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 is the main source of irony in J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World?

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One of the biggest ironies in the play is that Christy only becomes the man the villagers originally thought him to be right at the end, when he's threatened for appearing to kill his old man. Then, for the first time, he shows real courage in the face of adversity, expressing a willingness to die for his alleged crime and also to shed the blood of as many others as he can before he does.

What's doubly ironic is that when Christy first arrived in the village, spinning the tall tale about murdering his father, he was hailed as a conquering hero. But once his subterfuge has been exposed, his attempts to kill Old Mahon for real are greeted with revulsion. This would indicate that the villagers will only accept such a killing if it can be suitably romanticized and therefore made palatable.

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The main theme of the play that lends it a potent sense of irony is the sense of drama and import of the title as it pertains to the world of the play. The idea that there is a singular "playboy" for the entire "Western World" echoes the sense that the inhibitants of the small village see only the small provincial nature of their own community, and do not realize that their visitor "the playboy" is only exotic and charismatic because he is not one of their own. He represents the wider world which most of them will never see, and when he departs after his brief visit, Pegeen laments his loss saying "I've lost him surely! I've lost the only Playboy of the Western World!" She does not realize the world is full of young men like Christy, and the implication is that as long as she stays in the village, she will never understand the limitations of her existence.

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