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‘A person is often greatly influenced by his or her social setting.’ Show how the social setting greatly influences a character in one of the texts on your 2008 Leaving Certificate Examination
Key words: Money Marriage Gender differences Attitude towards love and marriage
The text I have studied as part of my comparative course is John B. Keane’s tragic play, Sive. It is clear from the outset that the world in which Sive lives influences her so greatly that it ultimately leads to her being pushed into a situation from which she sees no escape but suicide. Were it not for the setting, the attitude of those around her to money and marriage, and the clear power imbalance between men and women, then I do not believe Sive would have met with such a terrible end.
Sive is set in a remote, hilly farm in the south of Ireland. Life in the house is primitive and the Glavin farm is on poor, boggy land. This is a difficult place to make a living, and the harshness of the setting is reflected in the hardness of characters such as Mena and Thomasheen. They are so keen to ensure a comfortable and secure future for themselves that they are prepared to sell Sive to the lecherous old farmer, Sean Dota. If the Glavin family’s situation was not so desperate, I do not think Sive would be faced with such an appalling prospect.
The isolation of the Glavin farm makes it possible for Mena to isolate Sive from the outside world and thus to bully and browbeat her into submission when Sive voices her horror at the thought of the match. A key moment which shows the way in which Mena isolates Sive in an effort to force her to agree to the marriage and thus make Mena’s future more secure occurs in Act 1, Scene 3. Mena and Sive are alone in the kitchen and Mena takes the opportunity to attempt once more to make Sive accept the match. She tells Sive that she would be wealthy and have ‘the
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handling of thousands and the fine clothes and perfumery’. We can understand why Mena, who has known only poverty in her own life, would find such a prospect enticing. Sive, however, is unmoved, saying ‘I do not want to give offence, but I will never marry such a man. Seeing that gentle persuasion has failed, Mena shows her true colours and tells Sive in no uncertain terms that she will not be going back to school any more, nor will she be sharing a room with Nanna. She thus makes Sive a prisoner in her own home, and effectively cuts her off from any sources of help or comfort. Alienated and alone, Sive is now more vulnerable than ever.
Mena’s motivation is money, nothing more and nothing less. It is because of money that she and Thomasheen Sean Rua contrive to make the match between Sive and Sean Dota. Mike, although he loves his niece, is ultimately won over to their side by his desire to gain some wealth. He tells Mena that ‘money is the best friend a man ever had’. He is corrupted by the thought of the £200 and betrays Sive in order to get it. Thomasheen has his own agenda: if he is paid for arranging the match he will at last be able to marry a local widow and will have the chance of a better life. In their greed, the three adults are prepared to ruin a young girl’s life and chance of love. It is clear that the poverty of the world in which Sive lives has a huge effect on her life.
Mena and Thomasheen are prepared to sell Sive and condemn her to an entirely unsuitable match because their view of marriage is that it is nothing more than a business transaction. Thomasheen is deeply scornful of any talk of romance, and humiliates Mike when he suggests that Sive will want true love in her life. He astutely points out that there is no love in the marriage between Mike and Mena, caustically asking Mena if, when Mike came home from the...