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Finnegans Wake | Study Guide

James Joyce

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James Joyce

Year Published






Perspective and Narrator

The story is the dream of an Irish tavern keeper named Porter and his wife during one night and is told from the perspective of Porter's dream self, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. For most of the night Porter's dreams dominate the story; his wife's dreams conclude the novel as morning arrives.


The narrative is told in the present tense, but because the story takes place in a dream world, time and place are often vaguely defined.

About the Title

The title is taken from a music hall ballad about the fall of a laborer, Tim Finnegan, from a ladder. Finnegan's demise stands for the death of gods and the end of an era of belief in the divine. The title of the song contains an apostrophe, but the title of Joyce's work does not. Explanations for its absence abound. But at the very least Joyce wanted to introduce the possibility that Finnegans can be a plural subject, in addition to a singular possessive. Wake then becomes, not a gathering before a funeral (a noun), but to rise from sleep (a verb). Thus the title can be read as a very short sentence, in which many Finnegans—perhaps all Irish, all common men, or all people—wake from a sleep. This ties in nicely with the dream motif and cycles of history.


This study guide for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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