The Boarding House Poem Analysis

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“Words, so beautiful and sad, like music”: James Joyce’s Dubliners as a Symphony “The Boarding House,” James Joyce’s 1914 short story, is about the misfortunes of a poor mother and her children who run a boarding house in Dublin. In one scene, her teenage daughter, Polly, sings a music-hall song to attract the attention of well-off male boarders. She recites, “I’m a...naughty girl. You needn’t sham: You know I am” (Joyce 57). The song Polly sings during the reunion in the house’s front drawing-room is called “I’m a Naughty Girl” and it tells the story of an “imp on mischief bent.” The song describes moments where the imp plays ticks of her mistress and brags about her ability to confuse and agitate others. As Zack Bowen comments in his…show more content…
Dubliners is symphonic. Music functions as a link between the different stories and their characters, the occupants of Dublin. As Bowen obverses, Joyce’s idea of “simultaneity of existence” is echoed most saliently though allusions to music, especially the allusions to traditional Irish folk music. In that sense, these stories are in harmony with each other, each one narrates the frustration, paralysis, and disillusionment of Dublin life at the turn-of-the nineteenth century. The dissonance is finally resolved with the allusions to unity in “The Dead.” These narratives accumulate in the “symphony” that is Dubliners, a collection of short…show more content…
In the short story, a young woman reflects on whether she should stay in Dublin or escape to Buenos Aires with a sailor named Frank. In the end she freezes, unable to choose Argentina or Ireland and she passively stands on the docks as Frank and his ship leave without her. While Eveline’s paralysis could be induced by a number of factors, it is interesting to note that on her way to the docks she hears a “street organ playing” an Italian song and is reminded of her deceased mother. The narrator remarks, “Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” (Joyce 33). Although she ties to comfort herself with thoughts of Frank taking care of her the “melancholy air of Italy” of the piece continues to haunt her. The organ’s song brings her reservations about leaving Ireland to the forefront of her mind. She feels guilty for not upholding her promises to her mother, and in a larger sense, to her society. If she is not there to take care of her family and her home, then who will? This passage is most remarkable when compared to an earlier excerpt where she looks at her colored print of promises to the “Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque” (Joyce 30). Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was often associated with duty to the home and domestic security. The organ piece, being Italian, holds
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