Riders to the Sea: A Short Summary

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      Riders to the Sea, a one-act play, is serious from beginning to the end, with the description of many deaths and mourning over them, finally the emancipation of the chief actress, Maurya, with her speeches of the universal appeal. The play concerns with the life of a fishing family, where the fishermen, have perished in the sea, one by one, leaving a single male member, the last hope of a mother. The first scene is the appearance of Nora, with a bundle, containing the clothes, most probably of Michael, who has been missing for nine days. The bundle was given by the young priest to Nora who would determine if the clothes belong to Michael and if so, she should inform her mother that Michael had been given a decent burial by the people. Cathleen does not think it an appropriate time to examine the clothes, as it would have a bad effect on mother, who is expected to come, so both of them hide the bundle in the turf attic before she enters the room.

      Bartley, the last son of Maurya, is first time, seen on the stage who puts forth his wish to visit the Mainland for some business purpose. But the mother opposes his intention violently and tries to stop him by giving various excuses that his presence is necessary when Michael’s dead body will be discovered. Another time, she directs his attention towards the stormy weather but Bartley, a well-determined lad does not listen to her and finally gives the necessary instructions to the girls, concerning the household things and then leaves. Maurya, a broken mother says that it is her last meeting with her son because he’ll not come back.

      Cathleen cannot tolerate her mother’s behavior towards Bertley and scolds her mother to act in such a way, when Bartley was departing. Just then Cathleen remembers, the cake, which was made for Bartley, could not be given to him, as the mother was constantly talking. So, she advises her mother to go to the Spring well, where Bartley will pass, and hand over him to this cake and her blessings which can nullify the effect of the dark word, she had previously spoken. Mother takes the bread and starts for the place, told. by Cathleen.

      Both the sisters make sure that Maurya has gone far away and open the bundle which reveal that the clothes put off from a drowned man, was of not any other person, but of Michael, himself. It gives them a shock and both start weeping and mourning the Heath of their second last brother Michael. On getting the impression that Maurya is coming, Cathleen again hides the bundle in the same place, from where it was taken out. Maurya comes in, with the same bread in her hand. She starts wailing and moaning and on being asked the reason she tells that she had seen Michael on the grey pony just behind Bartley, who was riding the red mare. Cathleen tells her that she could not have seen Michael because his dead body has been buried by the people of Denegal where it was found. Thus, what Maurya had seen was only a vision but it signifies some other doom for the house may be, the death of Bartley. Then all the male members of the house, who disappeared in the sea, are recalled by Maurya, who recalls how Stephen and Shawn were drowned and their dead bodies were taken one by one, by the islanders. Her husband, her husband’s father and her son, Sheamus had been lost on the sea in the dark night; and their bodies had never been found. Then Patch had been drowned in the sea, and his dead body had been brought to house, some men followed them carrying with a piece of a sail. All of them thought to be the body of Michael but the old woman tells that it is the body of Bartley, who was knocked down into the sea by his grey pony.

      Now the circle of death is complete as the last male member of the house has also gone in the sea, from, where the tragedy begins. Now, the sea can do no harm to her. In the end, Maurya, lifts to the level of deity by summing up, “What mere can we want than that? No man at all can be living forever, and we must be satisfied.”

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