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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What does this passage from The Playboy of the Western World by Synge mean?

I hit a blow on the ridge of his skull, laid him stretched out, and he split to the knob of his gullet.

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Christy's recounting the lurid—and completely apocryphal—tale of how he came to kill his brutal old tyrant of a father. He goes into extraordinary detail in telling his story in an attempt to make it sound not just convincing but also rather entertaining (as that's what his over-excited auditors demand).

In the above excerpt, he's regaling his admiring audience with the sordid details of that pivotal moment when, after years of domestic tyranny, he finally plucked up the courage to hand his old man a one-way ticket to Hell.

According to Christy's version of events, he hit his father on the ridge of his skull, which not only knocked him dead but also split his head wide open—from his skull right down to the "knob of his gullet": or, in other words, his Adam's apple. ("Gullet" is another word for the esophagus, the passage by which food passes from the mouth to the stomach.)

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This passage occurs in Act II of J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. More specifically, it comes from the portion of Act II in which Christy tells the story of the time when he murdered his father to a group of female admirers, including the Widow Quin.

This passage is particularly important because it illustrates Christy's maturation as a storyteller and growing confidence as an individual. When we first meet Christy in Act I, he's a shy young man who seems overly cautious and completely unsure of himself. However, through the power of his murderous narrative, Christy gradually develops confidence and gains a considerable level of social prestige and respect in the village. As such, through Christy' growing power as a storyteller, Synge is commenting on the power of narrative to reshape both an individual and an individual's place in the world. Indeed, Christy can be seen as an artistic figure who uses the power and craft of narrative to reconfigure his place within society. 

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