The Unconscious Struggle for Human Existence Essay

This essay has a total of 2733 words and 10 pages.

The Unconscious Struggle for Human Existence



The Unconscious Struggle for Human Existence
According to philosopher Karl Marx, humans are "slaves to historical necessity and their
thought and thinking are rigidly determined by the mode of production" (Beer xxii). This
view of historical materialism asserts that the culture, political, and government systems
of a given people derive from the material conditions of their existence. Thus, "life is
not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life"(Reader 155). In the short
story, "The Boarding House", James Joyce uses Mrs. Mooney to illustrate how the "blind
forces" of economic materialism determine our existence and causally result in our living
by a false consciousness.

The prevailing economic condition in Dublin, Ireland determines Mrs. Mooney's disposition
in running her boarding house. Because of the destructive potato famine, a good portion
of the city's men have fled in search of work elsewhere, leaving behind a surplus of women
desperately searching for companions. Due to the lack of men, Mrs. Mooney is under more
pressure to get her young, daughter Polly married and eliminate the possibility of her
ending up an old maid. Reflecting the present economic ideology, Mrs. Mooney
understands that her ultimate goal is to get Polly "off of her hands" and to see that she
is provided with some financial stability. Marxian language justifies Mrs. Mooney's
behavior because, "Ideas are simply the ideological reflexes and echoes of one's material
life-process" (Ideology 14). She first sends Polly to be a typist in a corn-factor's
office in hopes that the well-off boss will grow fond of her and possibly wed her. When
this option fails, she sets Polly, her bait, to do work at the boarding house, "giving her
the run of the men" (Joyce 72).

Mrs. Mooney's position as owner of the house is an asset in her quest for Polly's husband,
in that it puts Polly in the path of a plethora of well-to-do men. Joyce illustrates the
control of human materialism by illustrating Mrs. Mooney's determination to see Polly
betrothed to a man with sound assets. Mrs. Mooney latches on to Mr. Doran when she
discovers this quality in him. Mrs. Mooney governs her house "cunningly and firmly",
constantly weeding out the candidates who did not "mean business" with Polly, and
searching for the one who did. Mrs. Mooney dangles Polly like bait in front of the men,
scoping out the one with promising intentions. Her behavior echoes Marxian ideology, in
that "it is not the consciousness of one that determines his existence, but rather it is
his social existence that determines his consciousness" (Beer ix) Mrs. Mooney's imposing
position and behavior are derived from her present position in the economy.

The economic condition also controls Mrs. Moooney's optimistic views in handling Mr.
Doran. Furthering his perfect attributes for being a husband, Mooney "knew he had a good
screw for one thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by" (Joyce 76). Mrs.
Mooney realizes that publicity of Duran's action for Mr. Doran would mean the risk of him
losing his job and the taint of his well established, pious character. Marx can explain
why Doran agrees more with reparation due to his promising, economic position. In this
time of economic repression, Mr. Doran knows he can not quit one job and easily find
another. This is further evidence of the power of materialism that governs human lives.
Doran values his monetary rank so that he sacrifices every subjective influence. "A
serious, not rakish young man", Mr. Doran deeply respects his job as a Catholic wine
merchant and fears what wrath his employer Mr. Leonard would leash upon him if his action
were to go public. Reflecting Marxian ideology, "a man's consciousness changes with every
change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his
social life" (Beer 30). Mr. Doran claims that in his youth he had been radical in his
thinking, and had "sown his wild oats" (Joyce 76). But now, since his mode of production
shifted from student to religious merchant, his ideals and idiosyncracies had shifted as
well. He now was respected and stoutly pious. He is tormented by the idea that one
mistake could ruin all of the diligence and hard work put into establishing his character.
Both Mrs. Mooney and Mr. Doran know that if Doran runs away from this problem, he is sure
to lose "his sit", whereas if he agrees to the reparation "all might be well" (76).

Mr. Doran experiences a battle with his own false consciousness when his reality is
struggling with his love for Polly. In reality, his family would look down upon a
marriage to a girl with unpolished grammar, a disreputable father, and a mother who's
boarding house was acquiring a "certain fame" (77). His false consciousness combats this
view with him claiming that grammar would not matter if he really loved her. He could not
completely despise her for her actions for he committed just as vile a deed as well. His
reality, in the form of the "memory of the celibate", reminds him that Polly lured him
into the situation (77). However, "the instinct of the celibate", warning him not to
marry her, is overpowered by his false consciousness sin. As Marx would relate, "humans
are so much the creatures of ideology that they are incapable of seeing it even when it is
pointed out to them" (Beer xxiii). Doran is such the "creature of ideology" that even
though it is evident that he has been suckered into this situation, he feels he has sinned
and will pay for it. Clearly, in reality, Joyce implies that his action was not sinful
and he should not have to pay for it with the rest of his lfie. Through the combined
images of the Sunday morning "circus-like" congregation, Mrs. Mooney's servant Mary, and
the alter-like table with the allusion of the broken bread to the body of Christ, Joyce
emphasizes how through religious aspects, people are controlled by materialism.

Another economic condition that controls Mrs. Mooney's inclinations is her position as a
"determined woman" (71). Mrs. Mooney has ideas that she wishes to implement and will
eliminate every obstacle that averts her purpose. In order to get Polly "off of her
hands", she has to be manipulative in her society (76). Because society strongly
disagrees with women being butchers, or having any means to a decent income for the
matter, Mrs. Mooney is forced to take her money and upper hand position and invest in her
own business. Joyce's juxtaposition of Mr. Mooney, the "shabby stooped little drunkard",
to Mrs. Mooney, "the imposing, Madam", further elucidates Mrs. Mooney's determination to
provide Polly with a husband and desire to order her world. Echoing the Marxist creed,
the ideology of Mrs. Mooney's time is simply "the will of class made into a law for all, a
will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economic conditions of
existence of one's class" (Beer 27). Women are not allowed to have good positions with
high incomes. Their ultimate desire to acquire a husband along with their will to please
him reflects their inferior economic position. Furthermore, "their conditions of
existence are predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal
development assigned to them by their class, become subsumed under it" (Ideology 179).
Polly is predestined to seek a husband because she's a woman and fits into the inferior
economic role.

Mrs. Mooney's role as a butcher's daughter causally effects the way she handles the quest
for Polly's mate. Being such a daugther, she has grown accustomed to preventing emotions
from interfering with her duties, and has acquired a strong, business-like attitude to all
subjective affairs. This is revealed likening marriage to a "business", negating love as
being an influential factor (Joyce 72). Neither subtle nor understanding, "she dealt with
moral problems as a clever deals with meat" (74). When Polly gets pregnant, Mrs. Mooney
fails to consider Mr. Doran's pains and jumps to the conclusion that Doran is at fault and
the two must be married at once. "Evident by the decisive expression of her great flourid
face", Mrs. Mooney is fully aware that Mr. Doran is stewing about, anxious to converse
with her on the reparation issue. Instead of taking pity on his dilemma, Mrs. Mooney
tosses all emotions aside and rigorously continues on her mission. Mrs. Mooney in turn
lives by her false consciousness by not recognizing Mr. Doran's feelings and assuming that
her actions were the only genuine ones to take.
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