Is Bartley a Christ figure in Riders to the Sea? In answering this question, consider the following facts: Bartley's death ironically liberates Maurya from the tyranny of the sea. He goes to the...

Is Bartley a Christ figure in Riders to the Sea?

In answering this question, consider the following facts: Bartley's death ironically liberates Maurya from the tyranny of the sea. He goes to the sea in stubborn defiance of his mother's repeated entreaties because of her premonitions. Bartley being the last male member of Maurya's family, his death salvages the old mother as she accepts the inevitability of death. Bartley could not be given his piece of bread, and the coffin-makers at the end of the play express their surprise that Maurya forgot to buy nails. We all know how bread and nails are long associated with the last supper and the crucifixion.

Expert Answers
iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is possible to see Bartley as a Christ figure in J.M. Synge's Riders to the Sea, and all of the potential examples you reference in your question are excellent reasons to subscribe to the Bartley-as-Christ theory. However, there is at least one important element that goes against this theory that's worth considering: the Christ in the Gospels goes willingly to his death with the full knowledge of what he is about to do and why he is going to do it. Bartley's sacrifice is a little more unwilling, as he is initially heading out to sea to support his family and make a living. Moreover, it seems as though he at least hopes to survive his voyage. This difference is key, as Christ is fully knowledgeable of his sacrifice well before he goes through with it, while Bartley's death seems to be a bit more of a mistake. Of course, that's not to say that the parallels between Christ and Bartley are non-existent, because they're certainly in the narrative. However, it's important to avoid taking the Christ-Bartley relationship too far, as there is a least one key difference between the two figures that destabilizes this relationship in a significant way.  

yscorse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Irish writer John Millington Synge’s 1904 play Riders to the Sea in some ways portrays the protagonist Bartley as a Christ-like figure. Although Bartley is his mother, Maurya’s, youngest son, he is her only surviving son when the play begins. Maurya lost her husband and five sons to the sea. For this reason, she protests when Bartley wishes to journey by boat to sell a horse. She worries he will suffer the same fate as all the other men in her life.

True to Maurya’s premonition, Bartley falls from his horse into the sea and drowns. This death carries a similar fated quality as the death of Christ, as if it were inevitable or meant to be. Maurya takes on the role of a grieving Mary figure, asking for holy water after hearing the news of the death of her last remaining son.

The play also, however, expresses a tension between Catholicism and the ancient pagan beliefs of rural Ireland. The mother finds that no amount of holy water, no number of prayers, no priestly exhortation can save her family from the unbeatable force of natural elements—the sea, the wind, and storms.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think there are definitely elements of the Christ story in this excellent narrative. You might want to think about the way in which Maurya sprinkles holy water on the clothes of her son, which perhaps could be viewed as an echo of the women going to find the body of Jesus and only finding the burial clothes that covered him.

epollock | Student

Possibly a christ figure, but it is somewhat vague as opposed to the clear references to the old man in The Old Man and the Sea.