Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Some Thoughts on "The Boarding House" by Lukas G., Justin W., and Adam R.
“The Boarding House” and the Trappings of Expectations
Dublin is such a small city - everyone knows everyone else’s business.
“The Boarding House” seems to concern itself with marriage; Joyce tends to view marriage as being a trap created by certain social expectations, and this is evident in the story. Mrs. Mooney wants her daughter to marry. She allows Polly to flirt with the young men in the house and does not regulate any of her activity. Joyce writes, “There had been no open complicity between mother and daughter, no open understanding but, though people in the house began to talk of the affair, still Mrs. Mooney did not intervene.” When Mrs. Mooney “discovers” Polly engaging in more than casual flirting with Mr. Doran, she still does not intervene until “she judged it to be the right moment.” Her timing, along with the statement, “She was sure she would win,” makes clear that Mrs. Mooney intentionally allowed her daughter to be put in a morally questionable dilemma from which marriage would almost have to occur. This might lead one to believe that her daughter is pregnant, for it is interesting that she is so eager to find a husband for Polly considering how her first marriage ended. Perhaps Mrs. Mooney traps Mr. Doran in a marriage because she assumes the worst has happened and wishes to preserve her daughter’s honor.
Mr. Doran is forced to make a decision based on two conflicting expectations - namely, those that come from the norms of a society versus the morals taught by one’s religious upbringing. He occupied a higher social status than Polly, who is only 19, so it would be frowned upon, socially speaking, to agree to marry her. Doran even worries that his “family would look down on her,” and he resents the idea that “he was being had.” However, he had willingly kindled a relationship with her, and if she was pregnant, marriage would be expected - perhaps even commanded, religiously speaking. Doran’s Priest for instance “so magnified his sin that he was thankful at being afforded a loophole of reparation.” This is a no-win situation for Mr. Doran, as he can either marry her or flee such expectations. This situation causes the recurring experience of paralysis - a common theme of Dubliners. Paralysis shows up in “Boarding House” because Mr. Doran cannot make the decision. On one hand, he has such vivid beautiful memories of her treating him well, but at the same time he knows how bad this would look for him. Joyce describes his final descent down the Boarding House stairs when he writes, “He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble and yet a force pushed him downstairs step by step.”
“The Boarding House” could be compared to the relationship between Ireland and Britain. Mrs. Mooney may symbolize Britain, while Polly stands for Ireland. Polly like Ireland is monitored by a superior; however, Mrs. Mooney allows Polly to have some sense of free will until intervention is necessary.
Do you agree that Mrs. Mooney intended to put Mr. Doran in such a predicament? If so, what were her motivations?
Is this Joyce’s view of marriage? Is he using his publishings to make a mockery of accepted social and political norms of Ireland?
Compared to other characters of Dubliners, is Mr. Doran’s and Polly’s “love” closer to Eros in some way? Or is it yet another particular copy that is far removed from the true form?