Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Set in the turbulence of the rebellion of Easter, 1916, The Plough and the Stars is a landmark in O’Casey’s career for a number of reasons. First, it is the powerful conclusion of his Troubles Trilogy (the struggle for Irish independence is familiarly known as “the troubles”). It is also a more complex and far-reaching play, both formally and intellectually, than its predecessors. Unlike O’Casey’s earlier plays, The Plough and the Stars draws on O’Casey’s own personal experience as a member and subsequent critic of the Irish Citizen Army. The Plough and the Stars also gave the playwright his first taste of theatrical controversy in the hostile reaction of the audience to the first production, which was staged at the Abbey Theatre on February 8, 1926.
The play’s title refers to the flag of the Irish Citizen Army. In this way, O’Casey identifies his principal characters in terms of their class and their organization. As a result, the social and economic vulnerability that has typically affected the characters of O’Casey’s earlier works is less evident here. Nora Clitheroe not only aspires to respectability, which is what Mary Boyle expected Charles Bentham to provide in Juno and the Paycock; she can also afford some of respectability’s trappings. This line of thought makes Uncle Peter, who is Nora’s uncle, not entirely a figure of fun. Through him, O’Casey introduces the audience to working-class ritual and grandeur, though, in contrast to Jack Clitheroe’s uniform, what Uncle Peter’s regalia represents is laughably out of date.
These details establish a basis for introducing more important distinctions within the play’s community of characters....
(The entire section is 710 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Fluther Good has put a new lock on the door of the Clitheroes, and Mrs. Gogan brings in a hatbox, just delivered for Nora Clitheroe. Mrs. Gogan is convinced that Nora is putting on airs and buying too many new clothes to hold on to her husband. Nora’s uncle, Peter Flynn, drifts in and out, readying his uniform of the Irish National Foresters. Peter has a chip on his shoulder that all the tenement dwellers take turns knocking off. He is an ineffectual man and he knows it.
When the Covey, Nora’s cousin, comes in, telling them that he has been laid off from work because the boys have mobilized for a demonstration for independence, he arouses both Peter and Fluther. The Covey is less inclined to follow the flag of the Plough and the Stars than to go ahead with his work. Peter and the Covey are arguing away when Nora comes home and quiets them, declaring that there is small hope of ever making them respectable. She is pleased with the way Fluther had put on the lock, but Bessie Burgess, a vigorous but rather coarse woman, scornfully berates Nora for treating her neighbors shamefully, not trusting them. As Fluther breaks up the women’s wrangling, Jack Clitheroe comes home and sends Bessie away. He tells Nora that he will speak to Bessie when she is sober again.
Jack is despondent because the Citizen Army is to meet tonight. He had lost the rank of captain to Ned Brennan and, sulking, refuses to attend meetings. Wanting to be a leader, he does not have strength of leadership. Nora tries to get his mind off the meeting by making love to him. They are interrupted by Captain Brennan with a dispatch from the general telling Jack where to report. Jack does not understand why he is to report until Brennan tells him that the boys have given him the title of commandant, word of which is in a letter Nora had never delivered. Disturbed because Nora had withheld the letter, Jack goes to the meeting with Brennan.
Mollser Gogan, a child in the last stages of tuberculosis, asks Nora if she might stay with her, since everyone else has gone to the demonstration. Fluther and Peter, overwhelmed by the oratory of the speakers at the demonstration, go to a bar to pour in more courage. Even in the public house, the voice of the speaker follows them, urging bloodshed and war. Bessie and Mrs. Gogan are engaged in a verbal battle when they enter. Bessie, drunk, is ready for a hair-pulling, but the barman sends both women away. Peter is left holding Mrs. Gogan’s baby, as Mrs. Gogan forgets the child as she is piloted out of the bar. He hurries out to find her.
Fluther, though he had intended to give up drinking before the meeting, decides the time has come for all the liquor he can hold, and he is generous enough to stand treat, even to the Covey and Rosie, a prostitute. Fluther and the Covey get into an argument on the labor movement,...
(The entire section is 1168 words.)