Riders to the Sea Questions and Answers
by J. M. Synge

Riders to the Sea book cover
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What are the main ideas and themes of "Riders to the Sea" by John Synge?

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the major themes of Riders to the Sea is the inexorability of fate. That is, fate is inevitable, and there is nothing humans can do to stop it. At the beginning of the play, the matriarch of the family, Maurya, hopes she can save her last remaining son from drowning in the sea as all of her other sons and her husband have done. Despite her efforts to stop him, her last son goes to the sea and drowns. Maurya, though bereft, now knows that there is nothing left for the sea to take from her. A related theme is the powerlessness of humans, including religious figures, to combat the power of nature and of fate. Even the priest in the village cannot stop the sea from claiming Maurya's sons and husband. Religion is powerless in the face of nature and fate.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Riders to the Sea" by John Synge is a play about peasant life in the Aran islands of the western coast of Ireland. The play is not overtly ideological, but does give a heart-wrenching vision of the lives of poor, Roman Catholic Irish fisherfolk, who are dependent on the sea for their livelihood. 

The first major theme we encounter is the implacability of nature. Eight men in the family have died from drowning. Synge shows how this experience, typical of the area, shapes the religious and philosophical beliefs of the characters in the play, leading them to a sort of stoical fatalism. Although they are portrayed as turning to religion for solace, religion is not shown as actually offering consolation, but rather encouraging resignation to their fate and a sort of passivity in face of their struggles. 

Another major theme we find is an association of women with endurance in the face of suffering. 

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