ELEMENT OF “RIDERS TO THE SEA”
ENG 125: Introduction to Literature
Prof. Melissa Eidson
May 19, 2014
The drama “Riders to the Sea” by John Millington Synge touched me as a mother of sons. Maurya, whose very name means bitter, loses her husband and her sons to the sea (She Knows, 2013-2014). The sea becomes the antagonist that she battles for her loved ones. The tone is that all hope is lost with no comic relief, utter helplessness to stop the deaths of her sons. Even the setting is foreshadowing the hopelessness ie. (Cottage kitchen, with nets, oilskins, spinningwheel, some new boards standing by the wall)(Clugston, 2010), the new boards were for a coffin for a son that hadn’t even died yet. Story draws the reader in from exposition to resolution.
The Exposition: which describes the setting; provides background details and introductions of the characters (Clugston, 2010). The setting was described as turn of the century Irish fishing village. The cottage kitchen, which is the heart of the home where family and visitors gather to eat and to share their lives, is marred by the new boards waiting to be made into a coffin. Coffins are not typically made in kitchens, so the symbolism of this shows that Maurya’s bitterness was so complete she put boards for the coffin, representing death, into the heart of her home, the kitchen. That alone shows the depth of the bitterness and anguish that she felt.
The Complication: Conflicts and circumstances that build to a high point of tension (Clugston, 2010) was the waiting for news of whether or not the son, Michael, had died at sea. The minor characters, the daughters Cathleen and Nora, tried their best to calm their mother and do the necessary things of keeping the house running. The priest is the foil in the story. A foil is a character whose appearance, behavior, and characteristics sharply contrast with the protagonist (Clugston, 2010). For when the priest was asked to stop Bartley from going to sea he refused saying “the Almighty God won’t leave her destitute…with no son living”(Clugston). Maurya didn’t agree with him, she thought that the priest knew nothing of the sea. The antagonist changes from the sea to her youngest son Bartley as Maurya tries to argue against him leaving to go to sea, but he goes anyway. The symbolism of Bartley riding a red horse: red symbolizes danger (Clugston, 2010). This symbolism of danger is clear to Maurya and she is startled by the red horse for her throat closes when she tries to give him her blessing. For as Bartley rides off to go to sea she tries to give him a blessing: “I tried to say "God speed you," but something choked the words in my throat. He went by quickly; and "the blessing of God on you," says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony, and there was Michael upon it — with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.”(Clugston, 2010)
Seeing the foreshadowing of Michael’s death, Maurya doesn’t give her youngest son her blessing. The dramatic irony in the story is that Bartley assumed that he had his mother’s blessing and he did not. This is also the climax of the story. Climax: The high point of tension that becomes the turning point in which the outcome is determined (Clugston, 2010). It is at that moment that the reader knows that she will lose all her sons to the sea. The antagonist has won.
Falling action: Reduces intensity, allowing the various complications to be worked out (Clugston) is when Maurya starts listing her dead. Her husband, her sons Stephen, Shawn, Sheamus and Patch all died at sea. In her mourning she described how they difficult it was to bear them, for they were difficult births. She described each one’s death and how they were brought to her. As she described the last one she receives the news that Michael is dead and that Bartley also died. Maurya no longer fights...
References: Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
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