The Boarding House: a Socio-Political Commentary of James Joyce's Ireland

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The Boarding House
A Socio-political Commentary on James Joyce’s Ireland

“The Boarding House” is a typically oriented short story in the James Joyce style beginning with a recollection of the characters backgrounds. In this story, Mrs. Mooney escapes a troubled marriage from her drunk and abusive husband and opens a boarding house. Her son and daughter, Jack and Polly, work in the boarding house with her where she rules with a heavy hand and is referred to as ‘The Madam.’ As Joyce leads us to believe, the constant flow of young, single men through the boarding house eventually lead to Polly having an intimate relationship with Mr. Doran, an employee of a respected, Catholic wine dealer in the area. While Joyce lets us know that the relationship is far from covert, Mrs. Mooney refrains until what she deems to be the right moment before intervening. When this intervention finally occurs, in the form of a meeting between Mrs. Mooney and Mr. Doran, he has become aware of the fact that his innocent relationship with Polly was quite the opposite and he was now faced with the option of disgracing his reputation and leaving his home and his job or requesting her hand in marriage. Joyce ends the story with Polly walking down the stairs of the boarding house as her mother has summoned her to come speak with Mr. Doran as he has a question to ask her.

The notion of boarding houses in James Joyce’s writing as open and fluid is not unique to this story. In Julieann Veronica Ulin’s criticism, “Fluid Boarders and Naughty Girls: Music, Domesticity, and Nation in Joyce’s Boarding Houses” she brings to light the idea that the open and transient nature of the boarding house is symbolic of the Irish nation at that time. Further, she uses the relationships and situations within the boarding house as metaphors or symbols for some of the other domestic problems Joyce views in his home nation.

The boarding house image and symbolism is unmistakable and can be analyzed...
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