Shaun the Post: James Joyce's Use of the Catholic Notion of Perfection in Finnegans Wake

Philip W. Kenny, Marquette University


James Joyce, as a writer who grew up in an Irish Roman Catholic environment, was familiar from his youth with the Catholic notion of perfection, the ascetical practices which foster the acquisition of perfection, and the various states which, in Catholic theology and popular culture, came to be associated with perfection, namely, sainthood, priesthood, and angelhood. Given this kind of familiarity and Joyce's celebrated penchant for drawing from his own experience in his novels, it is not surprising that the notion of perfection and the states associated with perfection should play an important role in Joyce's work. In two characters, especially, Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Shaun the Post of Finnegans Wake, Joyce explores personalities who strive, or claim to strive, for perfection, and he describes these characters in terms derived from the Catholic theology of states of perfection.