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 s!
ets 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...