Riders to the Sea

The role of the sea in Synge's 'Riders to the Sea' College

W. B. Yeats, whose advice J. M. Synge has followed in exploring the Aran Islands in the remote northwestern corner of Ireland in 1898, mentions that in Riders to the Sea one finds “first to last the presence of the sea”. The impression of the vast stretches of the stormy gray Atlantic, lashing over the barren Aran Islands, is so predominant in the play that many critics would consider the protagonist to be not the bereaved mother Maurya, but her antagonist, the sea. Though the sea remains offstage, it is the most formidable presence in the play. It is an elemental force, fierce and brutal against which the characters continuously struggle, out of this struggle they achieve a rare quality of heroism that Synge celebrates in Riders to the Sea.

The characters in Synge’s play seem to be interlocked in a life-and- death combat with the sea. The sea is both the preserver and the destroyer for these islanders. With negligible possibility for farming, the inhabitants of these islands are compelled to rely on fishing as their only livelihood. At the same time the violent Atlantic storms make the premature death of the fishermen inevitable. The seawater, in the play, does not symbolize only life and rejuvenation, but,...

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