Feminist Criticism of James Joyce's the Boarding House

1491 Words Nov 21st, 2011 6 Pages
Feminist Criticism: The Boarding House

Throughout James Joyce’s “The Boarding House”, women appear in stereotypical, subordinate roles. This may lead the reader to think that Joyce is an anti-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 Polly Mooney. Joyce uses these characters to examine the unjust and exploitive circumstances surrounding women at this time, and to compare the
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“At last, 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 Polly was taken out of her job as a typist. Mrs. Mooney would never prostitute her daughter, it is obvious that she cares too much for her but it is possible that she used Polly’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 married, 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 forherself. This servant, like many house makers of this time is trapped in a prison of routine. Joyce uses objectification and subordinate
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