Gender roles have had a dominant place in society throughout the century, different families emphasizing different roles. Society places certain expectations on men and women; allocating specific responsibilities to each gender. In Alice Munroe’s and James Joyce’s short stories, the inexplicit social roles for women exist throughout society during these eras. In Alice Munroe’s “Boys and Girls” the narrator’s mother is viewed as a stereotypical traditional housewife as opposed to James Joyce’s Mrs. Mooney in “The Boarding House”.
Mrs. Mooney is seen as more of a modern mother. This essay contrasts the modern and traditional woman by explaining the stereotypes associated with each, as is evident in the above short stories. ‘Modern women’ are career oriented and self-sufficient. They do not need a man to provide for them, as they are independent and in control of their lives financially. The ‘modern mother’ is exemplified in the text. In “The Boarding House” it states that Mrs. Mooney does not want to intervene with Polly’s relationship so that she could try and manipulate Mr.
Doran into marrying her daughter so that she would have a good future ahead of her. In contrast, the traditional mother is more reliant on others. This concept is revealed in “Boys and Girls” when it states in the book that the narrator’s mother would be given jobs such as working in the kitchen peeling peaches and cutting onions all day. The stereotype of the traditional mother can be viewed in Munroe’s “Boys and Girls” when the narrator’s mother is more emotionally available to her children.
When referring to her mother, she states “If she was feeling cheerful, she would tell me all sorts of things—the name of the dog she had when she was a little girl, the names of boys she had gone out with later on when she was grown up, and what certain dresses of hers had looked like”(p. 494). On the other hand, in “The Boarding House” any sort of conversation between Polly and her mother was repeatedly awkward throughout the text. The narrator’s mother is seen as more cheerful and likable while Mrs. Mooney is more stern and bitter.
As is evident in the text, the modern mothers in comparison to the traditional mothers is seen as stronger, more powerful, and dominant type of a woman. For instance, this is demonstrated in the text when it says she was a “determined woman” (p. 405), then it later goes on to say she “Governed the house cunningly and firmly” (p. 405). In “Boys and Girls” the narrator’s mother is described as someone who fulfills the duties of a homemaker. This is demonstrated to the reader when she would talk about how she would do her hair and what type of dress she had to wear to look pretty.
Control is something that we all strive for in life, whether it is control over others, or simply control over ourselves. In “Boys and Girls” the narrator’s wife is without any control of her or anyone else. Demands such as taking care of the children and food preparation were placed in her hand while her husband was engaged in activities that were more important for the family’s outcome of their future. This is revealed by: “It was an odd thing to see my mother down at the barn.
She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something – hang out the wash or dig potatoes in the garden” (p. 494). This implies that the mother does not have freedom in her life because she is only ever seen outside if she is working. Mrs. Mooney is viewed as in a higher position of control because she is usually the one taking control of the situation. This is established when it states “Mrs. Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money out of the butcher business and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street”(p. 405).
She is taking control of her own life and not letting others do it for her like the narrator’s wife does in “Boys and Girls”. It seems evident that there is a clear split between the modern and the traditional house wife. In “Boy and Girls” the narrator’s mother is quiet, more reserved, and emotional in comparison to Mrs. Mooney, who is independent, commanding, controlling, and less expressive. Both mothers provide for their families in different ways. Mrs. Mooney’s family depends on her for financial support while the narrator’s mother job is to maintain the household.