Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In discussing Dubliners (1914), the thematically related collection of stories in which “The Boarding House” appears, James Joyce stated, “My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life.” Viewed in these terms, “The Boarding House” does indeed comment on the “moral history” of Ireland, as evidenced by the perversion of sexuality depicted throughout the story. On the one hand, sexuality is trivialized by the meaningless promiscuity of the transients and music hall artistes who pass through Mrs. Mooney’s boardinghouse. More significantly, the marriage relationship, which should be based on love and long-term sexual commitment, is effected by entrapment of the man by the woman into a sordid monetary arrangement. Accordingly, Mrs. Mooney, one of a series of monstrous, overbearing mothers who appear throughout Dubliners, congratulates herself that she is not like “some mothers she knew who could not get their daughters off their hands.” Clearly the story demonstrates the aptness of the nickname that the lodgers have given Mrs. Mooney: They call her “the Madam.” Throughout, the narrator condemns the calculation and vulgarity of Polly’s seduction of Doran and pities him for his helplessness...

(The entire section is 404 words.)