The Boarding House

by James Joyce

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How does "The Boarding House" by James Joyce represent work and leisure?

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The setting of this short story, the eponymous boarding house, is a place of work and leisure. It is work for Mrs. Mooney and leisure for her guests. Mrs. Mooney attempts to keep work and leisure separate, but ultimately fails when her daughter, Polly—who is supposed to be working at the boarding house—has an affair with a guest: Mr. Doran. As a result of the affair, Polly loses her honor (at least in the eyes of this conservative, Catholic community) and ultimately ends up in an unwanted contracted marriage between Mr. Doran and herself. Therefore, the simple moral of the story is the old adage: one should not mix business with pleasure—or, in this instance, work with leisure.

Additionally, it is also important to note how most of the characters are introduced with references to their place of work (or their relations' place of work) and are subsequently defined by this relationship throughout the story. For example, Mrs. Mooney is straight away introduced as "a butcher's wife," and her son is introduced as a "clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street." Polly, likewise, is described as "a typist in a corn-factor's office" and then a maid at the boarding house, and Mr. Doran is introduced with the information that he works in a "Catholic wine-merchant's office."

A character's occupation in this story is often a quick, easy way for Joyce to introduce certain information to the reader. This descriptive detail instantly indicates a character's social class and (perhaps) an aspect of their personality. When we imagine a butcher's wife, for example, we might imagine a hardy, practical woman—which is exactly what Mrs. Mooney is.

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