The Effects Of Class And Morality In ‘The Boarding House’ By James Joyce

The Boarding House, a short story by James Joyce, is about the nature of identity. This story focuses more on the idea that there is no autonomous identity. Instead, it examines how one can contextualize himself within society. Joyce says in the story that preconceived social norms of morality can be used to manipulate individuals’ identities and perceptions in society. This theme is illustrated through Mrs. Mooney’s plans for her conversation and Bob Doran’s inner thoughts, when he shaves.

This text shows Mrs. Mooney as a cold, calculating woman. This conversation reveals that Mrs. Mooney doesn’t want Mr. Doran and her daughter to marry because of love or emotional reasons. She wants him marry her to be a socially responsible person. Mooney owns a boardinghouse and was known for her abusive husband. This is why her reputation isn’t the best. Mrs. Mooney’s misperception of her discussion is a sign that she doesn’t want to understand it. Joyce says that Joyce was certain she would win. From the beginning she had all the weight and support of social opinion. This passage shows that Mrs. Mooney understood that the conversation would transcend her and Mr. Doran. Mooney knew that the community’s opinions would be considered and she would be able to win. This is a direct, straightforward example of how Mrs. Mooney uses the opinions of others to her advantage. However, Mr. Doran is made to submit by them. As he anxiously attempts shave, his dilemma becomes clear. As the anxious Mr. Doran tries to make an appearance put together, it seems that his shaving may be an indication of how important an individual’s identity is. It is interesting to see what he thinks while he shaves. Joyce wrote, “All his long-serving years gone for nothing!” His industry and diligence are gone!” This passage clearly shows that Mr. Doran views himself as the victim, believing that his reputation and career will be destroyed regardless of what happens. He will be looked down upon for his association and morality with lower-class people if Doran marries Polly Mooney’s child. This dilemma is a great topic for discussion. We have to choose between risking our position and putting at risk our perceived good nature. Both the ending and the text suggest that they will marry.

James Joyce portrays Mrs. Mooney as someone on opposite sides of the same issue in this text. These are two examples of class-based societies. They also illustrate how the same system can manipulate mass opinion. Does this mean that those in lower classes are more powerful? Joyce’s text seems to think so. Even more intriguing is the question of whether Mr. Doran actually marries Polly. What influence does that have on one’s personal decisions? Does Mr. Doran have the same problem of allowing himself to be controlled in this manner? Again, it seems the text is emphasizing that this is what the text means. Both characters are difficult to sympathize with. This text is essentially saying that a person’s morality is what defines them and that it is possible to lose their autonomy to preserve that sense of morality.

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Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

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