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

Riders to the Sea

by J. M. Synge

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Why does death only affect men in the play "Riders to the Sea"?

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Riders to the Sea by  J. M. Synge is actually a relatively realistic play. Synge, at the urging of his friend William Butler Yeats, spent the summers from 1898 to 1903 staying in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The play itself is loosely based on a story Synge heard about the drowning of a fisherman.

The reason why the men in the play die but the women survive is that the men of the family were all engaged in fishing. They spent many hours every day in wooden boats in the rough and treacherous Atlantic Ocean, often taking great risks to bring in their catch out of economic necessity, and being shipwrecked or drowned. Maurya refers to this when she says:

There does be a power of young men floating round in the sea, and what way would they know if it was Michael they had, or another man like him ...

For women, the major danger was childbirth, but if they did manage to survive that, life at home taking care of livestock, cooking, sewing, and tending gardens was far safer than fishing. 

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