Themes of The Play Riders To The Sea

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Collection of Themes

      Riders to the Sea, a one act play, provides Synge with a limited canvas, on which dramatization of more than one theme can not be expected. But it is only the capability of Synge, to go above our expectations, as with all-pervasive themes of death. In Riders to the Sea, he has incorporated two another themes also. One concerns with the archetypal struggle of man for survival, whereas other suggests female’s loneliness and helplessness. Synge does not try to combine these themes, but a deep study reveals us that there is connection in all the themes, to some extent, for every theme echoes that man is puppet in the hands of All-powerful. The issue taken separately will enable us to analyze the thematic purpose of the playwright.

Man’s Constant Struggle for Survival

      Riders to the Sea, is the stage craft of not only Maurya’s family, but it can happen to any family on the island, where young people still endanger their lives to fulfill the ‘primitive necessities’ of earthly existence. The setting of the story might be the Aran Island yet its appeal is universal. It does not deal in the external affairs of the natives, rather psychic reality of the life of the people fascinates him most. The main reason of the loss of male people on the Island is utilitarian one, as the young people earn their livelihood by catching fish from the sea and sometimes they cross the sea, to visit the Mainland for the business purpose. Even the storms in the sea, cannot stop them doing their duty as is evident from Cathleen’s remarks in, Riders to the Sea; “It’s the life of a young man to be going on the sea...”

Sea: As a Protagonist

      Conflict is the essence of every tragedy. As T.R. Henn Says, “Of this archetypal nature is the conflict of man with the Sea, the giver and taker of life. The Islandmen must be constantly aware of its menace, its moods, its protection.... “It is quite ironic that man is fully aware of the temperaments of the sea, but, the sea is quite indifferent to man. It does not have pity on poor Maurya, who was sometimes a mother of “six fine men”, in the end laments.

“...I’ve had a husband, six fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them and they coming to the world—and some of them were found and some of them were not found, but they’re gone now the lot of them....”

      So, we see that the most active character in the play is the sea and it is not exaggerate to say that sea is the protagonist of the play, which is impersonal and devoid of human attributes.

Theme of Nature Vs. God

      Riders to the Sea a one act tragedy, gives us a glimpse of tension between Nature and God. Nature, in the present play, is in kind of sea, which is malignant, and monstrous. It remains invisible oh the stage action, but is all-pervasive on the minds of audience and reader. Some critics have found a close affinity between the sea and the Immanent Will in Hardy’s novels. It is almost difficult to reach at the conclusion whether sea is independent or it works on the order of God. Synge, does not entangle in the issue but he just treats the play as a tragedy where sea is the villain who fulfills the playwright's purpose, to render the play a tragic look. Sometimes we may have filled in doubt on the presence of God, but the last speech of Maurya not only reveals her greatness of character, but we also get reply of our most of the questions when she says, “....What more can we want than that....”

The Theme of Female Loneliness and Helplessness

      Synge’s description of the life of the people on Island tells us that, “the men were in constant danger of being destroyed by the sea and thus of leaving the women to suffer the loss of the bread winner.” Women on these lands, who ‘live only for their children.’ are the passive sufferers. Synge says, “The maternal feeling is so powerful on these islands that it gives a life of torment to the women. Their sons grow up to be banished as soon as they are of age, or to live here in continual danger on the sea; their daughters go away also, or are worn out in their youth with bearing children that grow up to hanas them in their own then a little later.” So, how much piteous the situation is where the females, when, are child, lose their fathers and brothers and when youth comes and they get married, we are left alone by husbands and later children. Thus, on the Island, this is the continuous drama of female’s isolation, which is hallmark in Synge’s Riders of the Sea.

Theme of Enlightenment Through Sufferings

      Deep analysis of the play, Riders to the Sea, suggests us that the central theme signifies man’s struggle with sea, where it is the sea, which victories over the human being, but only at the surface level. A profound study of the climax of the drama, conveys us that in spite of enduring unbelievable suffering, Maurya stands as a superhuman, who challenges the sea in following words, “....theres isn’t anything more the sea can do to me...”. Her stoic acceptance finally lifts her from an ordinary human being to a person with outstanding features.

Death: A Recurring Theme

      People on the Island, live under the fear of death, as we are shown on the introduction of the play where the white boards are hanging on the wall, ill Maurya’s kitchen, she has already lost her four sons and waiting to recover the dead body of the fifth one, who has been missing for nine days. She has been left with her last son Bartley but it seems as if fate is no more sympathetic with poor Maurya and Bartley is also determined to go into the merciless sea. Even God, whose existence is never forgotten by the Islanders. He seems to be helpless and indifferent to the people.

Theme of Universality

      ‘Every tragedy must posses which is in abundance in Riders to the Sea. In the words of Robin Skelton’ “The island of Riders to the Sea is Ireland but more than Ireland. Its predicaments are those of the Irish peasant, but also those of all men subject to the tyranny of forces they do not understand. Its beliefs are those of the Irish peasant, but they are also those of all people who combine superstition with Christian belief, or who are troubled by thoughts of spiritual realities beyond their ability to understand and control...”

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