Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Boarding House- By James Joyce

The Boarding House is one of the short stories out of James Joyce's collection of Dubliners. In the work, Mrs. Mooney is a wife of an abusive butcher. Experiencing an unsuccessful marriage, she directs her
attention to the boarding house and keeps a close eye on the men interacting with Polly, her daughter and keeps her away from inferior men. She allows intimacy to develop between Polly and Mr. Doran. She
then accused him of "taking advantage of Polly's youth and inexperience" and demands reparation. Mt Doran's fear of a sullied reputation forces him to accept the marriage. The three principal characters in The Boarding House are all constrained by social conventions. They all lack the power to govern
their own lives. Mrs. Mooney marries a drunken husband who "fights with her in the presence of customers" (pg.53) and ruins the business "by buying bad meat." (pg.53) In face of such tormenting marriage, she is motivated by the instincts for survival to earn a living by the boarding house to support herself and her children. Her ultimate goal is to avert her daughter, Polly, ending up an old maid like her but to "get her daughter off her hands" (pg.56) and confirm that her daughter is provided with financial security. It is the concept of materialism existed in Dublin which further heightens class distinction. Mrs.
Mooney set criterion for Polly's partner in which he must be presentable and with stable income. As for Mr. Doran, he is obviously the victim and being manipulated throughout the affair. He was being seduced by Mrs. Mooney's daughter and lured into having sex with her daughter. Society puts extra pressure on Mr. Doran and forces him to accept the reparation proposed by Mrs. Mooney. His promising social position makes him fail to neither with stand publicity nor risk the loss of his job as "a great catholic wine-merchant." (pg.56) Moreover, the church also weighs heavily upon his decision, constantly reminding him of the sin he has committed.
Not only are Mrs. Mooney and Mr. Doran's lives being determined by
religious aspects and social conventions, Polly also face the same fate. Her life is pretty much predestined. She is a puppet being controlled and spied by her protective mother. She sends Polly "to be a typist in a corn factor's office," (pg.54) hoping that she will be wedded by some well off boss. However, her mission fails. Therefore, she takes Polly to the boarding house, "giving her the run of the young man" (pg.54) and she weeds out candidates who do not mean business. These three principal characters are typical prototype of the people under the society of Dublin.
It is ironic to end with the prospect of marriage as the scenario
seems like a perfect setup for a comedy. However, there is nothing to be comic about as Mr. Doran is trapped inside Dublin society with mixed feelings and the bond between Mr. Doran and Polly are
superficial, lacking solid affection towards each other. Besides, in the first place, Mr. Doran is not eager to marry but to remain free. "Once you are married you are done for." (pg.57) Mr. Doran marries
Polly due to false consciousness, he is convinced that he has sinned for making Polly pregnant and he will be guilty if Polly put an end to her life. The image of "mist" elucidates Mr. Doran's obscured vision and
inability to critically analyze his situation and carry out introspection. When he attempts to shave, a mist gathers on his glasses so that he has to take them off and polish them with his pocket handkerchief." Besides, when he is going down the stairs to converse with Mrs. Mooney, "his glasses become so dimmed with moisture" again that "he has to take them off and polish them." All these images is a premonition of his downfall and reflect how short sighted he is not to observe the leverages being applied by astute
Mrs. Mooney. Comparatively, Mrs. Mooney is unambiguous about her vision. She has explicit target to achieve and is aware of the affair escalating between Mr. Doran and her daughter though there is no "open complicity" and verbalization between them. Her decisive and imposing character is insinuates through her surveying of herself in the pier- glass, providing her with reliable images. "The decisive expression of her great florid face" (pg.56) signifies that "she is sure she will win." (pg.55) All in all, The Boarding House is about how Mrs. Mooney 's life is governed by the power of materialism and how she traps Mr. Doran into a dilemma and treats him as a means to get her daughter off her hands. She is focusing on her own interest and neglecting the feelings of Mr. Doran and her daughter, which is a typical product of the society of Dublin.


D.N. Aloysius

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