The Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge

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Themes

(Drama for Students)

Social Conventions
Although there are a few independent characters in the play, like the Widow Quin and Pegeen when she challenges male authority, most act according to social conventions. Shawn Keogh is the most conservative member of the community, refusing to step outside the boundaries set by the Catholic Church. He will not marry Pegeen until he has permission from the Vatican to do so, and he even refuses to be alone with her in fear of the Church's disapproval. Although most in the community consider Shawn's conservatism a mark of cowardice, they follow certain social standards as well. All consider Christy a hero since their community considers this type of rebellion praiseworthy.

Synge illustrates their devotion to convention by sending groups of people to listen to and approve of Christy's story. First, two local men, Jimmy Farrell and Philly O'Cullen, arrive and soon champion him for his bravery. Later, a group of young women appear bearing presents as rewards for his heroic deed. Yet, when the myth is exploded, they all again act according to a herd mentality as they almost lynch Christy, determined that his crimes deserve such harsh treatment.

Rebellion
The play contains an ironic mixture of rebellion and conformity to social conventions. All of the characters, save Shawn, value a rebellious spirit. Pegeen often rebels against convention when she stands up to her father and any other man or woman who comes into the pub. She is not afraid to ignore Church doctrine and derides Shawn for his devotion to it.

The village lionizes Christy for his murderous act because of the nature of that act. By killing his father, Christy was striking a blow against the tyranny of the older generation and of the traditions of the past. As a result, the community applauds his courage as expressed by Jimmy...

(The entire section is 465 words.)