Friday, February 25, 2011

Chapter Three

You may have noticed that the previous chapter had a fairly high level of narrative drive. Well, I hope you enjoyed it, because it’s over now. With chapter three we take a sudden plunge into extreme obscurity (“S’dense!”, as the first line says). I’ve been scratching my head over it for two weeks now, and I hope you won’t be too disappointed with the results.

Partially, at least, chapter three continues Mr. Earwicker’s story, but mostly it repeats and revises it. We begin by learnng of the final ends of many of the supporting characters from the previous chapter, all of them slightly altered, so that Hosty becomes “Osti-Fosti,” and the Cad with a pipe becomes “the snob of the dunhill.” After that comes the first (and, I think, the most confusing) of a number of retellings of Earwicker’s encounter with the Cad. An Irishman (Joyce himself, according to one source) exiled on the English coast tells the “fishabed ghoatstory” of HCE at the request of three schoolboys.

As I said, clarity is scarce, but the tale appears to concern the transformation of chapter two’s mundane encounter into the stuff of myth and religious ritual. A man is offered a cigar (“pluggy well suck that brown boyo, my son, and spend a whole half hour in Havana”), which appears to lead to his meeting “Master,” the “bester of redpublicans” at the Eagle Cock Hostel (the action having permanently moved from Dublin’s Phoenix Park to HCE’s pub). Their conversation is a comically mangled variation on the original, punctuated by the Irishman’s instruction to the schoolboys to follow his example (his own, or HCE’s, or both, I have no idea).

The story, we’re told, is never forgotten. Years later, one of the boys, now an old man, “rehearses” the story to a “namecousin” of an archdeacon. This cousin apparently repeats it to his relative, for we’re told that every time the archdeacon “reads the part”, his listeners, hearing his imitation of the performance given his cousin, feel themselves “timesported” back to the English coastline, watching the Irishman’s interpretation of the part originally played by Mr. Earwicker. All clear?

After a cock-and-bull story like that, it’s reassuring for the narrator to admit that he’s no less confused than we are. What are the facts? But the further we search for the truth, the further it appears to drift away. A crowd of “evidencegivers” is gathered “by legpoll” to offer their opinions, most of which are laughable, paradoxical or incomprehensible. Finally, a written record appears to be discovered, in the form of a police report recounting the second variation on the meeting with the Cad. A tall man, ”humping a suspicious parcel,” is held up by an “unknowable assailant” with whom he had fought over one of two women. But this evidence too is questioned in every particular: that the man was not tall, that he carried not a fender (a fireguard) but a bottle of stout, which he claimed to be attempting to open by banging it against a gate, although the sound he made was more like the end of days.

After a number of digressions, we finally return to Earwicker’s house, and to the third version of his encounter. Earwicker’s home is sealed by a gate both to lock others out and to lock him in. In the middle of the night, he is woken by a man issuing threats from beyond the gate if he (Earwicker) failed to give him drink. After delivering a torrent of abuse (which Earwicker greets with Christlike silence) the offender throws a few stones and finally retreats. And so Earwicker returns to bed. But is he sleeping? Is he imprisoned? Is he dead? As usual, nothing is clear, but the chapter ends with a prophecy that like King Arthur, “he skall wake from earthsleep.”

I hope this is helpful. I tried to strike a balance between sufficient explanation and overexplanation, but if anyone has questions, clarifications or corrections, I’d love to hear them!


1 comment:

Whiffer said...

If it helps, there's an extensive gloss of the chapter (in fact, of all the chapters) at I know FWEET has far more tips and elucidations and what have you, but I found this site slightly easier to navigate, especially since it doesn't take a tutorial to figure out. You just click on an underlined word and it'll dissect the creation for you. Usually.