Riders to the sea as a Tragedy Drama must excite, startle, thrill and shake us. Such effects cannot be produced by a play which is lacking in conflict. The conflict in a tragic play may be between human beings pulling in different directions, between a character and the environment in which he finds himself or the society of which he is a member. Riders to the Sea succeeds in representing human sufferings which raises pity and fear among us and makes us to decide that the play is a great one in its tragic appeal. The tragic theme of Riders to the Sea moves round with the deep pathos of a mother Maurya.
The tragedy of the play is simple and straight- forward, but sublime and universal in its penetrative appeal. The play brings out the utter tragedy of humanity, pitted against the violent force of a cold, unrelenting, natural element- the sea. The sea assumes here almost the role of fate and becomes instrumental to human suffering and death. Riders to the sea is indeed a great tragedy in its representation of human suffering and cathartic appeal. There are two views on the tragic vision of life. One is that man is the play- thing of inscrutable power called fate and another is that character is responsible for the tragic end.
In Greek tragedies, tragic fate for the heroes is predetermined. Oedipus and Antigone become obstinate and tyrannical. Their tragedy is due to their over confidence in their respective attitudes. In this light, we see Riders to the Sea as a suitable combination of Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. The sea is a force of Nature over which nobody has any control. Opposing the sea, and opposed by the sea, are the members of the community living on the island which serves as the setting for this play. The human opponents of the sea in this play are Bartley, his sisters Cathleen and Nora, and his mother Maurya.
These human opponents operate on three levels. Bartley must sell his horses at the Galway fair. His sisters seem to have a sacrificial prophetic function. Maurya speaks two great elegies for the dead, and the dead are not only members of her own family, not only members of the island community of Aran, but of the whole world. Man’s conflict with the sea, and woman’s loss, is archetypal; it is everywhere in myth, legend, history, from the Greek Anthology to Lycidas. The people living on the Aran Islands must remain constantly aware of the sea, its menace, its moods, and also its help because it is both the giver and the taker of life.
It is the giver of life because the people of the island earn their livelihood partly by catching fish from the sea and collecting wea-weed from the sea-shore; and it is the taker of life because people perish in it. The conflict between the sea and the human characters is indicated at the very outset when we are told about the drowning of a man in the far north and about the shirt and the stocking which were got off that man’s body. If these items of clothing belonged to Maurya’s son. Michael, then she is to be told that he had got a clean burial.
Thus, when the play opens, the sea has already robbed Maurya of one of her sons. The next step is Bartley’s decision to cross over to the mainland in order to sell a couple of horses. Cathleen feels concerned about the weather on the sea, especially when Nora informs her that there is a great roaring in the west, and that it will get worse when the tide has turned to the wind. Maurya feels even more concerned about the weather, and she wants that Bartley should not go this day when the wind is raising the sea and there was a star up against the moon during the night.
As Bartley is firm about going, Maurya makes the gloomy forecast that he would be drowned like the rest. When he is actually gone, she wails: “He’s gone now, and when the black night is falling I’ll have no son left me in the world. ” The climax comes when dead body of Bartley is brought to the house and when Cathleen is told by one of the visiting woman that Bartley had been knocked down into the sea by the grey pony and that he had been swept away by a huge wave towards the white rocks. On learning of Bartley’s drowning, Maurya appropriately says: They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me. ” There will be no need for Maurya to feel any anxiety about anybody in future because the sea has already taken away from her all her men-folk Thus the sea proves to be a victor in this everlasting struggle between man and the sea. Maurya is, of course, the great loser in the battle, but she is not to be regarded as a single woman who has to bear the brunt of the sea. Maurya represents the whole community living on this island.