Feminist Criticism: The Boarding House
Throughout James Joyce’s “The Boarding House”, women appear in stereotypical, subordinate roles. This may lead the reader to think that Joyce is an anti-feminist writer, however this is not the case. This work is an honest, insightful look at the role women played in turn of the century Ireland. Joyce carefully illustrates the plight of women in this setting and because he educates the audiences about the subservient role of women, he could be considered a pro-feminist writer. Joyce fights patriarchal society by using characters such as Mrs. Mooney and Polly Mooney. Joyce uses these characters to examine the unjust and exploitive circumstances surrounding women at this time, and to compare the unbalanced relationship between men and women. He uses the themes such as women in the workplace and deprivation of free will to paint this picture of inequality. He also uses an abundance of symbols to show the subsidiary role that women play in a patriarchal, male dominated society.
The theme of women in the workplace is an important one because historically, women have been viewed as inferior, or even unable workers. In Joyce’s story “The Boarding House”, women seem to be unhappy and dissatisfied in their jobs. Take Mrs. Mooney for example, she suffers immensely in her job at the butcher shop. Her husband causes her a good deal of misery, by arguing with her, disrespecting her in front of customers and later threatening her. If this is what Mr. Mooney did at work “in the presence of customers”, then he must have been far more abusive at home. This history of abuse leads Mrs. Mooney to take on a male role where she takes charge of all the aspects of her life. She is described as “determined” or a “big imposing woman.” These are characteristic traits of a man. She also starts her own business, which was very uncharacteristic of woman in that time. Mrs. Mooney is an example of a woman who takes on a leadership role to avoid...
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