Literary Criticism

by Erin hunley
(Federal Way, WA, U.S.A.)

Editor


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James Joyce's story “The Boarding House” is a short story that approaches the struggles of being an un-wed single mother, the aspect of social stations and the different views of marriage. In “The Boarding House”, Mrs. Mooney is a single mother of two children who opens her own boarding house for income, after bringing her daughter Polly home to do housework and entertain the guests she learns of a relationship between her daughter and a wealthy merchant Mr. Duran. Mrs. Mooney monitors the relationship until she feels it is the most profitable time to intervene, after confirming the relationship with her daughter she then confronts the young man with the need for reparation for the sinful relationship: she demands that he marry her daughter. In an attempt to marry off her daughter to a high-class man, Mrs. Mooney sets up a situation that will bring her daughter a husband in the form of Mr. Durant. Mrs. Mooney manipulates Mr. Duran by encouraging her daughters’ flirty interactions with the tenants, silently monitoring the blooming relationship between Polly and Mr. Duran without intervention and confronting Mr. Duran with the demand of marriage for reparation.
Mrs. Mooney brings her young daughter home from an office job to work around the house doing housework and entertaining the young men that were guests in the boarding house. In the text it states that on Sunday’s they held a reunion in the drawing room, where Polly Mooney would occasionally sing a provocative song “I’m a… naughty girl. You needn’t sham: You know I am.”(pg. 417 Par.1) Polly was also inspired in the text to be a beautiful girl, she was described as a “girl of nineteen, she had light soft hair and a small full mouth.” She was said to have grey eyes with a touch of green that
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“had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone, which made her look like a little perverse Madonna.” (Pg. 417 Par. 2) When Mrs. Mooney brought her daughter home, it was her intention to please the men with the “feel that there is a young woman not very far away” (Pg. 417 Par. 2) and Polly did well to entertain and flirt with the men openly. Mrs. Mooney knew this and showed little interest in it, in the text her view of it is that “the young men were only passing the time away: none of them meant business.” (pg. 417 Par. 2) But when Mrs. Mooney contemplated sending Polly back to her previous office job, she became aware that a relationship between her daughter and the young wealthy merchant Mr. Duran was developing. Instead of putting a stop to it, “She watches the pair and kept her own counsel.” (Pg. 417 Par. 2) Her silence about the affair allows it to continue and blossom into a situation to take advantage of.
Even knowing about the inappropriate relationship occurring between her daughter Polly and the guest Mr. Doran, Mrs. Mooney did nothing. Polly felt her mother’s silence was a form of encouragement, in the text it states that “Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother’s persistent silence could not be misunderstood.” (Pg. 417 Par. 3) Even when the other guests began to speak about the affair openly, “There had been no open complicity between mother and daughter, no open understanding” (Pg. 417 Par. 3) but still Polly felt encouraged in her decisions since “still Mrs. Mooney did not intervene.” (pg. 417 Par. 3) It wasn’t until Polly started acting strangely and Mr. Durant started to react to the situation that Mrs. Mooney felt the need to intervene. She waited until it was the most profitable moment, in the text it states she “dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind.” (Pg. 417 Par.3) Meaning that her mind is made up about her next move and like a cleaver cutting through meat, she will not be swayed. Even as Polly expected her intervention, Mrs. Mooney did nothing which encouraged her daughter to continue with the affair. This is also a form of manipulating her own daughter to assist in her goal.
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Mrs. Mooney finally decided to intervene with the sinful relationship between her daughter Polly and Mr. Durant; she spoke with her daughter and learned the truths of everything, then waited until Sunday after Mr. Durant got back from church to confront him. She sat at the table and plotted her confrontation with confidence in her victory. “She was sure she would win. To begin with she had all the weight of social opinion on her side: she was an outraged mother.” (Pg. 418 Par. 2) She knew that Mr. Durant would be pressured to appease her through his social responsibilities. Mrs. Mooney takes into consideration Mr. Durant’s wealthy status, employment and honor knowing that he will have no choice but to marry her daughter or face the publicity of the affair. She refused to accept any other sort of reparation stating that “Some other mothers would be content to patch up such an affair for a sum of money; she had known cases of it. But she would not do so. For her only one reparation could make up for the loss of her daughter’s honor: marriage.” (Pg. 418 Par. 3) Instead of taking the cash to quiet the affair, she had a chance to set up her daughter with a wealthy family forever, so she would not falter from that course. Her ultimate goal is shown in the text when she awaited Mr. Durant’s arrival to speak of the situation, “The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied her and she thought of some mothers she knew who could not get their daughters off their hands”. (Pg. 418 Par. 5) In the end, her daughter Polly approaches Mr. Durant upset over the situation but shortly after he leaves to speak with Mrs. Mooney she expressed relief and cheerfulness about the waiting future with Mr. Durant. “She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm, her memories gradually giving place to hopes and visions of the future.” (Pg. 420 Par. 4) This last part makes it obvious that Polly’s goal was the same as her mother’s throughout the whole affair. It is Mrs. Mooney’s actions that settle the issue though; she uses the pressures that Mr. Durant faces to manipulate him into marrying Polly to save his career and social standing.

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Although all the characters are in the wrong, it is Mrs. Mooney who is ultimately plotting and manipulating the situation to assure a better life for her daughter. Taking her daughter away from her office job and bringing her to the boarding house full of young men to entertain them shows Mrs. Mooney’s planning for the idea. Throughout the entire affair she was aware and remained silent, giving her daughter the impression of encouragement to continue the relationship, and then purposely waited until everyone in the boarding house was aware of the affair. Taking advantage of the fact that so many other men knew of the affair and were likely to talk to others, Mrs. Mooney knew that Mr. Durant would be forced to marry her daughter to avoid the publicity and social shame that would accompany the knowledge getting out. Although Mr. Durant acts poorly in his decision to have a relationship with Polly, it seems obvious by the end of the story that both mother and daughter were working towards the same goal. To Polly, the idea of marriage is freeing and exhilarating, whereas to Mr. Durant it is a feeling of entrapment and embarrassment to marry below his class. Mrs. Mooney created the situation and encouraged the affair to achieve the profitable result for her daughter, a wealthy husband.

Corrected Copy


James Joyce’s story “The Boarding House” is a short story that explores the struggles of being an un-wed single mother, the aspect of social stations and the different views of marriage.

In “The Boarding House”, Mrs. Mooney is a single mother of two children who opens her own boarding house for income. After bringing her daughter Polly home to do housework and entertain the guests she learns of a relationship between her daughter and a wealthy merchant Mr. Duran. Mrs. Mooney monitors the relationship until she feels it is the most profitable time to intervene. After confirming the relationship with her daughter she then confronts the young man with the need for reparation for the sinful relationship: she demands that he marry her daughter.

In an attempt to marry off her daughter to a high-class man, Mrs. Mooney sets up a situation that will bring her daughter a husband in the form of Mr. Durant. Mrs. Mooney manipulates Mr. Duran by encouraging her daughter's flirty interactions with the tenants, silently monitoring the blooming relationship between Polly and Mr. Duran without intervention and then confronting Mr. Duran with the demand of marriage for reparation.

Mrs. Mooney brings her young daughter home from an office job to work around the house doing housework and entertaining the young men that were guests in the boarding house. In the text it states that on Sunday’s they held a reunion in the drawing room, where Polly Mooney would occasionally sing a provocative song “I’m a… naughty girl. You needn’t sham: You know I am.”(pg. 417 Par.1)

Polly was portrayed in the text to be a beautiful girl, she was described as a “girl of nineteen, she had light soft hair and a small full mouth.” She was said to have grey eyes with a touch of green that (Hunley, 2) “had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone which made her look like a little perverse Madonna.” (Pg. 417 Par. 2)

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