The Boarding House

Writer: James Joyce


James Joyce’s “The Boarding House” is the suspense story which ends with the strategic techniques of Mrs Mooney, the central character in the story. She plays a significant role to settle the love affair of her young daughter and Mr Doren with whom she had an affair and special relationship. The story is all about the character sketch of a strong determined woman named Mrs Mooney and her persuasive strategies to settle her daughter’s affair with Mr Doran.

Mrs Mooney is the daughter of a butcher. She marries a man who works for her father. After the death of her father, her husband starts drinking and taking money from the shop. He fights with her in front of the customers. After a short time, he finishes almost all the property and falls into heavy debt. One night, he runs after her with a knife to kill her. She escapes and saves her life spending the night in the neighbouring house. Then, they can’t live together any more. Mrs Mooney takes her children and the remaining money of the shop and starts a Boarding House in Hardwick Street.

Many tourists, musicians and visitors from the city come to stay in the boarding house. The young men live and eat in the house. They talk about horses and sing songs on Sunday nights. Polly Mooney, the daughter of Mrs Mooney also sings with them. Polly is a beautiful girl of nineteen with light soft hair and grey eyes. Her mother gives her housework to do so that she comes in contact with the young men. The intention of Mrs Money is to trap a young man for her daughter. She watches her daughter and the young men carefully but none of them looks serious in the beginning. When Mrs Mooney notices something between Polly and one young man named Mr Doran, she watches them carefully. Though people begin to talk about them, Mrs Mooney keeps silent as she is waiting for the right time to talk about the affair openly. Finally, Mrs Mooney makes a decision. She thinks that Mr Doran must pa for his enjoyment. The money is not enough, he must marry her daughter.

One evening, she calls her daughter about the affair. Though Polly seems uncomfortable, she tells every detail of their relationship. The mother calls Mr Doran in her drawing-room to talk about the affair. Mr Doran is helpless and confused. Though he accepts his relationship with Polly, he does like to marry her. He knows that Polly is not educated and her family background is not good. People talk badly about her drunkard father and the bad reputation of the boarding house. His family will not accept her and his friends will laugh at him. He also knows that if he refuses to marry, he will lose his job. He remembers the hard face of his boss. Though he tries to be free by paying a lot of money as compensation, Mrs Mooney makes him in a trap by saying that she doesn’t want to sell her daughter’s virtues. She uses strong reasons and persuasive strategies and reminds Mr Doran of his happy moment with Polly. In this way, Mrs Mooney very c1everly compels Mr Doran to marry her daughter.

At last, Mrs Mooney called Mr Doran to her house. She started to pressurize him to marry Poly in any case. But he refused at first. She even threatened him. But she reminded him all those happiest moments that he had spent with her daughter Polly. After remembering all the moments, he agreed to marry Polly. This is a type of strategy and technique from which Mrs Mooney settled her daughter’s affair with Mr Doren.

Important Questions and Answers :

1. Sketch the character of Mrs Mooney.
Ans: Mrs Mooney, the main character in the James Joyce story “The Boarding House” is described as “a woman who deals with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat”. She was a butcher’s daughter who married her father’s foreman. Later she divorced him because she could not withstand his drinking and bullying nature. Taking charge of her daughter Polly and son Jack, she opened a boarding house in Hardwicke Street. She was strong, strict, determined and practical. She knew how to handle matters- when to act and when to remain silent.

When reading further in the story, we find that the boarding house is a trap, where Mrs Mooney is a hunter who’s looking for a decent husband for her daughter Polly within her guests. She is using Polly as bait to catch Mr Doran, the victim in the story. Mrs Mooney manipulates Mr Doran into her trap by using her daughter’s innocence as the bait and Mr Doran’s innocence as a victim. Mrs Mooney is a woman of business and Mr Doran is the perfect victim for her and for Polly. Mr Doran has also a decent job and he fits perfectly to the economical needs of Mrs Mooney. Mrs Mooney also uses their society and religion as a tool to cause Mr Doran marrying her daughter. She knows that her victim is a religious man, who lives in the religious culture of Dublin that obeys to the rules of the church. He is afraid of the church and he is afraid to lose his job in the Catholic wine merchant office. Thus Mr Doran had no other option than marrying Polly. Mrs Mooney is like a watchdog that watches that the prey will not run out of the trap, but will run into it.

2. How is Mrs Mooney succeed in her mission at the end? Explain.
How do you think Mrs Mooney settled with Mr Doran about Polly? Did Mr Doran marry Polly or payout compensation?
How did Mrs Mooney solve the problem of Miss Polly and Mr Doran?
When Mrs Mooney was sure that Mr Doran had a love affair with Polly, she planned to change that affair into marriage. She called him in her room to talk openly about the affair. At first, Doran thought not to marry Polly thinking that she was an ignorant uneducated girl who didn’t know even simple grammar. He wanted to pay compensation instead of marrying her. But Mrs Mooney refused to sell her daughter’s virtues. She reminded Mr Doran of his happy moment with Polly. She used persuasive strategies to trap him into her net. She blamed him for taking advantage of her daughter’s age. She gave a very strong reason for Mr Doran. Finally, Mr Doran agreed to marry Polly. In this way, Mrs Mooney solved the problem of Miss Polly and Mr Doran and Doran married her instead of paying compensation.

Questions for Practice :

  1. Sketch the character of Mrs Mooney.
  2. Write an interpretation of ‘The Boarding House’.
  3. Briefly narrate the story of “The Boarding House”.

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  1. How does Mrs. Mooney succeed in her mission at the end? Explain.
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