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James Joyce's Magdalenes

From: College Literature
Volume 38, Number 4, Fall 2011
pp. 57-75 | 10.1353/lit.2011.0043



In his early short story "Clay," Joyce exposes contemporary social hypocrisies and also explores alternative arrangements of love, family, and community through an association between his character Maria and the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene. Aware of the difficult status of women in the Irish family, "Clay" presents the possibility of a satisfying independent life and suggests crucial civic and private roles for single women. This essay explores Biblical and cultural associations with Mary Magdalene along with the institutions built in her name, the Magdalene Laundries, one of which forms the initial setting for "Clay."