Significance of The Title of Riders To The Sea

Also Read

Appropriateness of the Title

      The Title Riders to the Sea suggest us that the story is concerned with sea, to some extent. At the same time, it also arouses our sense of mysticism. So, naturally, the title catches the attention of the reader and he starts it with interest and curiosity to look for the riders. Riders to the Sea, itself reveal the very elements of tragedy in it but suspense remains, whether the riders return or not. Concludingly the title is relevant and striking for the play.

Biblical Meaning

      In the play Riders to the Sea, Michael and Bartley, the two sons of Maury a, are the riders one of which (Michael) is dead. But if we go to the deeper meaning of the title after having a look at the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, we will realize the hidden significance of the title as mentioned in the Bible: For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them: but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tumbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing. And Mirniam sang to them:

“Sing to the LORD, for he has
triumphed gloriously;
The horse and his rider he had
thrown into the Sea.”

      So, we come to know that the riders perished into the sea, with their horses, because it was preplanned by God. We are not sure that Synge also thought so, but the journey of the riders is somewhat destined, is sure and what is realized by Maury a, who tries her best to stop the son, but, nobody can change one’s fortune by peace or war, thus, Bartley does perish at the end of the play.

      Thus, we are suggested, through the title that as Pharaoh’s riders are destined to death in the same way, Maurya’s ‘riders’ are fated to meet their death in the sea. Synge has taken the subject from The Aran Islands, so he was aware of the life of the inhabitants as well as their nature to confront the adventures of the sea, which gave them sustenance as well as relief from struggle through death. As he wrote in The Aran Islands:

      “A little later I was wandering out long the out good road-way of the island, looking over low walls on either side into small flat fields of naked rock. I have seen nothing so desolate. Grey floods of wato were sweeping everywhere upon the limestone, making at times a wild torrent of the road, which twined continually over low hills and cavities in the lock or passed between a few small fields of potatoes or grass hidden away in the corners that had shelter. Whenever the cloud lefted I could see the edge of the sea, below me on the right and the naked ridge of the island above me on the other side.” He continues, “And the sea which offers a livelihood, and helps to develop admirable qualities, brings also suffering and death.”

      So, on these Islands, it is the sea, which determines the fate of the Islanders, who are innocent, whereas Pharaoh’s horsemen were punished by God, for their misdeeds. Synge has touched the height of tragedy by pushing the riders into the sea, without any particular reason which remains a mystery for the reader, to analyse, what is Maurya’s fault? What is the tragic flaw in her character?

Thematic Concern

      The theme of human suffering and death, is evoked by the title Riders, are not only Michael and Bartley, but all the male members of the family, who left for the sea quite hopefully but do not come back, thus leaving the mother utterly destitute of sons. Synge says that “the maternal feeling is so powerful on these islands that it gives a life of torment to the women. Their sons grew up to be banished as soon as they are of age, or to live here in continual danger on the sea.....the people live in perpetual fear of death?”

      Life of the Islands begins from the sea, flourishes on the waves of the sea, and vanishes on the sea bed. Thus, the circle completes and Maurya emerges as a truly heroic figure in her defiance of the cosmic force which is her antagonist. She attains the tragic level of her perception of the reality of death over which no human being has ever had control.

Symbolism and Imagery

      In Riders to the Sea the sea is personified as a villain, who leads to all the disasters and misfortunes, in the play, thus not only a main actor but comes as a chief agent in the action. The sea is destroyer as well as sustainer so it is her right to call back all the persons, who are given life by her. But sometimes, it can be a symbol of a malignant force which seems to derive sadistic pleasure in torturing even virtuous human beings. Maurya, a flawless women, is engaged in strife with sea, which is impersonal and blind. Her conflict with malicious sea gives her a unique courage to withstand it: ‘‘They’re all gone now, and there isn’t any thing more the sea can do to me...”

      The flaw which causes her misfortunes is only that she is a mother and her problem of life is as old as the history of human civilization itself. The two anxieties; emotional and utilitarian, are shared by the whole human race and is by no means a regional problem of any recent origin. Hence her struggle for survival is archetypal. In the words of T.R. Henn “of this archetypal native is man’s conflict with the sea, the giver and taker of life. The Islanders must be constantly aware of its menace, its moods, its protection. Again and again through the play the characters speak of the tides and their significance. It is the killer of the young the breadwinners whose life is to be upon it. The fishermen are all its riders, mysteriously linked to the human and superhuman riders, here and in tradition. We may if we wish discern, uneasily, some connection between the red mare ridden by Bartley, and they grey mare (pony) by Michael’s phantasm for one color belongs to strength and vitality, the other to the dead.”

      Summing up, we can say that ‘riders’ are deeply concerned to ‘sea’ and the title is the most appropriate, in any dramatic presentation.

Role of the Phantom Rider, Michael

      The ghostly rider, Michael, whom Maurya sees riding just behind Bartley, signifies Bartley’s imminent doom: It is connected with the beliefs of the Islanders that the dead man chasing the living one, would lure him to death. Reader is doubtful about the drowning of Michael, even then, he shares the belief, as Maurya describes Cathleen, ‘‘....I crying at the grey pony and there was Michael upon—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.” Thus new clothes and shoes, make us sure that Michael has entered a new world and is willing to take his brother too, with him.

      Then on the climax, we are told that the red mare was kicked by the grey pony, thus leading the death of Bartley. Thus, the ghostly rider who was helped by sea too, achieved the success through conspiracy. The ghostly rider, with another rider, perish into the sea, making the title suitable, Riders to the Sea.

University Questions

The Title of Synge’s Riders to the Sea is Appropriate. Discuss.
In Synge's Riders to the Sea, bring out the connection of Riders with the Sea.
Write a note on the Significance of Title Riders to the Sea.
How does the Title of Riders to the Sea is relevant and effective?

Previous Post Next Post