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Riders to the Sea

Irish literature has done a good job of portraying what the Irish people are feeling over the ages. “Riders to the Sea” is a play that shows the fragmentation that the Irish people feel, both within the Irish community and with the world abroad. “Juno and the Paycock”, shows that same fragmentation, while also showing why the Irish movement for independence was bound to fail from the beginning. The Dubliners shows how things from English society like religion have cause for Ireland to lose any sense of national identity that it may have had, which has been highlighted by the lack of success of the independence movement in the country.

Each of these plays and stories shows that Ireland is a divided country that lacks identity and has for a very long time. In “Riders to the Sea”, J. M. Synge uses Celtic folklore in an attempt to bring the Irish people together, as they have been fragmented throughout history by a variety of issues. This play is about a mother named Maurya who has lost five sons and a husband at sea over the years. As this play progresses, Maurya’s last remaining son, Bartley, also wishes to travel across the sea to take a horse to the fair. Maurya does not agree with this idea and refuses to give Bartley her blessing for this journey.

Bartley ends up dying at sea which provides Maurya with a sense of relief, as there is nothing more that the sea can do for her. This play is highly symbolic of the Irish people because of it contains a religious divide between the various characters. There are many pagan references, which is consistent with Irish traditions, but there is also the increasing influence of Christianity present in this play. This play contains many biblical references, a priest, and talk of a Christian burial for Michael, even though nothing is mentioned regarding Maurya’s religion.

The sea in this play is also symbolic of the divide between Ireland and the rest of Great Britain, as it is the sea that separates them and many people have died while attempting to bridge this gap between the two places. This fear of the sea is heavily involved in Irish folk traditions and that is prevalent over the course of this play. The play “Juno and the Peacock”, by Sean O’Casey, explores the realism behind peasant life in Ireland during this time period. In this particular play, Juno is the matriarch of the family and she is the only character who has a job.

Her husband is a retired sea Captain who pretends to be hurt whenever the idea of him getting a job comes up. Her son lost an arm fighting for Irish independence, and her daughter is on strike, so they are both unable to work as well. The family receives word that it has inherited some money from a distance relative and they begin to buy goods on credit as they await the money. This, however, backfires as the money never comes and the messenger impregnates Juno’s daughter out of wedlock. Juno’s son is eventually killed, as he betrayed an IRA member during the war and had been fearing for his life ever since.

All of the goods that were bought with credit must be returned, since the family cannot afford to pay for it, and Juno and her daughter go into hiding to keep the pregnancy a secret. Juno’s husband returns from the pub to find that no one is home. As the play ends, he is still unaware that his son has been killed. This play is often looked at as a negative portrayal of the Irish independence movement. It seems to state that it was not well enough organized to succeed by having one of the characters betray a fellow solider and another possible soldier pretending to be injured so that he can drink all day.

This seems to be a play that is critical of Irish traditions because of its tragic nature. It also shows this by having the family spend money that it has not yet received, which is a very large mistake for a peasant family to make. This play seems to reflect the disillusionment of the Irish people after the independence movement failed and Ireland was fragmented into two separate parts. This play is symbolic of Irish life because of the confusion that is shared by the characters. It was a chaotic time in Ireland and this play portrays that quite well.

The collection of short stories entitled The Dubliners, by James Joyce, is another commentary on the Irish independence movement. Many of the characters feel trapped by their life in Ireland, as it does not have independence and they are not free to do as they please at all times. The characters in these stories are forced to deal with the repetitive lifestyles that they live, which leads to them wanted an escape. These stories, once again, show a somewhat hopeless view of Irish life, as there does not seem to be any escape for a peasant from the repetitions that they are faced with.

As in “Juno and the Paycock”, there is also a fair amount of betrayal, as nearly every relationship is scared by some sort of deceit. Since nothing good comes from this deceit, these stories could be meant as a moral code, by showing that deceiving friends will not bring about a positive change in an individual’s life. There are also many negative allusions to religion in these stories, which is similar to the pagan references that are prevalent in “Riders to the Sea”. This is part of Irish folklore because it is symbolic of the confusion that the nation has endured as it searches for identity.

With all that changes that have occurred outside of Ireland, the people still live the same life but at the same time, they have no sense of identity because of the influence of the English. This includes things like culture and religion, which are highlighted in The Dubliners. All of these stories and plays show something about Irish life. Even though they have different plots, they all showcase the country’s thirst for a national identity and also show why this has been unsuccessful to a great extent. The Irish literary tradition is nicely represented in these works, which is what makes them so important to Irish culture.

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