Dancing at lughnasa
Dancing at Lughnasa, a play written by Brian Frier, is a depiction of a man's memory of his childhood. The narrator, Michael, takes us back to the warm harvest days of August 1936, when he was a seven-year-old boy being brought up by his unmarried mother Chris and her four sisters. The play, through Michael's narration, touches on different aspects of life of the characters by exploring the occurrence of simple events which contribute an impact to their relationships. However, Michael, as a chorus figure, plays the most significant role which affects our perception of the events which unfold.
The play opens up with Michael's first speech. "When I cast back my mind to that summer of 1936 ¦ We see an apparent reflection of the memory through his language. This phrase is repeatedly mentioned in his first speech which reinforces the notion of reminiscing the past. On the other hand, we see as well how Frier distances Michael from the past events through a careful use of words. The word "cast in his the first phrase gives an impression that he is trying to detach his memory from him and when he say "cast back, it implies how he retraces back his memory without taking part in the past events. He is recollecting the past but not re-living it. This is evidently conveyed by the author for his main purpose of using Michael is as an observer of the present who oversees and judges the lives of the characters from the past. Therefore we see a sort of detachment and distancing of this personage from the events that he is recollecting. Through this technique, Michael appears like an omniscient narrator (although he is not) and this gives an impression that we are discovering the characters and the events at the same as the narrator. Although Michael is involved in these events, the narrative point of view could be qualified as a "third-person limited. Frier doesn't really give him an access to the character's thoughts or to what they do in private since he only re-tells a story that he witnessed when he was a child. This method is important because it allows the narrator to assess the events in an adult's point of view and this is one of his main functions as a chorus-figure which we will explore later on. Another remarkable linguistic aspect of this speech is that it is characterised by a lyrical tone. The choice of this tonality is important in order to remind us of the notion of musicality and the idea of dance. The tone is very comforting but at the same time it creates a nostalgic atmosphere and the tone itself seems to distance us from the characters being introduced.
Frier applies the "flashback technique by using Michael's memory to simply separate two elements of his character “ he detaches the adult Michael from Michael the boy. This explains why the whole play has no plot at all. The narrator relates a story of what he witnessed when he was seven therefore he is relating his memory in an objective manner which simply imply that during that summer of 1936, he did not really have a complete and a deeper understanding of those events. He is narrating a story according to how things had happened exteriorly. This explains as well his absence throughout the play for the reason that he hides and observe everybody as if it is his main preoccupation. "for the first time in my life I had a chance to observe him(his father), "It had fallen out of Aunt Kate's prayer book and she snatched it from me before I could study it in detail. Since the play echoes Michael's memory as a "boy, this answers the flatness of the plot. There is no climax in the play and it almost lacks colour and other ingredients that could make the story attractive. This parallels to the boy's innocence which is a barrier that separates him from the interior side of the characters. There is nothing spectacular that happens in the play and all the events are stagnant. The childish memory shows us the slow and constant rhythm of their everyday life. We see how they're engaged to simple things like making tea, knitting gloves, picking blackberries or feeding their pets. There is no apparent development of the characters. We just understand how they interact with one another but their inner selves are rarely revealed. The play appears just like an overview without an actual scenario. This lack of deep examination of the characters creates a frustration in the part of the readers or spectators. Frier does this in purpose by not giving the boy an access to the private thoughts of the characters so that as he narrates the story, he is obliged to assess the whole event in an adult's point of view which leads to a more subjective and to a more analytical view of the characters.
His words are the actual spirit of the text. They are the voice of a deeper understanding. He evidently assess the whole events by trying to formulate some sort of theories on how characters felt and why such events happened. The author does this not only to give as an access to the characters' thoughts but this technique is also significant in a sense that it allows us to explore different aspects and themes of the play with the narrator. For instance, through his speech, the idea of social conformity is explored. "It was only natural that our family would enjoy a small share of that fame “ it gave us that little bit of status in the eyes of the parish. And it must have helped my aunts to bear the shame Mother brought on the household by having me- ¦ We then see how social convention affects the lives of these sisters. The author wants to convey the notion of repression that these women suffer just because Chris is "out of wedlock. Moreover, through his speech, we are given some hints in the relationship described. For example, the picture of Jack in Kate's prayer book might suggest her possible feelings for him. Most importantly, we see that he assesses the events differently from himself as a child. . He even gives us another ambiguous hint that something terrible might occur, - "some awareness of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was, of things changing too quickly before my eyes, of becoming what they ought not be “ which we will discover later on in his last speech. He takes a closer look to these past actions. For instance, he tries to understand why Agnes and Rose didn't apply in the new factory. "Perhaps made the decision for both of them because she knew Rose wouldn't have got work there anyway. Or perhaps, as Kate believed, because Agnes was too notional to work in a factory or perhaps the two of them just wanted ¦away. The use of "perhaps show how he is uncertain of things but it also shows how he tries to formulate valid answers to things that might had confused him when he was still a boy. Furthermore, through his narration, we see his attitude to himself as a child and to his childhood environment. "And even though I was only a child of seven, at that time I know I had a sense of unease ¦ His attitude to this environment, again leads us one of the most powerful theme of the play, the world of men contrasted to the world of women. "My mother and her sisters suddenly catching hands and dancing a spontaneous step-dance and laughing “ screaming ! “ like excited schoolgirls, at the same time, I see that forlorn figure of Father Jack... We see that there seems to be a strong binding force that connects these sisters. It reinforces the notion their connectivity as sisters and women connected by the same principles, the same spiritual belief and the same fate. The "forlorn figure of Jack shows the detachment of the men from this world of women. Michael seems to invite us to sympathise for his Father Jack as he admires him and maybe because as a boy he also felt the same as Jack “ trapped in a women's world which made him feel like an outsider. When Jack shuffles "from room to room as if he was looking for something, this symbolises how men in this play try to find a way out and escape the isolation. However, having a complete knowledge of the play, the image of these women dancing and catching hands make our sympathy increase for them.. We see them like a chain which will later on disintegrate into small pieces.
There are also symbolism that Frier evokes in the play. Michael narrates this one particular moment because it is the final celebration of these women dancing before it changed forever. It was the moment of a new beginning for him as a boy for it was in this summer that he discovered events and felt something for the first time. In his speech, he uses words like, "first wireless, "August was about to begin, my Uncle Jack, came home from Africa for the first time, "I recall my first shock at Jack's appearance, "I remember my first delight and "for the first time of my life I had a chance to observe him (his father). However, this particular moment represent as well the path leading to their fate “ the disintegration one be one of the characters. In one part, the play ends with all the characters similar to their position in the beginning of the play. This "tableau image signifies how Michael sees his family as he casts back his mind in that summer of 1936. Since for him, it was the beginning and the end, he tries to preserve these "freeze characters in his memory.
The kite in the play symbolically represents Michael. He is the outsider trapped in a world of women when he was seven. He even distances himself as he narrates this story. However, like a kite, although he is detached from the whole events that occurred, there is still something that attaches him to this particular moment. His memory is comparable to the chord of the kite that connects him to the past. On the other hand, the swaying of this kite reminds us again of the notion of dancing which symbolises the escape for the five women. It is their only way out to release the tensions and pressures imposed by religion and duty.
Frier uses Michael to symbolically give a spirit and a life to this plotless play. The lack of plot is supported by the intervals between monologues and dialogues. It is actually through Michael's speech that we feel for the characters. His words are almost representing an explosion of emotions for it is through his speeches that we begin to feel something. It is through him that we discover what happened to Rose and Agnes and that he has a half-brother. However, there is an existing metaphoric symbolism of Michael's role and the other characters representation in the play. The play could symbolise the dance without a melody and Michael, by remembering the past and assessing the whole events through his analytical point of view, gives the rhythm and the harmonious melody to this dance. We observe how the play is almost like a pantomime because the actual text of the play seems to be lacking paralleling the lack of plot. Frier wants to show that words aren't really the voice of the truth and that the actions speak louder than words. "dancing as if language no longer existed because words were no longer necessary. But we could also view this symbolism in a different way. The whole book is almost like a song that convey several themes. The relationship between the five sisters and the male characters, Jack and Jerry, symbolise seven different notes (do re mi fa sol la ti) that are interrelated to each other creating a melodious harmony. However, to give a spirit to this melody, Michael symbolises the lyrics which gives the life to this song. This is reflected on his liyrical tone. Like the words of a song, he intervenes and overlaps on some of the scene just as how lyrics overlaps on some of the part of a song. And as the characters disappear one by one at the end, the song loses its notes and melodious elements which imply the disintegration of the sisters. "Now fade in very softly, just audible, the music “ "It is time to say Goodnight.