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Free Book Summary-Dubliners by James Joyce-Study Guide/Synopsis
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Mrs. Mooney

Having come through a hard school, Mrs. Mooney is a tough survivor. She runs her boarding house shrewdly and knows "when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things pass." She gives Polly "the run of the young men" with an eye to a potential son-in-law. She has a limited outlook, with no scope for romance, nor doubts about the effects of her actions. She uses Polly as bait, not an innocent one, then springs the trap. Yet she has feelings for her daughter. She does not want to manipulate her overtly, and she makes sure Doran is a steady and respectable person.


Polly is young, but she has only the appearance of innocence. She reads her mother’s tacit instructions very well, and seduces Doran with "casual caresses" ...of "her dress, her breath, her fingers." She woos Doran by pampering him with small comforts, but leaves the last word to her mother. She is less concerned with whether he wants to marry her. Marriage to her, is a social necessity, marriage to a man of higher status-a bonus. Thus she and her mother collaborate silently to trap a husband.


Bob Doran is a cautious steady man of about thirty-five. Having given up the atheistic ideas of his youth, he has held a steady job at the wine-merchants, and has lived frugally pulling aside a regular amount. He is not a lecher or man-about-town. In fact, he is often referred to as a "celibate." The suggestion is that after long abstinence, he is ripe for the advances of someone like Polly, but not ready for a serious commitment. Yet his inexperience in such matters, the fear of Jack, and of losing his job, all catapult him into marriage, in spite of his doubts about its success.


Joyce first introduces us first to Mrs. Mooney and the history of her marriage. Her personality is drawn in fine detail. This is followed by the unspoken deal between Polly and her mother, culminating in Doran’s summons. Mrs. Mooney’s meticulous planning is juxtaposed with Doran’s confusion and weakness while both brood over their approaching meeting. After this, the conclusion is inevitable. The story concludes, showing Polly, shallow and unconcerned thinking pleasant thoughts of the future.


The theme is the elaborate strategy of a mother to fulfill the great duty of her life getting her daughter married. Neither mother nor daughter have illusions about the sentimental aspect of the relationship, and are interested only in getting a "good catch" whose income and social status are superior to theirs.



The butcher-shop stands for the tough upbringing that Mrs. Mooney has had, and though her husband attacks her with a cleaver, it is she who cuts off the relationship. Her approach to personal dealings is also as "a cleaver deals with meat."

As elsewhere in Dubliners, Joyce uses the senses to convey symbolism: Doran’s spectacles keep misting and he is forced to wipe them, signifying his moral dilemma whether to atone for his "sin" and marry her-or whether that would be a mistake?

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Dubliners by James Joyce-Free Online Book Notes Study Guide/Synopsis


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