Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In a 1906 essay titled “Ibsen and National Drama,” Padraic Colum described his efforts to create Irish dramas that could be compared favorably to the works of the influential Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Perceptive critics such as Zack Bowen and Sanford Sternlicht noted similarities both in the art of dialogue and in the representation of moral conflicts between The Fiddler’s House and Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (pr., pb. 1879; A Doll’s House, 1880). In both plays, important characters must choose between the security of a comfortable home and their desire to experience a new type of freedom. To varying degrees, the five characters in The Fiddler’s House all deal with the complex relationship between freedom and social responsibility.

Colum wrote this play shortly after Irish peasants had obtained the legal right to own real estate. Thus, Irish farmers no longer had to work for absentee landlords. The importance Anne and James attach to preserving this newly acquired right must have seemed eminently sensible to Dublin theatergoers in 1907. Anne and James are not materialistic characters; rather, they understand clearly the real danger of their falling into poverty if they do not own their farm. James loves Anne, but he knows that enough food and a warm house are indispensable for a good marriage. The two are sympathetic realists who prefer security over adventure. Brian represents perhaps the opposite...

(The entire section is 478 words.)