Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The overriding themes of the play are the power of the past, both historic and personal, the fragility of life, and loneliness. The past is engaged in many ways, through references to aging parents, old or dead neighbors, past loves, and the vehicle of the ghost stories, several of which concern the faeries of Irish myth. By integrating references to the local faery lore, McPherson sets up a contrast between a romantic, pagan Ireland and contemporary life, yet also connects the faeries with the lost spirits and ghosts of the stories and to the haunted existences of Valerie and Jack.

The weir of the title—referring to a local dam built in 1951 to regulate water and generate power—functions as the major symbol in the play, linking the past and the changes of the twentieth century to the natural world, as well as providing a figurative barrier between the old world of folklore and contemporary life. The opening of the weir is a significant moment in the history of the region; Jack mentions that “when the weir was going up,” the mysterious knocking in the Nealon house, which had stopped after a priest’s blessing, returned, suggesting that the spirits objected to the weir. According to local legend, the faeries traveled the faery road to the beach to bathe, and thus the modern weir can be seen as a barrier between the past and present, and between tradition, modern pragmatism, and development. Traditionally, a weir is a fence made of sticks or...

(The entire section is 539 words.)