According to James Joyce, the narrator, Mrs. Mooney who was married to his father’s foreman, but is separated now from her husband owns the Boarding House. At first, she is a quite and self-determined woman who later reacts due to her husbands drinking problems and fighting him in front of customers. Mr. Mooney seems to have respect to his father in law because he was not drinking when he was alive, but after his death, he goes on drinking, and thus debts accumulate in their business.
Mrs. Mooney then decides to take the best action of being liberated. It is clear that her husband has controlled her life all through, but as soon as they are separated, she appears to become strong, autonomous, and controlling. However, as she is liberated and free from her husband, she starts to have power over others’ lives. Despite the fact that she was a victim, she also becomes a victimizer.
According to James Joyce, Mrs. Mooney is a woman who deals with morals as to how a “cleaver deals with meat”. The boarding house seems to be a hunting point for a man who can make a good husband to the daughter Polly.
She also uses her daughter to attract young men into her business as she says that they like the feeling of a young woman besides them. Mr. Doran, who is one of the guests, falls into the trap of Mrs. Mooney. She manipulates both Mr. Doran and Polly because she takes advantage of both Polly’s and Mr. Duran’s innocence.
It is clear that Mr. Duran is a victim for both Mrs. Mooney and her daughter, given that Mrs. Mooney as a businessperson wants to take advantage of him, knowing well that he has a good job and so she is able to extract money from him. On the other hand, Mrs. Mooney refers to him as a serious quite man and so it is easy to take advantage of him, as he is not talkative as the others.
Mrs. Mooney also takes advantage of the society and religion to which Mr. Duran comes from to make him marry her daughter. She knows well that Mr. Duran is a committed follower of his religion and acts according to its rules since such religions makes men to be responsible for their actions and in this case, marriage seems to be unavoidable after sleeping together.
Mrs. Mooney has made the boarding house a house of crime by making Polly her daughter to sleep with Duran and makes him to commit a crime, which is against his religious doctrines. In this case, Duran is trapped into the guilt of crime and the only way to overcome his guilt is through marriage due to the perceptions of the society. He is worried of the outcome and all he has gone through under Mrs. Mooney territory as a guest.
He is not sure of how the church leaders will deal with him since he has sinned and as a worker in the Catholic wine merchant office, he is afraid to lose his employment. Mrs. Mooney knows well that Mr. Duran is likely to lose his job and as the narrator says, “she did not think he will be dealt by the public, may be worse losing his job”.
Mr. Duran is now faced with reality and is not able to run away. Although towards the end of the narration he wishes that the roof would open up to pave way for him to fly away, but his guilt makes him go downstairs and is ashamed of the look he will get from Polly’s brother who wears a thick face. He gets into the trap and awaits the outcome of the act.
It is quite ironical to end with marriage as the whole story is laid down as a comedy. Mrs. Mooney has also made Polly a puppet and we see that he keeps moving her from her typing job back to her own after her attempt to marry her off to the well off bosses failed. Mr. Duran has been trapped in the Dublin society and he is with mixed feelings since there is no solid affection between him and Polly. Mr. Duran is not ready to marry due to his work but is afraid if Polly gets pregnant and commits suicide if he fails to marry her.
The mist that gathers on the glass and that he has to wipe it off with his handkerchief when Duran attempts to shave brings out his character containing obscured vision since he is unable to question the situation and deal with it. Another case that reflects his premonition and shortsightedness is when he is going downstairs, his eyeglasses are filled with moisture, and he is not able to see well but has to wipe them.
In conclusion, the main characters in the boarding house are controlled by social conventions. They do not have the power over their own lives as we see in the first part is that Mrs. Mooney gets married to a drunken and violent husband who beats her up in front of customers.
She is also materialistic in the sense that she set a criterion for the type of man to marry Polly, and is focused on a presentable and one with income. Her life is full of materialism since she has been able to trap Duran to marry her daughter and this way to get Polly off her hands or responsibility. Mrs. Mooney is only after her own interest since she does not care the feeling her daughter and Mr. Duran have and this seems to be a characteristic of the people of Dublin society.
The three main characters in this narration brings out the social interests of the society and it is clear that the society has those who takes advantage of others or the exploiters such as Mrs. Mooney and her daughter and also the victims, who are represented by Mr. Doran. Since surviving in Dublin society seems difficult mainly for women, it is only those who are crafty are able to survive just like Mrs. Mooney and her daughter.
Joyce, James. The Boarding House. London: Grant Richards, 1914.