Mrs. Mooney: The Business Woman in James Joyce's "The Boarding House"
A close examination of James Joyce's "The Boarding House," reveals Polly to be a mere ploy for Mrs. Mooney to achieve her goal and prove herself to be a real entrepreneur in finding a suitable husband for her daughter. In "The Boarding House," mothers are presented as dominating, manipulative figures that are in control of their own fates and the fates of those surrounding them. Mrs. Mooney has taken upon herself the role of the dominating business woman who manages her daughter's life as if she were an asset. In this role, Mrs. Mooney manipulates Polly into a marriage with the suitor of her choice, Bob Doran. In James Joyce's Dubliners, women's vocational choice were limited, thus the desire to marry was is an unromantic business involving marriage as a means for the woman to acquire money and property (Walzl, 33, 37).
"The Boarding House" begins with the description of Mrs. Mooney's husbands failed business and their failed marriage, "by fighting his wife in the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his business. One night he went for her with his cleaver and she had slept in the neighbors house. After that they lived apart (Dubliners, 74). Subsequent to receiving a separation from her husband, Mrs. Mooney took control over her life and invested her money into running her private boarding house. Mrs. Mooney's business was managed in a rigid and astute manner, proclaiming to her lodgers that she is the authority of the house, "she governed the house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things pass. All the resident young men spoke of her as The Madam (Dubliners, 75)."
In Garry M. Leonard's article "Sex and the Symbolic Order in 'The Boarding House,'" Leonard discusses Mrs. Mooney's ability to operate at the base of everything. She understands Polly's value as an object of exchange (Leonard, 133). Through Polly, Mrs. Mooney would receive the chance to name her business as proper and respectable establishment. The absence of a male authority figure in the house results in Mrs. Mooney portrays both feminine and masculine characteristics, therefore taking on this androgynous role (Ingersoll, 506). Mrs. Mooney's femininity emerges in her desire for her daughter to lead a respectable life, where as her masculinity surfaces when she uses a future marriage as a source to serve her personal interests to increase business profits and to gain social acceptance by showing off her married daughter.
In Florence Walzl's article "In Dubliners: Woman in Irish Society," Walzl notes that...