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6.4 Halting the Genetic Message

Mary Lowe-Evans suggests the Umbrella Case of Book III.4 reflects the numerous court cases concerning birth control in the 1920s, and that the chapter 'reproduces all sides of the birth control case [but] finally seems to assert that the urge to reproduce will generally prevail over the desire for ''pure'' sex'.8 Shem as Taff in the Story of How Buckley Shot the Russian General is also described as using an umbrella as a solution to a riddle in his head: 'a smart boy, of the peat freers, thirty two eleven, looking through the roof towards a relevution of the karmalife order privious to his hoisting of an emergency umberolum in byway of paraguastical solation to the rhyttel in his hedd' (FW 338.5-8). McHugh glosses 'rhyttel' as the Welsh rhyfel meaning 'war'; thus, using a condom to prevent the genetic passage of HCE from the past to the future, Shem attempts to prevent HCE's reincarnation and the consequent social upheaval and/or war. The final title of the letter given in the list of 'mamafesta' titles in Book I.5 concerns the fall of HCE in Book III.4 and similarly alludes to the use of a 'raincoat':

First and Last Only True Account all about the Honorary Mirsu Earwicker, L.S.D., and the Snake (Nuggets!) by a Woman of the World who only can Tell Naked Truths about a Dear Man and all his Conspirators how they all Tried to Fall him Putting it all around Lucalizod about Privates Earwicker and a Pair of Sloppy Sluts plainly Showing all the Unmentionability falsely Accusing about the Raincoats. (FW 107.1-7)

Shem's non-participation in the genetic competition for existence, 'the strangle for love and the sowiveall of the prettiest' (FW 145.26-27), suggests that the use of the condom/umbrella is a counterpart to his non-reproductive literary letter: an act or message of peace. As such, Shem/HCE's use of a condom parallels the 'sham' of his literary letter, and as an act of resistance is a symbolic preventative to the recurrence of the deity HCE whom ALP anticipates in Book IV. Moreover, the use of a condom was a crime against a church whose sexual ethics were based on the one hand upon classical models of sexual self-conservation9 and on the other Judaic laws which anticipated a second coming. It was a transgression too against the militarist state of Joyce's day, as Mary Lowe-Evans points out, citing Margaret Sanger's account of the 1920s:

The world War and the eventual triumph of militarism were finally to effect a volte-face, and the nation which had [taught] 'conscious procreation' was by the irony of circumstance to give prizes to the parents of large families and later to enact new and drastic laws against the practice of contraception.10

Given the various states' needs for additional bodies to throw upon the pyre of war and fulfil the mechanical needs of industry, the use of a condom might indeed be perceived as a war 'preventative', or perhaps reproduction 'strike'. While the warlike Shaun delivers his biological letter as the 'mailman of peace' (FW 408.10), hastening time and the upward cycle of civilisation, at the end of time Shem attempts to halt biological time and prevent the renewal of its cycle.

8 Lowe-Evans, ‘‘‘The Commonest of All Cases’’’, pp. 803-04.

9 See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, three volumes,. trans. by Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990-92)

10 Margaret Sanger, My Fight for Birth Control (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1931), p. 68, cited in Lowe-Evans, ‘‘‘The Commonest of All Cases’’’, p. 806.