Analysis of The Horse-Dealer's Daughter and The Boarding House

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Influence of Society and Environment on Characters' Decisions

In the literary world, many characters make decisions based on the circumstance in their environment or society.

In most cases, the choices they make are never their wishes. Despite their efforts to resist the forces from the society/environment from controlling their destiny, they succumb to pressure at the end. Characters in the stories 'The Horse-Dealer's daughter 'by Lawrence H.D and 'The Boarding House 'by James Joyce are victims of the societal/environmental influences. This essay presents a comparative analysis of the two short stories with the aim of examining how the characters' societies/environment influences their decisions and how they resist the influence.

Disrupted Families

First, in both stories, the children in the two families experience a family disruption that makes them recheck their decisions on how to live their lives from then onwards. In the story 'The Horse-Dealer's Daughter' the siblings suffer great disruption when their father mismanages the finances from their horse-dealing business (the father died and left them in great debt). The children are all left at crossroads and without any hope. Though they don't wish for this to control their future, they have no choice but to exit their farmhouse and occupations as horse-dealers to find a life. The sister to the three horse-dealer-brothers decides to commit suicide, though unsuccessfully. She sees the act of taking her own life as the freely chosen path for the future.

Similarly, the children in the story 'The Boarding House' also experience a disruption in their lives after their mother separates with their father because of violence. Jack and Polly have no choice but to live under the influence of their mother and what she does for a living. At the boarding house, Mrs Mooney chooses to stop Polly from taking her typing classes. Instead, she makes Polly work at the boarding house, sometimes entertaining the guests. Though that is not what she wishes, Polly has no choice just like his brother who succumbs to heavy alcohol drinking and violence. Mrs Mooney doesn't like the circumstance either; she is forced to take what was left of their family butcher business and set up a business for herself. All these are environmental influences that the characters in the two stories try to resist in vain. The children of the horse-dealer would wish to remain in their farmhouse, but financial circumstance doesn't allow, making them form a decision to leave. Mrs Mooney tries to persevere a difficult marriage but in the end, has to leave for the sake of her progress and children's peace of mind.

Bearing Consequences of Parents' Actions

A look at Mrs Mooney and her daughter's activities portrays a life full of environmental forces though characterized by resistance from the characters. First, Polly, Mrs Mooney's daughter works at the boarding house. She flirts with the men and later begins an affair with Mr Doran. Everyone knows about it, but Mrs Mooney chooses not to interfere. Societal expectations are that she should intervene to give her daughter motherly advice and a sense of direction. However, she resists this force and watches in silence with an ulterior motive. Her silence even worries Polly. For Mrs Mooney, love is not anything to consider in her daughter's relationship. Instead, she resists the force to give motherly advice and later manipulates Mr Doran using his concern for job and reputation. Mr Doran finds himself in a marriage full of manipulation, against his wishes. Polly, on the other hand, has to agree to her mother's decisions since she had already messed up. She contents herself, though not what she could have wished for, and begins to have pleasant dreams for the future. Mrs Mooney has to manipulate her daughter and Mr Doran to ensure that her daughter gets married to a high-class family, even though Doran knows her parents will not accept because of Mrs Mooney's reputation.

The same thing happens to Mabel. Her father died and left them in debts. They lost everything as a family and remain confused. As the author puts it, the horses bray outside, and they feel that 'These were the last horses that would go through their hands'. Though Mabel needs care and comfort because even her mother had died, none of his brothers' notices that. She maintains silence even when asked to give her opinions on the way forward. It is Fergusson who notices her depressions and decides to follow her. When she succumbs to the circumstances in her environment, she decides to commit suicide. Fergusson rescues her out of this. Thus she gets another chance.

Love life Gone Sour

An environment of love forces people to make decisions that they otherwise could have resisted. Mr Doran finds himself in this situation. He has a respectable job at a wine merchant's shop. However, he finds himself powerless when he begins a relationship with Polly. The priest already has shocking details of Doran's affair with Polly. Mr Doran knows he has a reputation to protect at his workplace. The thought of running away doesn't add up. Also, he knows his family will not approve because Polly's father was a scoundrel and her mother's boarding house has a bad reputation. All these forces combine to rob him of his choice.

Mr Doran tries to resist all these pressures and influence over his life in vain. This is evident at how he reacts ahead of his meeting with Mrs Mooney. Doran clumsily grooms himself for the meeting; he shakes while trying to shave. Doran begins to review the difficult confessions he made to his priest in which he was harshly reproved for his romantic affair. If he runs away, he will ruin his reputation. He imagines Polly's unimpressive family, Polly's ill manners and her poor grammar. He tries to resist all these pressure and imagines remaining free and unmarried. Polly goes into his room and threatens to take her life if he doesn't act wisely. He remembers how Polly's beauty and kindness bewitched him. While still wavering in his decision, Doran agonizes at the limitations and loss of respect that marriage would bring to him. He relents his resistance out of fear of social critique from his priest, employer, Mrs Mooney, and Polly's violent brother. All these are motions of what society expects of him, not as he intuitively feels. He manages to down the stairs by a force of anxiety. He has no choice but to marry the girl.

A similar love story in 'The Horse-Dealer's Daughter' exhibits characters who suffer influences from their environment but tries to fight back in vain. Dr Jack Fergusson stands as the family physician to Mabel's family. He joins the family in agonizing loses and notices the detached, gloomy and disillusioned Mabel. This makes him follow her to her mother's grave and later to pond. When Mabel decides to drown herself, Fergusson agreed to rescue her, take her home and undress her to warm next to the fireplace.

The influence upon Fergusson's life begins when Mabel awakens and finds herself next to the fireplace. Mabel is amazed at the fact that the doctor saved her. While Fergusson feels he was undertaking his duty, Mabel feels he did keep her because he loves her. She asks him, "Do you love me, then?". She answers herself and begins to kiss the doctor passionately. In reality, the doctor had no intention of loving her, though both of them long to be enjoyed. Fergusson is horrified at her reaction. He becomes overwhelmed and embraces to admit that he does like her. Though joyful about her assurance of love, she begins to resist this by saying that her life is horrible. She believes that because of the love, Fergusson doesn't have a right to love her. The doctor answers with a terrible intonation that he loves Mabel.

The author presents an illuminating romantic story with deep conflicting emotions of two characters. Both characters feel the need to be loved through their actions in the story. Fergusson and Mabel's need to be loved brings confusion because it collides with their emotions and expectations. Despite that, Mabel assumes a dominant role and expresses her desire for love. Fergusson tries to resist this influence, but later submissively fulfills Mabel's expectations. Mabel's emotional state pushes her to demand Jack's love, especially after Jack rescued her from the lake against her wish. Jack directly jumped into the water with the feeling that he was acting within his obligation as a doctor. This collision of intentions forces the two to succumb to the influence of a love relationship.


The two authors present stories that show how the society and environment can influence a person to make decisions they do not desire. Sometimes people resist successfully, and vice versa. In the 'The Boarding House 'by James Joyce, Polly stupidly falls in a love trap with Mr Doran. Though it is not Doran's wish to marry because of her filthy background, societal expectations make him do so. The same happens to Dr Fergusson who, in his quest to save a life, finds love. Though he longs for love, he didn't wish it could be with Mabel. Through Mabel's influence, he succumbs to pressure and decides to love.

Work Cited

Jacobs, Ashley. "A Woman’S Movement – World Literature – Medium". Medium, 2018, Accessed 8 Dec 2018.

Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: Science and Practice. Third Edition. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993.

Lawrence, D. H. "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"The Harbrace Anthology. Eds. Stott et al.Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994

McManus, Dermot. "The Boarding House By James Joyce". The Sitting Bee, 2018, Accessed 8 Dec 2018.

Schapiro, Barbara A. D.H. Lawrence and The Paradoxes Of Psychic Life (SUNY Series In Psychoanalysis And Culture). State University Of New York Press, 1999, pp. 73-77.

November 24, 2023



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