بحث الفكرة الرئيسية في مسرحية (ركاب البحر) للكاتب ملنتون سنج
بحث الفكرة الرئيسية في مسرحية (ركاب البحر) للكاتب ملنتون سنج
تقدم به الاستاذ الباحث علي اسماعيل الجاف
The Main Theme of Riders to the Sea
By: Millington Synge
Table of Contents
The Life of John Millington Synge
The Life in Ireland and the Irish Theatre
The Importance of Characters and Aran Islands
The Role of Sea as an Agent of Fate
The Real Conflict of the Play
The Use of Symbolism
Riders to the Sea conforms neither to the Greek nor the Shakespearean pattern of tragedy. Unlike the tragedies of Greece and those of Shakespeare, Mauya, the heroine of Riders to the Sea, is a poor common woman. She is a good person who passes from happiness to misery. The tragedy is not caused by any sin committed by her. Nor does it happen because of any fault in her character or any error of judgment on her part. Her father – in – law, her husband and her six sturdy sons – all perish in the sea. The tragedy is caused by the powerful and extremely cruel sea. The sea takes the place of fate in this tragedy. Man is utterly helpless in his conflict with the powerful sea.
The title of the play itself indicates the use of the supernatural by Synge. There are two riders in the play. One is Bartley and the other is the ghost of his brother, Michael, who was drowned nice days ago. Synge drew the material for his plays from his experiences while he was living with the people of Aran Islands. They were a primitive, isolated community. There was stony and hardly anything produced there. For all there their requirements they had to go across the sea to the mainland. The islands had no trees and so even for purchasing boards for making coffins for the dead they had to go to the mainland. They also went to the sea to catch fish. The seas around these islands were generally very rough and they daily devoured a lot of young men. The men, therefore, ran the risk of losing their lives every time they ventured on the waves. The sea was the giver and talker of their lives.
Riders to the Sea is unique in dramatic history, for it is the only one Act play that can be described as a tragedy in the fullest sense. At first sight the plot would seem to be too simple, the characterization too faintly momentum, the high seriousness proper to the form. Some critics have found; that it is too fatalistic to be tragic, that it affords no scrape for conflict. From the outset the protagonists seem to be enclosed in an inflexible circle of destiny, in which the prayers and consolations of Christianity are powerless; the resolution of the play rests upon a resignation that is stonier than Christianity a sense of relief that no further loss is possible, when humanity confronts the ultimate of death. In his play, Riders to the Sea, Synge expressed the purely tragic vision of the way in which the sea claims the lives of all of an old woman's sons.
Actually, there is no inner conflict in the mind of the characters of the play. They are members of a primitive community whose thought processes are very simple. Maurya is a simple old woman who had led the same type of life from infancy to old age. She had a large family consisting of her father – in – law, her husband, six strong sons and two daughters. Tragic conflict entered her life when the hungry sea started devouring the men fold of her family one by one. She tried to avoid her bad luck by resorting to prayer. But this didn't prove of any avail. Within a span of about twenty years all the male members of the family are drowned and she is left utterly helpless with her two daughters. Therefore, the sea is used symbolically and is responsible for all the tragedies. In other words, it only completes the series of deaths which had been decided upon by cruel fate.
As well, the sea is an archetypal symbol of hostility to man. This symbol is being used by writers since times immemorial. We find descriptions of the conflict between man and the sea in myth and legend, in history and literature. The sea is a tyrant – good full of mystery and power. It attracts young men, offers a challenge to them and then destroys them. It is a pre-existent evil and good.
Synge has chosen to make the sea the architect of Murya's cruel fate. The sea is an archetypal symbol and has a universal significance. The hostility between man and the sea has been gone on since times immemorial. The sea is no respecter of ranks. Maurya's men folk are poor fishermen. But people of all ranks and classes are drowned in the sea. In other words, the hungry sea devours the rich and the poor, kings and nobles, as well as poor fishermen and sailors. The poet Shelly was drowned in the sea. The suffering of the mother would be the same whether Bartley is a poor fisherman or a rich prince. Thus, the suffering caused by the sea is a common experience of mankind.
Eventually, Riders to the Sea is based on the type of life led by the people of Aran Islands. We see in this play their customs and manners, their beliefs and superstitions. In that respect it is a regional play. But it describes suffering which is no respect of persons or places. This play depicts human feelings which are the same in all ranks of society. The Maurya family represents the whole of suffering humanity. That is the secret of the universal appeal of this play.
The Life of John Millington Synge
John Millington was born on April 16, 1871, at Newton Little, a Dublin Suburb. In later years, he tried to impress upon the Irish public that his English ancestry and his religion were absurd grounds for the animosity shown toward him. He maintained that the pure Irish strain did not exist; in fact, the more mixed the family tree, the more truly Irish a person was. This was sensible reasoning, but Synge always had enemies among the Irish nationalists.
As a child, Synge's health made it impossible for him to endure much of the ordinary school life. Private tutors were responsible for most of his education. The personality and interests of Synge as a child were little different from those of the sea, lovely man of tater years whose chief interests were solitary walks, nature study and art. He then began the understanding of the Irish peasants that was to come alive; years later in such characters as Dan and Nora Burke of In the Shadow of the Glen. Synge was not at all successful at painting, but for along time he was an active member of the Dublin United Arts Club. Some years he studied music, becoming much more than merely proficient on the piano and violin. In 1891 he won a scholarship in counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of music in Dublin.
As a playwright his most asset, perhaps, was his natural aptitude for languages. His mastery of Gaelic was very valuable to him on his trips throughout Western Irland. Some critics find the grandeur and eloquence of his dialogue closer to Hebrew than to the natural Irish idiom. Synge studied modern languages, but never spoke any tongue easily, even his own, because of his extreme shyness. By the time he was twenty, Synge was in a quandary; he was an extreme introvert who wanted to travel, partly to relieve his emotional tension, partly to find a creation outlet for the possibilities he felt were generating his mind. He went so far as to attempt the establishment of a blood relationship with Hearn.
His departure from Ireland effected by disastrous love affair with a mysterious woman; but he is completely different from Shaw and Wilde who departed Ireland without thinking of getting back. He, however, was different in that he had to return home to become famous. He went to continent to study music in Germany in 1894. Thereafter, he visited France and later years he had divided his time between Ireland and France. He also influenced by the French society who understand the case of the Irish independence and all his attempts to relate his plays directly to French models have failed. It would be down silly to say that Synge was really influenced by Zola. In fact, it is not certain that Riders to the Sea was any more dependent upon Loti's An Iceland Fisherman than it was upon Synge's own observations of the harsh life on the Aran Islands.
Whatever the source of his material, Synge was always able to absorb the disparate threads, and like grafting several twigs that fuse to become a new and unique tree, he reworked his sources into plays that have few or no traces of the beginnings. Although an extremely shy, reserved man, Synge was nevertheless involved from time to time in various adventurous, many originally in some kind of injustice to helpless people. On one occasion, during a demonstration in Paris on behalf of the independence of Crete, he was painfully injured on the head by a gendarme. On a trip back to Ireland, Synge became very upset were the needless brutality with which some Irish peasant families were being dispossessed.
In 1896 Synge was in Italy from February to May, during that time he mastered the Italian language to the extent that he made excellent translations of Petrarch into the Anglo-Irish dialect. He also underwent an operation to his neck, and from then on was subject to frequent breakdowns, which usually involved some kind of nervous disorder. Synge developed work habits that lasted the rest of his life. He would make a very rough draft of his writing. Then, from these notes, often very random, he would compose directly on a portable typewriter. He worked as a journalist in the last years of the nineteenth century, and tried other work as a tutor, but never made much money. He had lived the simple life and his clothes were very simple and never tried the effeminate in a man's dress, and he was always successful in keeping his life in a practical, debt – free schedule. Throughout his travels, Synge was careful that he didn't forget Gaelic. He combined the study of Latin and the learning of the Breton dialect.
Synge had a certain rare genius, but that Paris was not the place to foster its realization. Yeats suggested that Aran Islands as the best place to Synge to find himself. Synge was the shy man who never with draw in his relationships with the peasants of the Islands. Synge was not in the habit of discussing creative methods, but he did say that all art in the result of a collaborative process and he found himself happy in 1896 when he had met Yeats. He wrote six plays. His love to Molly Allgood causes his failure and she was too young. The important fact to observe is that Synge kept at his writing as long as he lived. He entered a Dublin hospital early in 1908, and there, although very ill, he kept working on the play that he finally left unfinished.
The Life in Ireland and the Irish Theatre
Synge had spent many years trying to find himself, had tried desperately to express his walled – up genius in a variety of way, and in several countries. Ironically, he had to come home to Ireland for self – discovery, and that was made possible only because Ireland was ripe for a new cultural movement, an extraordinary development that later became known as the Abbey Theatre of Dublin. For centuries there had been Irishmen in the world of entertainment, but there had never been an Irish theatre. For many years numerous Irish comedians did great disservice to the Irish theatre by establishing the Cliché stage Irishman. Along list of writers, producers, singers, and actors were responsible for the certain of the sentimental, stupid, comically garrulous Irishman.
Actually, this is a lovable image, a clown dressed in a preposterous wardrobe, was so believed by cosmopolitan audiences that the convention became the chief enemy of Synge's concept of realistic Irish peasants. With Synge came the growing insistence that the concept of the music hall Irishman be changed. There was no room in the real Irish theatre for sentimental, undue cheerfulness, old – new jokes told in a suspect brogue, and dance routines that had nothing to do with Irish folk culture.
As we have seen in the description of William Bulter Yeats, in his poem "Major Robert Greyory", he describes Synge as coming toward night fall, in a most desolate, stony place, upon a certain race of people as passionate and simple as his heart. Synge looked upon these people, with their unique personalities, as the proper materials with which to work; his choice was to cost him and his colleagues numerous unforeseen difficulties before the Irish theatre was established an international institution. First, some brave people had to deal with the fact that there seemed to be no possibility of even starting a national theatre. This pessimistic outlook was based on several important factors: economic depression, religious narrow – mindedness, and a sense of ever – impending doom from England. Censorship, either actual or threatened, stifled creative impulses; and the beginnings of the political troubles that were to break out so horrible twenty years later absorbed the energies of those who might have become important in the development of Irish cultures Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw lived and worked in England, and thousand of patenting important Irishmen went to America, where their lives were exploited by the predatory American labour market, probably the greatest obstacle was the necessity of convincing the Irish that they needed a theatre. They were not used to such a luxury, and most of them did not think they could afford it. And if the Irish theatre was to be anything like the shoddy English productions that toured the country, there was no point in expending all that energy and money.
The imagination of the people been intrigued by the plays put on the Catholic Church, the same institution that had responsible, through its part in the medieval religious cycles of plays, for the solid foundations of the great English dramatic tradition. Most Irish churchmen thought that the representation on the stage of biblical events and Saint's lives was profane, sacrilegious, and utterly wrong. The innocuous church pageants allowed by the clergy were moral and dull; no life was there that could be used to spark a national professional theatre. There were some private clubs and halls, but if a theatre is to be significant, it has to affect a large part of the population. The need for entertainment was largely satisfied by oratory, usually on political matters, and by the communal life in the pubs and pothouses, where there were uncounted of murdering his father, as told in The Play Boy of the Western World, is an excellent example of the kind of entertainment enjoyed by the peasants. Many Irishmen felt that Ireland and her people were rare drama in themselves – there was no need for playacting.
There was also the fact that the large cities of Ireland were dominating by English businessman could not be expected to do anything about an Irish national theatre, and few Irishmen of that day had the admission fee to see a play. In the eighteen – nineties there was some social readjustment that helped make possible the growth of scholarship and culture a part from politics. A significant step was the establishment in 1891 of the National Library Society. In the nineteenth century Ireland witnessed a literary renaissance involving linguistics, politics, poetry, fiction, history, and of utmost importance, Anglo – Irish drama.
This was later to be seen as fine irony after the many troubles that beset the initial production of Synge's playboy of the Western World, and that same play's subsequent troubles in America. One of the chief aims of the founders was to show that Ireland was not the home of the sentimental buffoon that much of the world seemed to believe was the one true Irish type. "The new theatre as proposed would show the real worth of the Irish and overcome the misrepresentation so often seen on the stage. The three founders of the Irish literary theatre showed that they could work together in spite of personal differences. Lady Gregory and Yeats were Protestants; Martyn was Catholic. Both of the men had already written plays that they were determined to see produced. Lady Grgory had not yet begun to write. Martyn modeled his plays largely after Ibsen; Yeasts, much under the influence of Maeterlinck, hated the content and style of Ibsen. Furthermore, the three friends hoped that this could be done outside of the political questions that were dividing Ireland more and more."(1) This observation is most ironical in view of the accusation of vulgarity and obscenity that were soon to be lodged against Synge's The Playboy of the Western World and The Tinker's Wedding. On January 25, 1904, Synge quietly contributed one of the most important plays of all time to the history of the theatre: Riders to the Sea. Now considered a most significant milestone in the history of the twentieth century theatre, it was little noticed at its debut.
The Main Theme of the Play
"Traditionally means a recurrent element of subject – matter, but the modern insistence on simultaneous reference to form and contend emphasizes the formal dimension of the term. A theme is always a subject, but a subject is not always a theme; a theme is not usually thought of as the occasion of a work of art, but rather a branch of the subject which is indirectly expressed through the recurrence of certain events, images, or sympathy, or symbols. We apprehend the theme by inference – it is a case for restricting the loosely formal use of the term; if we use "theme" to mean a certain quantity of features in a work (iterative imagery or stylistic mannerism); we are confusing a symptom with a cause.
The degree of abstraction of the term depends on the nature of the work under consideration. However, the term is sensitive and useful precisely because it admits of degree of abstract reference; it is neither possible nor desirable to restrict all quantitative usages, because theme implies the linearity or extension of work in a way that other subject matter terms do not. In other words, a theme is more concrete and formalistic term with structural implications.
Actually, we think of a theme as a line or thread running through a work, linking features which are un – or otherwise related. The thesis of a work is paraphrasing, but a theme might not be so. Thesis is also an internationalist term, whereas theme may or may not be. Themes modeled on the analogy of music, are a conscious part of his creative method; but in other, less self-conscious cases, to use the term is to talk about structure, not intended content. Thus, a critic may use "theme" to refer to those repeated parts of a subject which control aspects of a work which he perceives as formal as well as conceptual. There is also used to refer beyond the individual work. We speak of "perennial themes" such as the theme of the Fall. Here, theme pre-exists the individual work and borders on a archetype or even MYTH. On the other hand, works of literature may express themes which condition other works (e.g. the Carpe diem theme) in which case the term is starting to overlap with convention."(2)
Synge creates a fine variety of scenes as the play is built up thought a series of conservations and narrations. Some critics have pointed out that the training Synge had as a musician is evident in his avoidance of monotony and repetition in much the same way that a composer employs counterpoint to vary and underline motifs. Synge brought the very rare ability to carry the imagination of the audience beyond the walls of the set to a vision of what is going on in the distance. In Riders to the Sea, he made the ocean a very real part of the play. Also, Synge has understood and expertly manipulates an important part of human psychology. Synge says that on the stage one must have reality and joy. There is no doubt that Synge does create a reality in the sense of indestructible vitality.
Synge's plays together on today, is one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre. With the whole production, of the Riders to the Sea, which is a description of "suburb" by the Guardian and the performances as "astonishing" by the Irish Times, Synge does what Irish has never done for its presiding genius: it establishes Synge's greatness beyond doubt (The Irish Times). Riders to the Sea is a set of images – a silent young boy, keening women in traditional costume, the coffin boards – to quietly established in the first will recur with a stark beauty in the last, giving the whole set of play the feeling cycle that, like life itself, begins and ends with nothing. It is this dedicating drawn and brilliantly executed and gives the entire event its sense of aesthetic and emotional completeness. We are on a journey from death to but across a landscape of exuberant, defiant vitality.
In Riders to the Sea, a new myth is actually being created; this act of creating is missing from Edgame, possibly because newly created myths (and values) are deemed impossible by Beckett in the light of the two world wars of the 20th century. This creation is, in fact, what characters (more specifically, Maurya, Hamm and Clov) are all waiting for; and that while the world – view of Synge's play reflects, to a certain extent, the views of objective idealism, Beckett not only lowers the level of idealism to the subjective level, denying the existence of a rational, control, but also goes further to deny the existence of any ordering power in the world at all. In other worlds, it has been suggested many times that mythology was the main instrument for the so – called "primitive" cultures to understand the surrounding world. If this is so, then the world, in a pre – mythless state, must present itself as dangerous and inconceivable, as it actually does in the play. Riders to the Sea, on the other hand, allows the reader to interpret the three women as the fates (parcae) s Cathleen starts to spin at the beginning of the play and Maurya seems to predict the fates of the boys. These possible interpretations show that both texts begin integrate symbolic meanings to them from the very beginning. The play expresses, at the same time, the need and the possibility for some transcendental, ordering power, a myth to emerge. To decide whether this does happen during the course of the play or not?
The title of a play is good if it directs the attention of the audience or the readers to the main theme of the play. In this respect this play has a very appropriate title. The main theme of this play is the conflict between man and the sea. The sea is cruel and powerful and the fishermen of Aran Islands are its riders. The main theme is happiness, comfort and security which were things unknown to the people of these islands. They had to fight constantly against the stony soil from which they extracted food – grains after very heavy toil and the cruel, hungry sea which was always ready to devour them. The sea was the giver and the taker of their lives – the young men went to the sea not because they were very brave but because that was necessary for supporting their families. The seas around the islands were rough and their boats were frail and were easily overturned. Every storm at sea resulted in "keeping" (weeping and wailing) in one house or the other. The people submitted themselves to their cruel and carried on their work. This went on generation after generation.
A consideration of these uncertainties leads naturally to the question of exactly what kind of a play The Playboy of the Western World is. The first audiences didn't like the mixture of fund, social comment, brutality, love, and jealously, which confused them. The double or perhaps triple climax in the last act added further confusion. Synge said many times during first week of performance that the play was an extravaganza, but the few who heard him above the riot didn't understand what he meant. Since that time, the question of an appropriate, Cabel has been debated endlessly. There has been no adequate answer from any source – certainly not from Synge himself. Tragicomedy is the tag most often used; but that term does not really help unless we go into a lengthy explanation. This would result only in airing personal views and values. The best course to follow is to keep in mind Synge's complicated personality as we study the multitude of themes in the play. Synge, well-understood how complicated life could be, showed that understanding in the vitality with which he loaded his masterpiece.
The Importance of Characters and Aran Islands
The chief argument concerning the characters lies in the question of their actual existence or their symbolic significance. Many people who have seen the play and / or have studied it closely ask if Synge really characterized people in Riders to the Sea or if he merely used individuals to build an atmosphere of fate. Others feel that the only real character is the sea eternally crashing offstage, and that Synge employs people on the stage for the role purpose of talking about the sea. The weight of the balance is toward the symbolic view. The play is obviously too brief to allow any character to development.
"Character means the fictional representation of a person, is likely to change both a presence in literature and as an object of critical attention much as it changes in society. Ideas of the place of man in the social order, of his individuality, his capacity to determine his own fortunes, the extent to which he is assumed to dominate his own life and motives or be dominated by forces outside himself."(3)
Synge's feeling for character was simple: the subtleties, the in consistencies, the apparent contradictions that may lodge within the one cranium he made no search for. The finer types were beyond his ken. For the Brands – those who indulged in petulancies, insolvencies, prejudices, fell utterly away from him. He wrote then above his native strength, one may say, yet above the level to which he had been raised by his great desire to express his love for those people he had lived among.
For most of the play Pairs of characters hold the stage, in the naturalistic exposition, subdued and apprehensive, it is the two girls. Then there is the fierce, partly – concealed battle between Maurya and Bartley, ending in the desolate cry from Maurya as he departs. A lowering of stress is essential after this, and when Maurya has gone to the spring well, a quieter, domestic pathos emerges as the girls examine the bundle. This intensifies to Nora's lament over the clothes outliving the man, and then is quickly hushed on Maurya's return. She relates her vision while the two girls listen as one, until the people come in with Bartley's body. Now till the end of the play everyone is present: the two girls, the island folk, Bartley dead, the seven other men of the family conjured up by Maurya's imagination, and the great mother herself, like prophet and priest, conducting the ritual which finally discloses the tragic mystery of things.
As well as, Synge gives us something of the tensions and emotions, of the life that he wove into the plays.
As they talked to me and gave me a little potent
and a little bread when they thought I was hungry,
who were under a judgment of death. I know that
everyone of them would drowned in the sea in a
few years and battled naked on the rocks, or would
die in his own cottage and buried with another fearful
Scene in the grave yard I had come from.
Since the sea takes them, the islands don't learn to swim, for that would prolong suffering. And there are strange stories connected with the ritual of drowning; of a man's hands being smashed with a stretcher as he clings to the gun wale; for you must not take buck what the sea has claimed; how, if your cap blows off, you must not look at it, but ask another whether it is floating crown or brim uppermost and if the crown is on top, you must leave it, for the sea may think that you are beneath it.
The islanders themselves ride with a simple halter and a stick, yet sometimes travel, at least in the larger island, at a desperate gallop. If we are to understand the inwardness of the play, we must try to reconstruct imaginatively something of the life of the islanders as Synge knew it at the turn of the century. The Aran Islands form small group of three, Irishman, and set far out in the Atlantic between the coasts of Galway and Clare. The land is poor and stony; small fields interested by stone walls which retain this shallow soil, itself formed in part from rotted sea – weed. There is no timber or turf for fuel, or grass horses in the winter months, prolonged storms meant that the islands were inaccessible for long periods at a time, and for lack of fishing, might bring families near to starvation.
Generally speaking, Synge takes advice from Yeats by going to the place where the islanders live and to see their conditions and sufferings. It is the most primitive community in Western Europe. He aimed at creating such a way to persuade the nation and by making a relation with friends from them to study them closely. It is not too much Synge finds himself and his genius among them.
The Role of Sea as an Agent of Fate
The sea plays an essential role in Riders to the Sea. It is an invisible force which shapes the destinies of all the characters. The riders or the spectators are through out aware of its moods and its power. It does not appear on the stage but we feel that it is the main actor. If forms the setting of the play and it is also an offstage protagonist. It seems to be directing roaring and molding the lives of the people from behind. It appears to be roaring outside for its toll of human lives.
The island community described in Riders to the Sea depends on all its needs entirely on the sea. All the men go to the sea to catch fish. They have to go across the sea to the mainland to sell their agricultural produce and the animals reared by them, and to make their purchases. There are no trees on the island and so even the planks to make coffins have to be obtained from the mainland. The women collect sea-weeds which are used as fuel and kelp which serves as manure for their stony soil.
Actually, the sea is cruel and merciless and ruthless in dealing with human beings. Prayers to God are of no avail in saving man form the sea Maurya says that the young priest knows nothing about the sea. The men know the varying moods of the sea well and are not a frail off it. Even young girls like Nora look at the sea and judge whether it is going to be smooth or rough. The riders to the sea and on the sea are the young men. They have the same fierceness and determination as the sea. When Bartly has made up his mind to go to the sea he does not pay any head to his mother's appeals to him not to go that day. As Cathleen says, "it is the life of a young man to be going on the sea." The sea offers a challenge to the young men and they take up the challenge and are ready to go to the sea at all times without caring for risks involved.
The sea is the main factor that brings about the tragedy in his play, "In classical tragedy the angry gods or cruel Fate were responsible for the tragedy."(4) In Riders to the Sea the sea is the tyrant – god, fell of mystery and power, which causes the tragedy. The sea has already devoured Maurya's father – in – law, her husband and four of her sons. Her fifth son was drowned nine days back and before the curtain falls her last son is also killed by the sea. The cup of her sorrow is full. She stoically resigns herself to her fate. She is calm now because the sea can't do anything worse then this. She says: "they're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me."
But in spite of the disasters that the sea causes to man he does not abandon the flight. He is not dihearted. It is an everlasting fight and it goes on from generation to generation. This flight shows the courage, dignity and fortitude of the people. Synge uses the sea as an archetypal symbol of a supernatural force which is in constant conflict with man. Thus in this play the sea is an inscrutable and powerful force which causes the tragedy. But this conflict between man and the sea shows man's strength. The human beings are defeated but only after a heroic fight. They are beaten but unbowed. This shows the invincible spirit of man. This tragedy, therefore, does not depress us. It has an elevating effect on us.
The Real Conflict of the Play
The people of Aran Islands believe that a person is born on the flood – tide and dies on the ebb. The islands don't learn swimming because if there is a storm and a person falls on the waves it is better that would only be prolonged. There is a ritual of drowning. If a person has fallen in the water and is about to be drowned nobody would save him because the belief is that you must not take back what the sea has claimed. If a person's cap blows off and falls on the sea, he must not look at it. He should ask another whether it is floating crown or brim uppermost, and if the crown is on top you must leave it, for the sea may think that you are beneath if and take it as a simulacrum of you.
The conflict in this play is between the sea and man. This is an unequal conflict because puny man can't really fight on contest but he always the all – powerful sea. For man it is a heroic of his family are passive sufferers.
Some critics say that this play is very fatalistic and so there is no conflict in it. But this view is not correct. Without conflict there can be no great drama. In Greek tragedy the hero was in perpetual conflict with Fate. In Shakespeare's tragedies, there is external conflict. The hero is at war with himself. Hamlet faces external difficulties but his conflict is chiefly internal.
In Riders to the Sea the conflict is between man and the sea. "The conflict", says T. R. Henn, "is between the sea and the humanity, singly and collectively. The human opponents are on the human opponents are on three levels: Bartly who must sell his horses at the fair, his sisters who seem to have a sacrificial prophetic function, like Antigone and Ismene. Maurya who speaks the two great elegies for the dead, who are the dead not only of Aran but of the world. The sea is the tyrant – god full of mystery and power, the giver and taker of life, the enemy and challenger of the young; it is pre-existent evil and good."
Conflict is essential in drama. The plot of the play becomes interesting and gripping only when there is a conflict in it. Some critics have said that there is no conflict in Riders to the Sea. That is not true. This play could not have been a great tragedy if there had been no conflict in it. The conflict in this play is between the sea and humanity, singly and collectively.
"Generally speaking, there are different types of conflict in different plays. In Greek tragedy the conflict was between man and the gods or Destiny. In modern plays the conflict usually is between two groups of people. There may be a conflict of wills. The conflict may be between the hero and the villain. In some plays the conflict is purely internal. Hamlet is at war with the hero and the laws and conventions of society. The conflict may be between a human being and the circumstances or the environment in which he finds himself. In this play the sea represents the mysterious power of Destiny. He can neither understand nor control this power. When man comes into conflict with this power, his life is bound to end as a tragedy."(5)
Unltimately, the real conflict is between man and the sea is very real in Aran Islands. The soil there is stony and very few grow there. The people catch the fish from the sea for their food and collect, sea – wood from the sea – shore for their fuel. For all their requirements they have to go across the sea to the mainland, there are no trees on the islands and so even for making coffins for the dead they have to get boards from the mainland. As Cathleen says it is the life of a young man to be going on the sea. The seas around the islands are very rough and the storms come frequently and unexpectedly and so drowning deaths are very common. The sea is the giver and taker of the lives of the islanders.
The conflict between man and the sea begins at the very beginning of the play. Maurya's fifth son, Michael, was drowned nine days back and his body has not been found yet. There is a great roaring in the sea and waves are rising high. But Bartly isn't frightened by them. He must do his duty. He had to go to the mainland to sell his horses there. His mother's efforts to stop him prove of no avail she has fore bodings that he will fall a victim to the sea. As he leaves she can only cry out, "He is gone now, and when the black night is falling I'll have no son left me in the world." She sees the ghost of Michael who seems to have come to take his brother to the other world. Maurya is horrified. She recalls how Stephen and Shawn had been lost in the great wind and how their bodies had been found in the Bay of Gregory, Sheamus, his father and grand – father, were lost in the sea on a dark night and not a sign of them was found in the morning. Patch was drowned when his boat was turned upside down.
The Use of Symbolism
"The symbolist school was one of the first art – for – art's sake movements to grow our of the Romantic period and, in some sense, in reaction to it. The movement's principles focused on the representational power of the word and image to suggest complex meanings drawn from any culture. In literature, rather than in merely stating the meaning directly, symbolist writers (poets) preferred to let the meaning flow from the nuances of the imagination as the reader followed through a poem. The symbolists agreed that the imagination was by far superior to reason alone in enhancing meaning fro verbal or visual cues.
The Symbolist Movement began in France, led by writer Charles Bandelaire who was almost single – handedly responsible for introducing the writings of Edgar Allen Poe to a Western reading audience."(6)
The symbols used in the play connect this Island community to the entire world. The sea, the drowned man and the grey horse are archetypal symbols which have been having the same associations since ancient times. The conflict of man with the sea is as old as man himself. The sea which is Maurya's chief enemy has always been regarded as a powerful force inimical to man.
Symbolism issued by poets and dramatists to create an atmosphere in their works without giving a detailed description of their ideas and emotions. This is done by introducing certain objects which are associated with some other objects of feelings. The scientists use symbol with the same purpose. In literature as soon the symbol mentioned, the reader or the spectator gets all the emotions associated with that object. His imagination at once visualizes the objects or feelings associated with that symbol. The local things described by the dramatist acquire a universal significance. Archetypal symbols are these which have recurred persistently throughout human history and have conveyed the same feelings to generations of readers or spectators.
The sea is a vast expanse of water. But in this play it because a symbol of Fate or Destiny which is merciless or relentless. It is an archetypal symbol. For the people of this island the sea is a source of their livelihood. It provided fish to them. They also collect sea – weeds from the sea to be used as fuel. They have to go to the mainland across the sea. The sea is a giver of life. But it is also a taker of life. It is a killer or destructive power.
Maurya is like the heroes of ancient classical tragedy who were fore doomed to suffer. They were destroyed by the gods or Destiny. For Maurya the sea becomes the agent of Destiny. Her father – in – law, her husband and her six strong sons are all devoured by the sea. The men seem to be under a judgment of death by drowning. Their lives depend upon the moods of the sea. Every storm brings "keening" to some of the families. Maurya keeps praying to God but prayers provide no protection to her. At the end she is left utterly destitute with no son living. She stoically accepts her defeat, her only consolation being that the sea can't do any further harm to her.
In addition, Synge has made symbolic use of number nine in the play. "Michael was missing for nine days."(7) Maurya like Niobe, wept for nine days for her last son. Maurya herself, recalling the drowning of patch, reports that she saw two women, "and three women and four women coming in." This adds up to nice again, as do the numbers mentioned by Bartly himself when he says optimistically, "you" will see me coming again in two days, or in three days or may be in four days if the wind is bad. Eight men have been drowned of Maurya's house hold … the night will; it is implied, be Maurya herself.
Finally, Synge has made use of other symbols too. The drowned man symbolizes mortality. The white boards which are seen in the kitchen lying against the wall are to be used to make a halter or for lowering a coffin in the deep grave. The spring well stands for life. Nails, which have been forgotten, repeated pain and finality. Bread is being baked for Bartly but is finally to be eaten by men who are to make his coffin.
The horse signifies power, fear and strength. Bartly rides on the red more, while the ghost of Michael rides on the grey pony. That is because the red colour stands for strength and virility while the grey colour symbolizes death. Thus, Synge makes full use of symbols in order to exile our imagination and to create the proper tragic atmosphere within a short compass.
The plot is simple and events happening swiftly. There is perfect economy of words. There is not a single irrelevant or extraneous or action. The deaths of Maurya's father – in – law, husband and her fours sons are only narrated and skillfully interwoven into the texture of the play. The plot is compact and there are no loose ends in it. The action is complete. The end of this play is like the end of a Geek tragedy. In her extreme sorrow Maurya shows calm dignity. She is beaten but unbowed. She is destroyed but not defeated. Maurya only bows before the ultimate reality – death. She prays for peace for the whole of doomed humanity. The play produces the emotions of pity and fear but at the end, there is a purgation of these feelings and the play ends with reconciliation and peace.
Riders to the Sea is a unique example of a great tragedy in one Act. It creates the true tragic atmosphere. It gives universal significance to local events. What is interesting particularly about the play is Synge's ability to compress the great issues of life in one act, to intensify one particular event as archetypal and thereby possessing lasting significance.
Maurya suffers because the sea around Aran Islands is rough and the male members of her family have to go to the sea constantly for their livelihood, almost for their survival. The tragedy of her family could be the tragedy of any other unfortunate family. In her case the agent of Destiny is the sea. In other cases there may be some other agent. These people suffer not because of any fault in their character bu only because of their stars. They are crushed down by the force of Destiny which they don't understand and against which they are powerless. Maurya belongs to a primitive community in a small island but she is a part of suffering humanity whose lot is to wail and to weep. Riders to the Sea does not belong to any particular place or any particular age. It is universal drama of epic proportions. It belongs to the ages and to the whole of humanity. Actually, the young men of Aran Islands wage a constant war against the elements. It is an unequal fight in which man is always the loser. The sea feeds them and also devours them. The sea is the agent of Destiny. The men can't help going to the sea and so they are all the time under the danger of sudden death. They believe in magic, specters and spirits. The depiction of these habits and beliefs in Riders to the Sea creates the atmosphere of tragic doom in the play.
Thus, we find that the entire play is steeped in a tragic atmosphere. We feel that Maurya's family is under the judgment of death. The gloom is thickened by portents and fore bodings. The play gives us the feeling that human beings are only puppets in the hands of a powerful force which may crash us down any moment.
(1)Russel, E. Davis. A Critical Community. New York: United States of America. 1966, P.26.
(2)Roger, Fowler. Modern Critical Terms. London and Boston: Routtedge & Kegam Paul. 1973, PP.195-96.
(3)Cerstenberger, Donna. John Millington Synge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964. P.41.
(4)Russel, Noyes. English Romantic Poetry and Prose. New York: Oxford University Press. 1956. P.50.
(5)Price, Alan. Synge and Anglo – Irish Drama. London: Methuen & Co., 1961. P.30.
(6)Roger, Fowler. OP. Cit. P.140.
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Brooks, V. W. Literature in New England. Garden City: Publishing Co., Inc., 1944.
Cross, W. L. The Development of the English Novel. New York: The Macmillan
Davis, R. Riders to the Sea, The Playboy of the Western World, A Critical
Commentary. New York: United States of America. 1966.
Fowler, R. A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms. London: Routledge & Kegan Ltd.
Howard, D., John, L. & John, G. Tradition and Tolerence in the Nineteenth Century
Fiction. London: Rautledge & Kegan Paul, 1960.
John, S. Riders to the Sea, In Complete Plays. New York: Random House, 1960.
Mathur, S. S. Riders to the Sea. Lakshm; Narain Agarwal. N.Y.
Noyes, R. English Romantic Poetry and Prose. New York: Oxford University Press.
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