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Riding It Out

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Riding it Out

Gilbert Goodwin

Ashford University

Riding It Out

In Synge's play Riders to the Sea, I found the inescapable pull of a story about a family's relationship with the Sea and the tragic destiny it entailed to be quite moving and thought provoking. The family's tragic destiny of losing its men to the sea is explored through the relationships of its last surviving members. Synge uses these relationships to show the dramatic irony of how the sea can provide and take away life in this ruggedly set turn of the century dramatic play, with the portrayal of a woman on the losing end of a lopsided battle against changing times and a tragic destiny.

We are introduced to an old woman of the British Isles. Her daughters are having a conversation concerning her latest son's probable demise at sea as the younger sister Nora has just been given what may be her brothers' clothes by a local priest, with the charge of finding out if indeed they are his.

NORA: In a low voice.

Where is she?

CATHLEEN: She's lying down, God help her, and may be sleeping, if she's able.

Nora comes in softly, and takes a bundle from under her shawl.

CATHLEEN: Spinning the wheel rapidly.

What is it you have?

NORA: The young priest is after bringing them. It's a shirt and a plain stocking were got off a drowned man in Donegal.

Cathleen stops her wheel with a sudden movement, and leans out to listen.

NORA: We're to find out if it's Michael's they are, some time herself will be down looking by the sea.

CATHLEEN: How would they be Michael's, Nora. How would he go the length of that way to the far north?

NORA: The young priest says he's known the like of it. "If it's Michael's they are," says he, "you can tell herself he's got a clean burial by the grace of God, and if they're not his, let no one say a word about them, for she'll be getting her death," says he, "with crying and lamenting."

The door which Nora half closed is blown open by a gust of wind.

They show sensitivity to their mother's plight, and a respect for their elders (Leder 1990) by reinforcing to each other that they have to make certainly sure the clothes are indeed their brothers before they inform their mother as she has already lost 6 sons prior, which is the greatest foreshadowing of the tragic destiny of the family. The conversation also sets a serious tone for the drama as well (Clugston 2010).

To their mother Maurya it is a horridly unthinkable thing to have no man to lead the family. As she vainly tries to keep her lone remaining son from the clutches of the sea, the tragedy is set and exposed (Clugston 2010). It is amusing to me to see that even more than 100 yrs ago mother's tried to "guilt" their kids into doing what they wanted and felt was the right and proper thing for their children to be doing. Like her physical orientation, Maurya's attitude toward the customs of the island is also traditional. She seems acutely aware that the order of island life is being irrevocably altered; much of what she says reflects her concern about the erosion of custom and tradition on the island. She sees a son willing to leave the cottage before he has done the proper honor to his brother: "It's a hard thing they'll be saying below if the body is washed up and there's no man in it to make the coffin" (Leder 1990). And while he resists his mothers attempts to hold him as long



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