Maria works at the Dublin by Lamplight laundry, a charitable institution run by Protestants. The laundry is for fallen women and alcoholics, and busies them with useful work; Maria is not one of its charity cases, but is a regular worker who helps maintain order. She is known as an intermediary and a thoroughly competent woman. She boards there, and enjoys her vocation; she has even come to like the Protestants who work there. Her "very long nose and very long chin-, which are alluded to numerous times in the story, suggest a witch-like appearance and may cause us to doubt her validity as an innocent woman. However, witch-like qualities never surface and as is revealed in a simple and deliberately childish sentence: "Everyone was so fond of Maria."".
The character of Maria is more ambiguous than one might think. The obvious portrayal of her is as an elderly woman who exudes kindness and thrives off her own unselfishness towards other people. Her modesty is undeniable and her portrayal as "a veritable peace-maker- only serves to augment our already impressed view of her. It is, however, these exact same "qualities- that result in her secondary characteristics which become far more palpable and significant as the story continues. .
Her interaction with the women from the laundry gives us an insight into her virgin status; she is patronised by the other women about receiving the ring and therefore love - it is clear that she is a renowned spinster. The choice of Maria for her name is not accidental by Joyce - this relationship with the Virgin Mary confirms her docile love life. She is resigned to be an apathetic person where love is concerned. .
Joyce creates a brilliant psychological portrait of the elderly woman, with her sad, optimistic confusion and her difficulty in making it around Dublin on her own. Her lack of perception and confidence is cringingly apparent in the story.