The Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge

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Could you explain the theme of patricide in J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World?

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Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World revolves around Christy Mahon's "murder" of his overbearing father. Though Christy fails to actually kill his father (although he does succeed in bludgeoning him with a spade), his tale of supposed patricide catapults him into celebrity status in the play's small town setting. However, once Christy's father inconveniently appears outside the pub the young man is staying in, the villagers roundly condemn Christy, and so he is forced to attack his father once again and then leave the village.

So, as you can see, the play rests upon the powers of a story about patricide but does not actually include any patricide in the literal sense of the word. As such, the theme of patricide can be seen as largely symbolic. Christy must symbolically kill his father in order to establish himself as an independent adult, and it is this rebellion that enables him to transcend his past and become an independent agent. Additionally, we can view Christy's "patricide" as a symbolic refutation of tradition and established order, as Christy's father represents a tyrannical past that seeks to control younger generations with an iron fist. All in all, though there is no actual patricide in the play, the symbolic suggestion of it becomes an important theme touching on ideas regarding identity, rebellion, and independence.   

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Gracie O'Hara eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The patricide theme in J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World is based on the plot incident in which Christy Mahon thinks he has killed his father. On a plot level, it is this belief that he has killed his father that gives Christy the self-confidence coupled with respect from people in the village, that enables him to become the `playboy`of the title. On a symbolic level, this can be read from a Freudian perspective, as playing out the Oedipal drama in which a boy needs to symbolically kill his father in order to acheive independence and manhood.

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