What is the role of the sea in "Riders to the Sea"?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In Synge's "Riders to the Sea," the sea is that which provides a living, such as it is, for the characters of the small cottage.  Unfortunately, it is also that which causes their suffering. 

The men of the family, past and present, were and are trapped, in a sense.  To make a living, they must go to sea.  But the sea is the bringer of suffering and tragedy.  They are, in effect, in a no-win situation.  They must go to sea to survive economically, but death on the sea is so common that all of Maurya's sons, as well as her husband, are killed on it.

Set on an island, the play's characters are, of course, constantly surrounded by the sea.  The sea, therefore, pervades the play, contributing to the tragic mood.  For Maurya, the only escape is to lose every male in the family.  She finds a sort of peace when she loses everything she has to lose.  Having nothing left for the sea to take, Maurya no longer has reason to fear it.  She is a tragic figure resigned to her suffering. 

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