Mrs. Mooney, owner of the boarding house and mother of Polly, wields her cleaver with panache. She has set her sites on one of her boarders as a potential mate for her daughter. Polly, a reluctant (?) temptress finds her way to implicate him in a possibly compromising situation. With the power of the Church behind her, Mrs. Mooney sets out to seal his fate and “save” her daughter’s reputation.
This play continues Joyce’s themes of powerlessness, social opinion, paralysis, the Church, and marriage. Mrs. Mooney bides her time, till Polly develops a relationship with someone (Bob) that Mrs. Mooney considered of a good social class or a person with opportunities and potential–someone who would take Polly off her hands and marry her. Although Polly has interacted with other gentlemen in the boarding house, it is Bob who is baited for the trap. But who is baiting the trap? Mrs. Mooney or Polly?
The importance of social opinion to Bob and Mrs. Mooney is evident when Polly is called to talk to her mother and Bob. Though we never learn what Bob says to Polly, it is likely that he has followed Mrs. Mooney’s instructions. Bob knows that it is easier to marry Polly than have people talking about him, particularly his employer, the Church and the other lodgers in Mrs. Mooney’s boarding house. Bob is marrying Polly, not out of love, but out of fear of what others will say about him if he doesn’t marry her.
From the Play
Mrs. Mooney: A woman in her mid fifties.
Mary A maid from the country, eighteen years old.
Polly Mrs. Mooney’s nineteen year old daughter.
Bob Doran: A boarder in Mrs. Mooney’s house. He is about thirty-five years old.
The Place: Ireland
The Time: The late 1900’s
The Scene: The setting is a front parlor, furnished with a couch, some over-stuffed chairs, and a table or two. Against the back wall is a window covered with white lace curtains. Beside the window is a long pier-glass, The setting should be light and airy with an atmosphere of pristine purity.
From the Play:
Polly: (to Mr. Doran) What are we going to do?
Doran: What am I going to do. How can I find a way out of this mess?
Polly: But I thought you loved me. You said you loved me, and you know I love you. You know how much I care for you. I fell asleep waiting for you to come home last night. I saved a piece of cake for you and . . .
Doran: (Impatiently.) Stop babbling, Polly. I never promised you anything. I’ve never lied to you, have I?
Polly: But you’ve said you loved me. If I ‘d known you’d take on like this, I would’ve never . . .
Doran: Started the affair. You were the one who trapped me. Remember, you knocked on my door one night and . . .
Polly: I only asked you to relight my candle after a gust had blown it out.
Doran: You were half naked!
Polly: It was bath night and I wore a flannel robe . . .
Doran: . . . that flew open and then. .
Polly: . . . then we kissed and kissed and I lost all self-control for love of you. I didn’t plan to fall in love and . . .
Doran: (Throwing up his arms.) This is what it led to– scenes and hysteria. I should have known better than to have an affair with a nineteen year old girl. I should have been more discreet. I should have–
Polly: (Crying.) What’s going to happen to us? Mother wants to see you. What will you tell her?
Doran: Don’t worry, Polly. Your mother is no match for me.
(From the hallway, Mrs. Mooney can be heard coughing repeatedly. She then enters.)
Mrs. Mooney: I think you both have had ample time to take care of business.
Polly: But, mother, Bob won’t . . .
Mrs. Mooney: Mr. Doran will do what is proper after I have a chat with him. Now, Polly, leave us alone for a few minutes and then I’ll call for you.
(Still crying, and casting woeful glances at Doran. Polly exits, reluctantly.)
Mrs. Mooney: Let’s not waste time, Mr. Doran, and get down to business You owe me an apology and you owe Polly…
Doran: I don’t owe anyone an apology. Whatever happened was not my fault.
Mrs. Mooney: Are you blaming Polly? Why, no one in his right mind would believe that.
Doran: What I am saying is the truth, like it or not. I didn’t make the first move. She started things up .
Mrs. Mooney: And you think you can go off without making reparations?
Doran: Is it money you’re after? How much do you want to hush up the affair? Twenty-five pounds?
Mrs. Mooney: (Indignantly.) Twenty-five pounds?
Doran: Well, then, fifty?
Mrs. Mooney: (Laughing.) Fifty?
Doran: Then, seventy-five pounds. Seventy-five pounds is the highest I’ll go.
Mrs. Mooney: Some mothers, I’ve heard, would accept such paltry sums.