1. Opening Scene (until Thomasheen Sean Rua comes in)
The stage instructions at the start give some insight into the context of 1950’s rural Ireland, which is insular and where people were not well off (“the kitchen is poorly furnished”). There are typical features of a rural cottage of the time – the sugan chairs, the black skillet hanging over the fire, the creamery tank, the sack of flour. The old lady (Nanna) smoking the pipe also suggests a very different cultural context to modern times. There’s a suggestion of changes to come – the next generation, represented by Sive is getting educated (and until “about 18) in her case). But old ways die hard and Mena resents the opportunities Sive has – “Out working with a farmer you should be, my girl, instead of getting your head filled with high notions”. These are opportunities Mena didn’t have when she was young – “When I was her age in my father’s house I worked from dawn till dark to put aside my fortune”. We learn about how emigration was part of the cultural context – Nanna tells how Sive’s father went to England for work (but was drowned in the mines). We see that cars were unusual in rural areas in these times (at least years earlier when Sive was born) – when the doctor came on the night she was born people thought the headlights (“two roundy balls of fire”) were the eyes of the devil, which also shows the level of superstition in this cultural context. We also hear the distinctive local language – e.g. “the calves are bawling”, “the hobs of hell”, “bohareen”. The cultural context in Casablanca is also conveyed well in the opening scene of that work where we get the flavour of a very distinctive setting, but of course it contrasts strongly with the cultural context of Sive. Time wise there’s only about 15 years in the difference, but geographically and historically it’s very different – e.g. there’s no political aspect to Sive, no outside forces like war putting pressure on characters, but as we’ll see in later scenes there are intrigues of a different sort. In Casablanca there is much more consciousness of an outside world – America, Portugal, France etc
This scene mainly features Nanna and Mena, a family relationship involving mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. It’s obviously a very poisoned relationship. From the very beginning Mena is giving out to Nanna (eg. about her pipe smoking). Nanna resents Mena marrying into her (Nanna’s) house – “What a happy home we had before you came into it”. She resents how bossy Mena is – “Am I to be scolded, night and day in my own house”. She nags Mena about the fact that she hasn’t had any children - “Fitter for you to be having three or four children put from you at this day of your life”. She even insults Mena’s family – “the stock you came from … ye used to drink yeer tay out of jampots”, and later: “your father a half starved bocock of a beggar” Mena gives plenty of insults back – “cackling with your bad tongue”, “that oul’ bloody woman in the corner”, “You have great gumption for a woman with nothing”. Mena is also cranky with Sive, perhaps jealous of the educational opportunities she has - “You’ll come to no good”, “Your uncle and I work ourselves to the marrow of the bones to give you schooling”. By contrast Nanna and Sive get on well. Much of their conversation in this scene is Sive trying to get information about her mother (Nanna’s daughter) – “You must have so many stories about my mother when she was young”. None of the main relationships in Casablanca is as poisonous as that between Nanna and Mena. There is a comparable resentment of Rick towards Ilsa after she breaks up with him in Paris and we see this resentment boil over when he first talks to Ilsa privately in Casablanca. However, unlike in Sive, it’s only temporary and the characters reconcile. Another contrast is that the relationships in Casablanca are not family based.
General Vision and Viewpoint
It’s often difficult to figure out vision and viewpoint from the opening scene of a work. Presumably from this scene we deduce that Keane sees poisonous relationships and family conflicts are undesirable and destructive. We are probably meant to feel a certain sympathy for Sive caught in the middle of this corrosive conflict, and to feel badly about the disrespect for the elderly that Mena shows – “Saying your prayers you should be, at this hour of your days, instead of cackling with your bad tongue”. We might even feel sympathy for Mena at this stage when Nanna gets at her for not having children – “It isn’t my fault I have no child”.
In the opening of Casablanca it was easy to see where the filmmaker’s sympathies lay in relation to the war, which side we, the audience, were meant to be on. Our sympathies are elicited for the refugees and those trying to get out of Casablanca.
2. Mena and Thomasheen Seán Rua Discuss the Match
The whole business of matchmaking is a feature of this cultural context. One person, Thomasheen Sean Rua actually has this as a profession. This was a feature of rural Ireland at the time. This presentation of the “business” gives it a bad name – Mena and Thomasheen plan to marry Sive off to an old man just so they can make money out of it – no consideration of romance or even compatibility. Even Sive’s freedom of choice isn’t assumed. Yet her initial reaction, which is negative (“Are you by any chance taking leave of your senses”), shows that the culture wasn’t very accepting of matchmaking for a schoolgirl (also seen later in Mike’s reaction). The “dowry” aspect of this is referred to but it won’t apply in this case – “No fortune is wanted, I tell you … he will give money to have her”. We also see the stigma attached to being illegitimate at the time: “… illegitimate to crown all! She has no knowledge of her father, and her mother is dead with shame” (Mena). We see the value put on property and money in this rural community – “He have the grass of twenty cows. He have fat cattle besides and he have the holding of money”. Later Thomasheen tries to convince Mena using the prospect of her getting money – “Think of the 200 sovereigns dancing in the heel of your fist”. (Money, but not land, is important in Casablanca – it can buy people’s way to freedom). Sean Dota has a certain amount of power because of his (relatively) high social status – “There is a servant boy and a servant girl. There is spring water in the back yard”. Again the changing of cultural context is flagged by Mena (not with any great approval) – “’Tis all love and romancing these days with little thought for comfort or security”. We get a glimpse of the loneliness that can afflict people, especially single older men in rural Ireland – “He would swim the Shannon for a young wife … There is the longing he have been storing away these years past” (Thomasheen about Sean Dota); “I am a single man. I know what a man have to do who have no woman to lie with him. He have to drink hard, or he have to walk under the black sky when every eye is closed in sleep” (Thomasheen about himself). There’s more of the distinctive local language – “hould your hoult woman”, “Rameish”, “bean a’ tighe”.
The prospect of a relationship between Sive and Sean Dóta is not a very appealing one – even Mena rejects the idea at first – “He’s as old as the hills”. It only becomes a possibility in her mind when there’s a chance she’ll get money out of it, so we see the damaging effect money can have on relationships (as nearly happened with the young couple that Rick saves in Casablanca). Thomasheen, thinking selfishly, claims that age difference in a relationship isn’t such a bad thing – “What matter if he is as grey as the goat. There is many a young man after a year of marriage losing his heart for love-making”. He reckons such relationships are not new: “Ah, it’s an old story girl. The old man and the young woman”. Thomasheen seems to regret being single (see above), but he has some insight into romance and marriage. Speaking to Mena about her relationship with her husband Mike, he says: “You have the man. You have the companion … and there is one will between ye”. (Though we find that’s far from the truth, at least in relation to the proposed match). Sive is illegitimate, seen as the result of a relationship gone wrong, and now she is threatened with what seems like a disastrous match. The relationships in Casablanca are seen in a much more positive light. Though there seems to be betrayal (of Rick by Ilsa) as is looming for Sive this is something of a misunderstanding and is mended. None of the close relationships in Casablanca are as nasty as that between Sive and Sean Dóta threatens to be.