Feminist Criticism of James Joyce’s the Boarding House
The Boarding House Throughout James Jockey’s “The Boarding House”, women appear In stereotypical, subordinate roles. This may lead the reader to think that Joyce is an anta-feminist writer, however this is not the case. This work is an honest, insightful look at the role women played in turn of the century Ireland. Joyce carefully illustrates the plight of women in this setting and because he educates the audiences about the subservient role of women, he could be considered a pro-feminist writer. Joyce fights patriarchal society by using characters such as Mrs…
Mooney and Poly Mooney. Joyce uses these characters to examine the unjust and exploitive circumstances surrounding women at this time, and to compare the unbalanced relationship between men and women. He uses the themes such as women in the workplace and deprivation of free will to paint this picture of Inequality. He also uses an abundance of symbols to show the subsidiary role that women play In a patriarchal, male dominated society. The theme of women In the workplace Is an Important one because historically, women have been viewed as inferior, or even unable workers.
In Jockey’s story “The Boarding House”, women seem to be unhappy and dissatisfied in their jobs. Take Mrs… Mooney for example, she suffers immensely in her job at the butcher shop. Her husband causes her a good deal of misery, by arguing with her, disrespecting her in front of customers and later threatening her. If this is what Mr… Mooney did at work “in the presence of customers”, then he must have been far more abusive at home. This history of abuse leads Mrs… Mooney to take on a male role where she takes charge of all the aspects of her life.
She is described as “determined” or a “big imposing woman. ” These are characteristic traits of a man. She also starts her own business, which was very uncharacteristic of woman In that time. Mrs… Mooney Is an example of a woman who takes on a leadership role to avoid visualization, but she can soul be considered a victim simply because she Is forced to take on this role. Poly Mooney is another example of a workingwoman, her mother sent her to work as a typist (a stereotypical female job) but Joyce alludes to the idea that her father is harassing her for money.
A disreputable sheriffs man used to come every other day to the office, asking to be allowed to say a word to his daughter. ” Mrs… Mooney is forced to pull her daughter out of work to avoid the same hardships, she herself faced with her husband. In this way, her own father deprives Poly of having the simplest kind self-satisfaction, a Job. This leads me to the next feminist theme present In this work, deprivation. There Is a pattern of this theme In both Mrs… Mooney and Poly. In feminist criticism, deprivation means a lack of a voice and a lack of free will. The cycle starts with Mrs…
Mooney, It is said that: “she married her father’s foreman. ” When analyzed, the that her father would set her up with one of his foremost employees. If this is the case, then Mrs… Mooney was not given a voice and could not choose her own life; she was confined to a life of domesticity and deprived of her free will. She is also deprived of respect by her husband because he mistreats her in front of customers After her husband comes after her “with a cleaver,” we notice a change in her character. She flips her role as victim and imitates men by taking on many male traits.
She goes on to become a successful business owner “She governed the house cunningly and firmly. ” Ironically, Mrs… Mooney goes on to become like her own oppressive father, she takes on this role to her daughter and Poly becomes the same kind of victim her mother had been. Poly is treated like an object throughout the whole story, there is not one instance where she makes her own decision. Her mother decided when to send Poly to work as a typist, her mother decided when to take her out of this Job, and her mother decided when it was time for her to get married. At sat, when she Judged it to be the right moment, Mrs… Mooney intervened. ” One could also argue that Mrs… Mooney was using her daughter as a sex object to attract young men to her boarding house. She would allow her daughter to flirt with men and sing, “I’m a … Naughty girl. You needn’t sham: You know I am. ” Further evidence of this is that Mrs… Mooney is referred to as “The Madam,” a title given to a woman in charge of a brothel. This could also be another reason why Poly was taken out of her Job as a typist. Mrs…
Mooney would never prostitute her daughter, it is obvious that she cares o much for her but it is possible that she used Poll’s flirtatious habits to her own ends. However, unlike Mrs… Mooney, other mothers are described as accepting money in exchange for covering up an affair. This is one of the worst cases of objectification, as it compares a young woman’s honor to a sum of money. “Some mothers would be content to patch up such an affair for a sum of money. ” This is an example of female subtext; unseen characters are treated worse than the main characters. Another example of female subtext is the servant, Mary.
It is not revealed whether she is aired, but if she is not, then she leads the most tragic life of all the female characters in the story, as she would barely be able to provide a living foreshores. This servant, like many house makers of this time is trapped in a prison of routine. Joyce uses objectification and subordinate female characters to show the plight of voiceless women in this time period. Patriarchal symbols are also present in this story. A symbol of male dominance is the cleaver in the first paragraph, it represents the physical control that a man has over a woman. Another patriarchal symbol is marriage.
This is a symbol, which reinforces male control; the changing of a woman’s name represents the woman being given to her husband by her father. This is sexist because it implies ownership of that woman. Marriage is a recurring symbol, which all the characters deal with. In the context of this story, marriage puts women in a subservient role to men because every Job that a woman could get at the time would provide a minimal existence at best. In this setting, marriage was among the only ways for a woman to get a secured life. This makes the reader realize how tragic a woman’s existence could be at the urn of the century.
Women in marriages in this setting would be forced to live a life longing to escape. This is no doubt a sentiment experience by Mary. This feeling is expressed through Mr… Doran “He longed to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country. ” A symbol that goes along with this prison of routine is food. Mrs… Moody makes Mary clean up food scraps and make “Tuesdays bread pudding” The fact that the bread pudding is made on Tuesday, indicates that this is a weekly routine that Mary must go through every week only to make a minimal living. Since Mrs…
Mooney makes Mary clean up, her male-like role is further established; she does not do any “woman’s work,” but instead has a house maker do it for her. Food is mentioned again “On nights when he [Doran] came in very late it was she [Poly] who warmed up his dinner” It symbolizes the unspoken role that a woman plays in a typical marriage, to serve the man. Joyce uses these symbols to show how unequal and unfair a patriarchal society can be for a woman. In “The Boarding House,” James Joyce effectively uses themes of sexual inequality ND symbols of a patriarchal society to educate readers of the plight of women in turn of the century Ireland.
He also uses contrasting characters: Poly and her mother, to illustrate the different stages of feminism. Mrs… Mooney is an empowered female character that has achieved a stature similar to that of a man in a society where it is hard for women to gain recognition. Mrs… Mooney is a female imitating a man; Poly however represents a woman whose character can be equated to that of an object. Joyce uses these characters to show women how their role could change if they fight for equality.