Themes and Meanings
Red Roses for Me is about spiritual and intellectual freedom: how it is achieved and what it costs. Religious and political bigotry are products of poverty and deprivation. Desperate for something to believe in, some people trust in miracles wrought by statues. They are slaves of superstition, though they are open to instruction because they are sensitive to beauty. Poetic visionaries, such as Ayamonn, translate religious faith into political action.
To do that, Ayamonn must free himself from temptations to settle for less. He must resist his mother and his sweetheart, who want domestic security. He must defend freedom of intellectual inquiry from narrow-minded bigotry, even the right of atheist Mullcanny to study and teach the science of biological evolution against attacks by Ayamonn’s own friends, Brennan O’The Moor and Roory O’Balacaun, a small-time Protestant capitalist and a zealous Irish-Catholic revolutionary. These two are bound to Ayamonn by friendship and social class, unlike the two bigoted Protestant vestrymen, Foster and Dowzard, and the police inspector, Finglas. These three lack the compassion to understand Ayamonn, so they help to cause his death, which is, ultimately, a ritual sacrifice. The Rector accepts that sacrifice, as do Ayamonn’s mother, Brennan, and, eventually, Sheila. They understand what the Inspector and his kind never will: The workers’ strike for a shilling is a sign of spiritual integrity. Money comforts the flesh, but it is also a symbol for freedom of spirit born of hope.
Hope is the fruit of vision, and vision is a function of art, as the play shows throughout, from the opening act, with its focus on Ayamonn’s rehearsal for a Shakespearean play, through the spectacle of dance and song on the “bridge of dreams” in act 3, to the Christian rituals of prayer and song in the last act. All have meaning, however, only when they are properly addressed to the satisfaction of common needs and dreams. Humankind keeps progressing because people such as Ayamonn Breydon learn to put the welfare of others ahead of their own; it is he, ironically, who carries into darkness the red roses of his own song—now a tribute to his blood sacrifice.