Illustration of Christopher Mahon with a noose around his neck and a woman standing in front of him

The Playboy of the Western World

by J. M. Synge

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Discuss the character of Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World.

Quick answer:

In The Playboy of the Western World, Christy Mahon is a bragging coward who swaggers and boasts a lot but is really a silly, weak young man who does little but cause trouble.

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Let's talk about the character of Christy Mahon in J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. Christy is a weak sort of person. He has been under his father's thumb, it seems, for a long time. At least that is Christy's perspective on the situation. He is tired of being bossed around by his dad, and the final straw comes when Old Man Mahon wants his son to marry a rich older woman. Christy wants nothing to do with that, and in the midst of an argument with his father, Christy completely loses his temper and hits Old Man Mahon over the head.

Rather than stay and see if he can help his father, though, Christy immediately panics and runs. He is a coward at heart, and deep down he probably knows it because, when he gets to the Flaherty pub, he turns to a false bravado to help calm his fears. Christy brags about his deed. He plays it up, telling a more exaggerated version every time. The locals are impressed, and Christy feels better. At least he is getting the attention he seems to crave.

In fact, Christy gets a bit more attention than he can handle, for the ladies are highly attracted to him, including Widow Quin. Yet Christy decides that he likes Pegeen, the daughter of the pub owner. Christy plays up his situation in every way he can, enjoying his role as local hero (perhaps because it helps him forget that he is a guilty coward). Christy swaggers and boasts until, of course, he catches sight of his father, who is not dead at all and has come to look for his son.

Christy now panics yet again and tries to convince his admirers the man really isn't his father, just some lunatic, but his cowardice and lies are showing through. Christy hits his father again, and now the villagers turn their backs on him, accusing him of murder and preparing to hang him. Christy tries to continue his bravado, and his father has to rescue him.

Unfortunately, though, Christy doesn't seem to learn anything from his experiences. He goes out with his father, bragging just like before, insisting that he will now be the “gallant captain” and will romp through life. He is a silly, weak fellow until the very end.

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