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2007 – Cultural context Q1 (a) (2-3) A4 pages
‘Imagine that you were a journalist sent to investigate cultural context in the play Sive. Discuss your findings.’

The cultural content in which the events of J.B Keane’s play ‘Sive’ are played out is an interesting one, which takes us back to the Ireland of the 1950’s. The play is set in a small rural farming community in a remote corner of co. Kerry. The world portrayed in this text is a cry far from modern Ireland today.

Firstly I will discuss the poverty portrayed in the play Sive as it is strongly shown throughout the play including the opening scene where we are given a detailed description of the house. Life in the Galvin house is primitive as is expressed in the stage directions. ‘Poorly furnished, open hearth, two buckets and a basin, a black skillet hangs from a crane ‘’. This is clearly a difficult place in which to survive and this is reflected in the characters such as Mena and Thomasheen. We are then introduced to Sive, it is clear that from the description of the house and Sive’s clothes that the family live in poverty. ‘’ She wears a tweed coat too small for her around her a flimsy scarf’’ The cast of Sive (Nana, Mena, Sive, Liam, Thomasheen, Séan and Mike) all live in a society characterised by poverty. A better status and more respect were given the more money and land you owned. For example, Sean Dóite, a man ‘as old as the hills’, was considered a respectable and worthy husband for young 18 year old Sive all because he had money. The thought of Sive marrying Séan would not have become a topic if Thomasheen hadn’t mentioned to Mena the 200 sovereigns ‘he was willing to pay for the girl’. ‘’Think of the 200 sovereigns dancing in the heal of your hand’’ he told her. Because of the amount of work Mena and her husband had to do to earn their living the thought of two hundred sovereigns was a delight. Mike admits that the money is a ‘great temptation’. Both are mindful of the constant threat of poverty and both are keen to leap on the chance to an increase of income. For Mean and to a lesser extent mike, financial security is paramount.

The narrow minded judgmental, nationalistic and catholic values have a strong hold on the community of Ireland during the 1950’s. Throughout the play Sive is referred to as an ‘illegitimate chid’ ‘’without a brown penny to her name’’. When Mena learns of Sean Dóite’s wish to marry Sive knowing of her illegitimacy Mena is shocked yet relived. It is likely for a girl like Sive to grow as ‘an old maid’. It was unknown for illegitimate children to marry in those days. Sive’s mother is rarely commented on throughout the play by any of the characters and when she is it is only for a brief moment. Any comment made by Mena is a cruel one ‘’ you’ll come to no good either, like the one that went before you’’. Sive’s mother is an embarrassment to the family name and goes against the catholic values of having a child out of wedlock. This belief system opened the fate for Sive’s marginalisation. She is a second class citizen who is denied respectability in that world. The Catholic Church had a powerful strong hold on rural communities in the 1950’s; Keane conveys these through religious references such as Mena’s quote ‘Saints preserve us’.

Old and valued traditions in the play are easily identified within the characters actions, motives and quotes. A good example of this is Nana living with her son and his wife. She is looked after by the family as it is a strong tradition that she stays there till her dying day. Another example would be the matchmaking and arranged marriages within the community. However Sive and Liam reflect the New Ireland and the hope for a better future. For the young couple, love and personal happiness is more important than financial security. ‘Imagine marrying someone you’ve never met before!’ this thought appals them both where as it was accepted and acknowledged as the norm during Nana’s and...
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