The Boarding House

by James Joyce

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Discuss the portrayal of moral paralysis in Dublin in "The Boarding House" by James Joyce.

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Mr. Doran experiences moral paralysis as he finds himself trapped between doing what he feels he is expected to do and what he would like to do. Mrs. Mooney is aware of the relationship between her daughter, Polly, and Mr. Doran. However, instead of intervening, she chooses to let it happen. She has a motive in that she wants to ensure that her daughter will marry. Mrs. Mooney, described in the first paragraph as being a "determined woman," feels confident that she can get Mr. Doran to marry her daughter. Mr. Doran feels that his "industry and diligence" matter little in his current situation. However, they matter greatly to Mrs. Mooney, who takes advantage of his sense of responsibility. Although his instinct urges him to "remain free," it is Mr. Doran's fear of being judged negatively by society that causes his moral paralysis.

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In Joyce's "The Boarding House" (short story titles need only be placed in quotes, rather than italicized), from the short story collection, Dubliners (a full-length collection, thus italicized), a mother-daughter combination double team an unaware man to snag a husband for the daughter.

While the daughter's knowledge or lack thereof of her mother's plan before the husband-to-be is caught might be debatable, she is certainly satisfied with the result once he is secured. 

Another side of this issue is the naivete of the man and his willingness to be caught, to blindly go along with the trap for moral reasons.  Traditions and customs promoted by the church aid the mother in trapping him, and he allows it to happen.

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