The play is set in the Dublin slums or tenements in the years of the Iris Civil War 1922 and 1923. The whole play centers on the Boyle family. Juno Boyle is married to Boyle who calls himself Captain Boyle. Boyle is a useless and irresponsible drunkard who shuns the reality of work at every stage in the play, and spends his time in the pub drinking with his friend Joxer Daly.
The Boyles have two children Johnny and Mary. Johnny is a sickly individual who has been involved in the Republican movement but he ended up betraying a comrade by the name of Tancred. Johnny spends his days locked up in the house fearful of his life.
His mother Juno is a selfless character who is concerned all the time about other people. Juno’s daughter Mary is deeply concerned about appearances. She is a shallow character who seems to judge people and things from the outside. When we meet her at the beginning of the play, we learn she is on strike because of the dismissal of a young girl called Jenny Claffey. Yet we are told from Juno how Mary never had a good word to say about Jenny Claffey in her whole life.
The family are told that they will inherit money from a distant relative who has died. Bentham is the solicitor who informs them of this fact. He begins to have a relationship with Mary and she becomes pregnant. Bentham shortly after this abandons her. The Boyles begin to borrow money and accumulate a great deal of debts.
The legacy never materializes, and the Boyles are forced to return the borrowed goods. Johnny is dragged off to be shot for the betrayal of Tancred. Juno finally realizes that Boyle will never take on his responsibilities as father and breadwinner and so she leaves him and sets up home with Mary.
This theme dominates the play at every level. The whole play highlights the cruel irony that while many people were fighting for ideals and principles there were others who were suffering from the debilitating effects of the poverty. Because of the negative effects generated by poverty escapism assumes a major and dramatic element in the lives of characters. Mary’s tragic situation occurs because of poverty. When it becomes clear that the Boyles will not inherit any legacy, Bentham disappears forever abandoning Mary alone to have her baby.
Jerry Devine standards of what are essential features in a husband are set out in terms of money. At one stage he tells Mary how the job is worth 3 50
Juno who is the only character rooted in the harsh practical everyday world of necessity realizes that money, hard work, and responsible social commitment are stronger and more realistic values in this world than principles and ideals. Her pragmatic stance on how principles won’t pay butchers is in striking contrast to the incessant evasion from reality inherent in all of the other characters.
The theme of Religion is also a dominant feature in the play. The play is set against a strong Catholic background. O Casey makes frequent use of images of Our Lady and the votive light to project an air of realism and authenticity in the play. There are also a variety of different religions, and attitudes expressed throughout the play. One of O Casey’s chief mottos in the play seems to show the co- existence of strong religious convictions, together with a sincere and humane commitment to one’s fellowman.
Juno’s faith is sincere, authentic, and traditional. She believes on Johnny’s death that God can do nothing against the stupidity of men, that her husband should be praying novenas for a job, and that
what Ireland needs is more piety. On the other hand, Bentham espouses a religion by the name of Theosophy. This is projected as vague and abstract and certainly seems to be compatible with his own shallow commitment to people.
Reality and Fantasy
The play dramatizes the conflict between the dream world and the world of reality and shows what happens when a character is...
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