Compare and contrast what makes Mrs. Mooney from 'The Boarding House' and Jig from 'Hills Like White Elephants" admirable. 

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I cannot see anything particularly admirable about Mrs. Mooney. It seems to me that James Joyce wanted to portray her as a vulgar woman who used her naive daughter to entrap Bob Doran into marriage. The family is depicted as being socially inferior to Doran. Polly's father is described as "a shabby stopped little drunkard." Her brother has a "bulldog face." Doran is afraid of him. Here is now James Joyce describes Polly's brother:

Jack Mooney, the Madam's son, who was clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street, had the reputation of being a hard case. He was fond of using soldiers' obscenities; usually he came home in the small hours. When he met his friends he had always a good one to tell them [i.e. a dirty joke] and he was always sure to be on to a good thing--that is to say, a likely horse or a likely artiste. He was also handy with the mitts and sang comic songs.

This is quite a family that Doran will be marrying into. Mrs. Mooney and Polly have an unspoken understanding that it is all right for Polly to sleep with Doran. The mother wants to get him involved so deeply with the girl that he will have to marry her. The idea here is that he has ruined her marital prospects by depriving her of her virginity and must do the right thing by her.

She knew he had a good screw for one thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by.

The phrases "good screw" and "a bit of stuff" are Joyce's interpretation of Mrs. Mooney's thinking. She wants to get her daughter married off, and Doran is the most likely prospect because he is a gentleman with a good job and some money saved.

The only thing "admirable" about Mrs. Mooney is that she is able to support herself and her two children without the help of a husband.

Mrs. Mooney was a butcher's daughter....She dealt with mooral problems as a cleaver deals with meat...

Jig, in "Hills Like White Elephants," is a great deal more like Polly than like Mrs. Mooney, but Jig is obviously more intelligent, better educated, and more sophisticated. Furthermore, Jig is pregnant. It appears that Polly is not pregnant, although she has been intimate with Doran for some time. Jig is not religious. She and the man have no apparent religious qualms about having an abortion. Jig travels freely around Europe with a man--something Polly would never dream of doing in Catholic Ireland. There is good reason, in my opinion, to believe that Jig and the American may already be married. He just doesn't want to get burdened with a baby; whereas Bob Doran doesn't even want to get burdened with a wife and senses he would be marrying into a deplorable family, with a good-for-nothing father-in-law, a domineering mother-in-law, a brother-in-law whose interests are confined to drinking, brawling, and gambling, and a wife who may seem sweet now but could become like her mother. Polly is simple-minded, uneducated, and common. Doran, who is sensitive and intelligent, is being set up and trapped by a shrewd, vulgar, low-class woman. The men who live in her boarding house refer to her as "The Madam." This is the way men customarily refer to a woman who runs a bordello. Mrs. Mooney could serve in that capacity very efficiently.

Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother's persistent silence could not be misunderstood. 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.

sesh | Student

As I've mentioned in the earlier post, "motherly compassion" makes both Mrs.Mooney and Jig admirable.

But there's contrast too. Mrs. Mooney has two children, a son and a daughter, Jack Mooney and Polly Mooney, respectively. In the expository portion of the story, it says she alone raises these two children with the money she gets from the boaders. Mr. Mooney had been so rough on her.

After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a seperation from him, with care of children.

So we can see how courageous this woman as a mother is. She does not seek the assistance of her alcoholic and abusive husband to raise the children, and that is admirable in some way. Jig, in contrast is dependant over the American and moreover goes on seeking his permission to raise the baby.


sesh | Student

Mrs. Mooney is a mother who protects her unfavourable daughter from public insult by somehow, making Mr. Doran wed her daughter. Mrs. Monney's way of doing that is noway justifiable, (i.e. Joyce makes the reader feels sympathy towards Doran more than towards her.) yet, as a mother she does the best thing for her daughter because of motherly love. She stands for her daughter, which makes her an "admirable mother".

Hemmingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", which talks about a matter of abortion is seemingly different. But here, the character, Jig argues with the American to state her dislike to get the abortion done. She tries to express her need to keep the baby, for she too has the concern for the baby, even if he/she is not still born. Jig talks of this, saying it's "not good for her". She speaks on behalf of her baby in her belly, standing for that same motherly love which Mrs. Mooney in "The Boarding House" bestowed for Polly. So she too is an "admirable mother".

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Hills Like White Elephants

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