Within the Gates Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

Sean O'Casey

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

In the period beginning with the Great Depression and ending with World War II, Sean O’Casey wrote four “morality plays,” WITHIN THE GATES, THE STAR TURNS RED (1940), RED ROSES FOR ME (1942), and OAK LEAVES AND LAVENDER (1946), through which he hoped to show the chaos and crisis—economic, political, moral, and spiritual—of the modern world. And, following his split with the Abbey Theatre over its refusal to produce THE SILVER TASSIE (1929), he continued to reject the realism of his earlier triumphs, especially JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK and THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS, in favor of experimentation with symbolic, poetic, and expressionistic theatrical styles. As he was quoted in The Sunday Times in 1934: “To hell with so-called realism for it leads nowhere.”

But exactly where the nonrealism of WITHIN THE GATES “leads” is also difficult to determine. Such “plot” as there is concerns the efforts of The Young Woman, a prostitute gradually dying from a heart ailment, to find sympathy, security, and “meaning” from those she meets in a public park. In the fashion of a true morality play, it is her soul that becomes the object of contention. An illegitimate child raised by nuns in a charity orphanage, she is mentally tormented by images of hell and damnation. Her foster father, The Atheist, offers her sympathy, but cannot satisfy her emotional needs because his humanity is...

(The entire section is 536 words.)