How James Joyce Challenges His Readers In Ulysses And Finnegans Wake

2652 words - 11 pages

How James Joyce Challenges His Readers in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake

   In the history of written literature, it is difficult not to notice the authors who expand their reader's style and manner of reading. Some write in  an unusual syntax which forces the reader to utilize new methods of looking at a language; others employ lengthy allusions which oblige the reader to study the same works the author drew from in order to more fully comprehend the text. Some authors use ingenious and complicated plots which warrant several readings to be understood. But few authors have used all these and still more devices to demand more of the reader. James Joyce, writer of Ulysses and ...view middle of the document...

This pattern holds true to the close of both books: Odysseus returns home to his wife after a long journey looking much different than when he had left,  and by demonstrating knowledge that only they know, proves to her that he is indeed Odysseus. In Ulysses, Bloom returns home to Molly after his long journey and her last thoughts of him, while she is falling asleep in bed, are of past things which only they share (a romantic tryst of their past):

    " he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him
  as another and   then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then asked
  me would I yes to say yes my      mountain flower and first I put my arms
  around him yes an d drew him down to me so he could  feel my breasts all
  perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." 
  (Ulysses 768)

Throughout the novel, Joyce makes his readers not only know the Odyssey well

enough to recognize situations out of it, but also be aware of symbols and

people representing characters, such as the motif of pins representing the

needle-teeth of the Lestrygonians in that chapter (Barger)

    Finnegans Wake is somewhat different. Instead of paralleling his characters'

actions with the events of one specific character (i.e. Odysseus), he parallels

them with all men and women who have ever existed. Joyce applies a theory

created by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, that all history is cyclic

and repeats (Charles Cave). To Vico, history falls into four distinct "ages"

that connect to each other in the pattern of a circle:


   Divine Age -> Heroic Age -> Human Age -> Ricorso -> Divine Age ...

and so Finnegans Wake is structured into four "books", each paralleling one of

Vico's "ages". And because his book represents all history, and history is

cyclic, Joyce makes Finnegans Wake cyclic as well. The opening sentence:

  "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us
  by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle Environs."
  (Finnegans Wake 3)

completes the concluding sentence: "A way a lone a last a loved a long the"

(Finnegans Wake 628) and the book begins anew, where it had started. This

construction is unique among books written in English, and again Joyce

challenges his readers to be not only familiar with Vico's theories, but also

with how his book applies to them.


    Another facet of Joyce's ingenuity which is displayed in Ulysses and

Finnegans Wake, and demands readers to expand their method of reading, is his

wordplay. Most notably in his word combinations, Joyce experimented freely with

English in an effort to surmount its inherent difficulties. Here is a typical

passage describing a night sky that exemplifies a typical Joycean sentence:


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