Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Silver Tassie is an uncompromising antiwar play, focusing on the tragic wound of Harry Heegan, a common soldier who goes to war as mindlessly as he goes to a football match. Sean O’Casey concentrates so intensely on his theme that one wonders how William Butler Yeats or anyone else could have considered the play to lack unity, although this was one of the alleged reasons for Yeats’s rejection of the play when O’Casey offered it to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

The four acts all show the folly of Harry’s involvement in World War I. In act 1, the play presents Harry in the prime of life, as an athletic hero at the peak of his strength, though completely unaware of the possibilities and values of life. Act 2, a controversial experiment with expressionist and symbolic theater, shows the cynicism and despair of the common soldier at the front lines. Act 3 portrays the bitterness of the veterans in a veterans’ hospital, and act 4 contrasts the grim plight of the disabled Harry Heegan with the vitality of those who were not combatants and have normal lives and futures to anticipate. In its study of Harry’s loss of many of his life’s hopes during and after the war, the play is quite unusual: Few modern dramas cover such an extended period of time. The constant reiteration of the antiwar theme is obvious.

Had Harry been portrayed as a more thoughtful man, his disabling wound and the loss of a normal life might have been...

(The entire section is 484 words.)