Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Shadow of a Gunman was the first important play by Sean O’Casey. He was to continue that success and improve upon the elements of the early play in his two other Dublin plays, Juno and the Paycock (pr. 1924, pb. 1925) and The Plough and the Stars (pr., pb. 1926). In Juno and the Paycock, male irresponsibility is portrayed as more consciously malign and destructive than in The Shadow of a Gunman. The main character, Captain Boyle, has brought his family down to shame and destitution, but when he discovers that his daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, he rejects her insult to his pride and honor. Mrs. Boyle tells her daughter that the child will be better off, since it will have two mothers in place of the absent father.

In his greatest play, The Plough and the Stars, O’Casey intensified the historical force, depicting the day-to-day social problems that end in the death of children by consumption. In the destruction of the 1916 Uprising, the common people of the tenement help one another, while the heroes of the IRA are selfish and destructive. All the elements of the later plays can be found in The Shadow of a Gunman, but O’Casey was able to strengthen and intensify them and their dramatic effect. O’Casey’s later plays became more expressionistic, beginning with his World War I play The Silver Tassie (pb. 1928, pr. 1929), as his settings moved out of Dublin tenements...

(The entire section is 434 words.)