Within the Gates Essay - Critical Essays

Sean O'Casey


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

This expressionistic morality play, the least-produced play of a seldom-produced playwright, has had a very mixed reception by audiences and critics alike. It belongs to the Devon period of plays by an expatriate, though still very Irish, writer who followed Shaw into English exile and who became in part his successor in the theater. The play, in four parts or seasons, is a kind of war cry against the modern, impoverished spirit of man, weighed down by mass conformity, though protested against by the poet-dreamer. In its simplest outline, the play is a modern Everywoman—O’Casey’s great concern for the life force is brought to focus here—who turns, in her final days on earth, to family, church, social agency, lover, and finally, poet. Though she dies making the sign of the cross, he alone sustains her with love and compassion.