Riders to the Sea main character Maurya, an old peasant woman, standing on the coast

Riders to the Sea

by J. M. Synge

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

What conflicts are present in John Synge's Riders to the Sea?

Quick answer:

In John Synge's Riders to the Sea, several conflicts emerge. The main conflict is between fate and free will, epitomized by Maurya's futile efforts to save her sons from the sea. Other significant conflicts include the struggle between humans and nature, with the sea symbolizing an overpowering natural force, and the clash between religion and nature, as the church's promises prove futile against the relentless sea. Lastly, there is a personal conflict between a mother's protective instincts and a son's need for independence.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are different kinds of conflicts in the play Riders to the Sea. The first is between free will and fateā€”in other words, can people control fate, or does it control them? Maurya, the matron of the family, tries to prevent her sons from being swallowed up by the sea, but to no avail. Another conflict involves the battle between people and nature. In the play, the sea, representative of nature, is all powerful, and humans are helpless in its clutches. In addition, there is a conflict in the play between religion and nature. The priest in the play promises that Maurya will not be left without any sons, as she fears that her last remaining sons will be drowned. However, Maurya's sons are ultimately lost, showing that the church is powerless in the face of nature.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Synge's Riders to the Sea is filled with complex conflicts.  Dominating the lives of the play's Irish peasant characters is fate.  Fate is the sea, fate is an existence that provides no means for a young man to support himself and his family other than travelling on that sea.  Fate is an existence that takes the lives of a mother's husband, father-in-law, and six sons.  Fate is the reality of existence for the play's characters.  It is the natural world that they cannot control and cannot understand.  Other conflicts are also present.  The mother's desire to protect her son clashes with the son's need to be on the sea and travel and engage in meaningful business, for instance.  But the central conflict of the play concerns fate, and it climaxes when Maurya sees Michael's ghost following Bartley on the gray pony and when Bartley's body is brought into the cottage. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial