‘Riders to the Sea’, by John Millington Synge, is one of the most perfect one act plays where all the characters are the puppet of the fate. Synge, suggested by WB Yeats, stays four years in the “Aran Island” and very closely observes how destiny plays an important role in the life of the islanders and very sincerely portrays in his great play. Now we are going to discuss it in detail.
In this play, tragedy comes to the characters without any hamartia or tragic flaw. Here we see, the characters are not least responsible for their down fall or death unlike Shakespearean tragedy. Here destiny or the fate controls every thing. None can avoid it. Here life means nothing but tragedy and unconditional surrender to the mysterious fate.
We see that, the inhabitants of the “Aran Island” are constantly struggling against the sea in order to support their daily bread ignoring the possibility of death, because they have no other option to avoid the sea. Thus they embrace the watery grave from generation to generation.
Here the super powerful fate of the islander is represented by the sea which is both for them the giver and the taker for them. So in no way they can ignore the call of the all-consuming deadly sea.
At the very beginning of the play we see that, the four sons of Maurya hve already lost their lives in the sea. Now the fifth one, Michael has been missing for nine days and the family members are waiting to recover the dead body of and to receive it. As she says;
“…if Michael is washed up, to-morrow morning, or the next morning, or any morning in the week him, by the grace of god.”
He is not at all responsible for his death, because accidentally he was drowned in the sea perhaps by a storm on the sea.
Now Bartley, only alive son of the family, knows every thing of the fate of the other members of the family. He is also informed of the danger of his going to the sea in the bas weather. Yet he decides to go to the main land in order to sell a couple of horses at the cattle fair.
Actually, there is no wrong in his decision rather “it’s the life of a young man to be going on the sea” as Cathleen says. Without it today or tomorrow he must have been compelled to go to the sea. Thus we see that, without any hamartia tragedy comes if the Bartley’s life. Therefore, this is his tragedy of fate.
The islander’s silent surrender to their fate is clear in Maurya’s speech.
“In the big world the old people do be leaving things after them for their sons and children, but is this place it is the young men do be leaving things behind for them that do be old.”
We see, in this play a storm of suffering and tragedy has blown over Madurya, yet she shows her calmness and endurance. As she says:
“I’ve had a husband, and a husband’s father, and six sons in this house-six fine man, though it was a hard birth I had with every one of them… there were Stephen and Shawn were lost in the great wind, and found often in the bay of Gregory of golden Mouth…”
Madurya has experienced that; none can fight against the fate. So she grants the power of the fate and submits to fate saying:
“What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.”
It is notable that, here a question can be raised that, “why should the islanders not leave the island to escape the death”. Actually they love their mother land and forefathers’ is land so much that they would rather die than leave the island.
Last of all we can say that, ‘Riders to the Sea’ is unique creation of Synge and a great example o fatal play. It is completely different from any other great tragedy of Shakespeare or Sophocles. In this play all the characters are the victim of the cruel fate.