6.2 The Letter as Condom
Expressed in terms of the tree/stone motifs, despite Shaun's reactionary perspective, he clearly delivers the 'tree' of life which allows HCE to move through time. Shem's avant-garde artifact composed using fecal matter, and later to be discovered in a midden, is conversely a 'stone' occupying space and freezing HCE in time. For this reason the Shem/HCE of the Book III.4 is depicted during love-making as wearing a contraceptive: that is, the letter Shem/HCE writes is not new life but is a literary depiction of such. Similarly, the letter is in one sense described in terms of a used condom, for Shaun carries 'them bagses of trash which the mother and Mr Unmentionable (O breed not his same!) has reduced to writing' (FW 420.3-5). HCE himself is 'a dud letter, a sing a song a sylble; a byword, a sentence with surcease' (FW 129.7-8). The letter is portrayed as the used condom of Book III.4 which figures in the court case concerning contraception:
Since then the cheque, a good washable pink, embossed D you D No 11 hundred and thirty 2, good for the figure and face, had been circulating in the country for over thirtynine years [...] though not one demonetised farthing had ever spun or fluctuated across the counter in the semblance of hard coin or liquid cash. (FW 574.25-30)
Claudine Raynaud opens her discussion of the letter in 'Women, the Letter Writer; Man the Writing Master' with Shem's statement that:
All the world's in want and is writing a letters.5 A letters from a person to a place about a thing. And all the world's on wish to be carrying a letters. A letters to a king about a treasure from a cat.6
5To be slipped on, to be slept by, to be conned to, to be kept up. And when you're done push the chain. (FW 278.13-17,N5)
Raynaud glosses Issy's footnote in the above quotation as referring to the fecal deposit of the Russian General.2 An additional reading, however, is that the letter referred to is a French letter (or condom); fecal matter can of course be 'slipped on' and 'slept by', though 'conned' includes a reference to the French con, or 'cunt', and 'kept up' likewise indicates a desire to minimise either spillage or impotence. Moreover, fecal and biological creativity are analogous activities in the Wake. The letter described by Shem is similarly genetic, for the treasure referred to is derived from the female genitalia. There are numerous references in the Wake equating 'pussy' with the vulva, and a similar association of the word 'cat' in the above quotation is consistent with the Wake's frequent descriptions of ALP's vagina. Note six, not quoted by Raynaud, is Issy's comment upon the word 'cat', specifically 'With her modesties office' (FW 278.N6), which also adds weight to the implication of vulva.
The non-reproductive message Shem creates is also referred to as a condom in Book IV. At the outset of the conflict between Patrick and Balkelly, Muta, or 'change' asks Juva, 'youth',3 to borrow 'that hordwanderbaffle from you, old rubberskin'. Juva replies: 'Here it is and I hope it's your wormingpen, Erinmonker!' (FW 610.30-32). As a 'wormingpen' it is both bed warmer and a penis container that will ensure that Shaun's exhortation to Issy/ALP is fulfilled: 'O breed not his same!'. The 'bagses of trash' that Shaun carries as post, or at least an empty sack, is handed back to a youthful version of Earwicker, or here 'Erinmonker' in anticipation of the continuation of the Wake cycle. When Shem/HCE is making love to ALP in Book III.4 (with condom fitted) she also describes him as 'Ye hek, ye hok, ye hucky hiremonger' (FW 584.5), with 'iron monger' an echo of Cain's descendant, Jubal Cain, the 'artificer in brass and iron',4 and by extension to the Grecian artificer Dedalus.
2 Claudine Raynaud 'Woman the Letter Writer; Man, the Writing Master', in James Joyce Quarterly 23 (1986), 299-324 (p. 299).
3 Danis Rose and John O'Hanlon, Understanding Finnegans Wake: A Guide to the Narrative of James Joyce's Masterpiece (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), p. 302.
4 Adaline Glasheen, Third Census of Finnegans Wake: An Index of the Characters and Their Roles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 150, quotes Genesis 4.