, in fact, unusually lucid—as by the nagging question, why. Why would Joyce, so rigorously economic a taskmaster even in his selfconsciously rococo moments, expend so much time, space, and energy in exploring the not altogether forceful fantasies and fetishes of Shaun-Jaun-Yawn? These chapters loom on first reading like a giant whale beached at what ought to be a crucial moment in the book. Between the collapse of HCE at the end of Book II and ALP's final journey to the sea, is there nothing better that Joyce can do than explore the hollow yearnings and exasperations of his most despised character?

The easy responses really don't work. One can't simply say, for example, that Shaun has not yet received his due as a character. His character has already been more than adequately limned in Book II, Chapters 1-2—and indeed compare how little space Shem, the very incarnation of Joyce the writer, receives in comparison! Shem gets only one chapter for himself (and even that's recited by his fraternal adversary) and gets absolutely nothing like a whole section weighted to convey his social and personal fantasies. There can be no doubt that Joyce has given disproportionate attention to this unlikely character and, without some [End Page 561] persuasive reason why, one might conclude that the motive is only masochistic (Joyce-Shem letting his other rule the roost) or practical (Joyce the writer can't think of anything else to write about and he needs filler). But we don't buy either explanation, not by a long shot.

A better explanation is that these chapters represent the democratic phase of history and, as such, Shaun must be the prime character since he is the darling of the people. That a disproportionate attention to his inner meanderings ensues cannot, therefore, be helped.

This is a plausible argument, but it ignores Joyce's methodology in earlier chapters. Neither of the preceding sections is as exclusive in its dramatis personae nor so limited in narrative scope. HCE, for example, not to mention the four chroniclers, is a central figure in Book II, ostensibly devoted to the children. Why can't that same rich parade of personality be more apparent in Book III as well?

It is my contention, and my faith, that by searching here for inner cues we can explicate Joyce's real motive in focusing so heavily on Shaun. A wider range of characters and events might have proven salutary in any case, but some exegesis should nonetheless open up these problematic chapters to the fullest possible appreciation.

Specifically, what do we find in Book III, Chapter 1 as we read? After the momentary diabolis ex machina of Jugurtha (403), we see Shaun in HCE garb (404). Then begins the dialogue with the inquisitorial populace that includes the Fable of the Ondt and the Gracehoper. This emphatic way in which Joyce connects Shaun to the father does at least foreshadow the sort of formal pattern we're seeking. If the question is, why expend so much energy on Shaun's rambling doubts and fantasies, the answer might well be that Shaun is HCE. Of course critics have often elucidated a polarity between Shaun-HCE and Shem...


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