Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in English



First Advisor

Gregory Schirmer

Second Advisor

Cristin Ellis

Third Advisor

Mary Hayes

Relational Format



This thesis explores chapter II.ii of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939)—commonly called "The Night Lessons"—and its peculiar use of the conventions of the textbook as a form. In the midst of the Wake's abstraction, Joyce uses the textbook to undertake a rigorous exploration of epistemology and education. By looking at the specific expectations of and ambitions for textbooks in 19th century Irish national schools, this thesis aims to provide a more specific historical context for what textbooks might mean as they appear in Finnegans Wake. As instruments of cultural conditioning, Irish textbooks were fraught with tension arising from their investment in shaping religious and political identity. Reading "The Night Lessons" as an Irish textbook, this thesis argues that systemized knowledge and the nationalized education that disseminates it possess a threatening capacity to shape and limit identity and experience. Joyce uses the chapter both to examine this threat and to advance modes of experience unaccounted for in systems of knowledge reliant on language—and thus unamenable to educational forces' attempts to colonize identity. The thesis examines the 19th century pedagogical notion of apperception as a nexus of Joyce's binding preoccupations of memory and perception, and investigates its role in the capacity of generate abstraction and metaphysics in unconscious mind as depicted in Finnegans Wake. Ultimately, this thesis reads "The Night Lessons" as a textbook exercising the mind's malleability instead of imposing stabilizing limits upon it.



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