What is the central theme of the Playboy of the Western World by Synge? Is it patricide or development of main character or something else?
There are indeed a number of important themes in The Playboy Of The Western World,but I’d like to suggest an over-arching theme, one that unifies all the lesser themes into a coherent whole. That theme is the overriding need of oppressed communities for heroes.
In setting forward this thesis, it’s important to understand the historical context in which Playboy is set. By the time the play was written, in the early twentieth century, Ireland had been a part of what eventually became the British Empire for the better part of 800 years. During this period in their history, the Irish people were subjected to systematic cultural, religious and economic oppression by their British masters. Numerous sporadic outbreaks of rebellion and insurrectionary violence took place intermittently but did little to change the colonial power structure.
Christy’s attempted acts of patricide in The Playboy Of The Western World should be seen against this wider historical background. Although patricide is a long-established theme in world literature, in this specific case it can be seen to symbolise...
the successive failed attempts by the Irish to throw off the British imperial yoke.
The good folk of County Mayo are in desperate need of a hero; indeed they are so desperate that they gladly latch onto the romantic myth of the heroic Irish rebel, even when the particular rebel turns out to be a (would-be) patricide.
This helps to explain why the locals are so angry on discovering that Christy’s attempt to kill his father actually failed. They have invested so much of themselves in this heroic myth that their disappointment is all the more crushing when the true extent of Christy’s incompetence is revealed. He’s no hero, after all; the spell has been broken, and his subsequent botched attempt to kill his father again does nothing to bring the myth back to life.
The need of oppressed communities for heroes and their willingness to tolerate ‘heroic’ acts of violence also serve to underline how rebellion can upend accepted social norms and hierarchies. The villagers in the play are prepared to challenge their community’s most cherished values so long as they are able to transcend the daily humiliation of colonial oppression and rise to a new level of mythical consciousness, one that provides a tantalising glimpse of a new and better world.