Riders to the Sea main character Maurya, an old peasant woman, standing on the coast

Riders to the Sea

by J. M. Synge

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Please comment on Maurya's character in Riders to the Sea.

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The character of Maurya is one that haunts us long after we have finished seeing or reading this excellent short play. As the play develops we realise that, out of her six sons, five have died at sea, and her last remaining son is planning on voyaging out to Donegal by sea, in spite of all the wind and rain and high tide. Throughout, the severe poverty of the family is illustrated, as Bartley, the remaining son, feels he has to go and sell the animals to gain money for the family. However, Maurya seems to be able to sense the fate that awaits him, as she refuses to give him her blessing as he leaves and laments the fate that awaits her:

He's gone now, God spare us, and we'll not see him again. He's gone now, and when the black night is falling, I'll have no son left me in the world.

However, when the news does finally come about Bartley's death, Maurya faces it with dignity and strength. Note what she says as the women bring the news to her:

They're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me.

Her sense of resignation and almost the way in which she welcomes the "rest" that she knows will be hers shortly shows tremendous stoicism and pride. The story ends with the image of her grief and also the intense poverty of the family that can't afford nails for the coffin of Bartley and has driven this family into this state.

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