Essay: Synge's Riders to the Sea

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[. . .] He's gone now, and when the black night is falling I'll have no son left me in the world" (Synge, 1902).

Religion also plays a major role in the family's life. Even though the sea has stripped them of their most valuable assets -- the men that help to provide them with daily sustenance -- the one thing the sea cannot take away is their faith, one of the few immaterial things of value in their life. The young priest in the play assures Maurya that "the Almighty God wouldn't leave her destitute with no son living" even though she has already lost five other sons -- Shawn, Sheamus, Patch, Stephen, and Michael. Regardless of the fact that she is ultimately stripped of her last remaining son and provider for the family, Bartley, Maurya cannot and will not abandon her beliefs. This is especially significant because it demonstrates that the people of the Aran Islands are able to keep believing in a higher power even after they have witnessed the wrath of nature and how these natural events dictate how they live their lives. Furthermore, their staunch belief in God also hints at a belief in the afterlife, a chance to reunited with those they have loved and lost. Additionally, this also hints at an understanding that what happens in their lives is preordained and a product of divine design, and that there it is futile to attempt to prevent when, where, and how one is going to die. Synge emphasizes the sacrifices people in the play's remote location have been forced to make in order to make sure they and their families can make it one more day regardless of the obstacles they are continuously struggling to overcome.

It is through the continuous conflict between nature and religion that Synge is able to further explain the difficulties that Maurya and her family have had to go through and thus, is able to use irony to show that nature is unpredictable and will act of its own accord without consideration of others. A paradox arises when Maurya and her family are constantly reassured that God would never be as cruel as to take Bartley and force them to provide for themselves. The priest's argument and reassurance proves to be false as Bartley is reported dead after drowning on his way to Connemara. Maurya's experiences allow her to see things from different perspectives and have allowed her to learn how life on the islands is different from life on the mainland. Maurya summarizes, "In the big world the old people do be leaving things after them for their sons and children, but in this place it is the young men do be leaving things behind for them that do be old" (Synge, 1902). Moreover, Synge insinuates that people living on the island are doomed to never leave it. They will either die of old age or sickness, die trying to get off the island, or die trying to get back to the island to provide for their families so that they, in turn, do not die of starvation or disease. Even though Maurya constantly witnesses the ironies of life, she puts her faith in a higher power because she needs something to believe in, something that cannot be taken away from her, something that only she can give up of her free will. In the end, faith is the one thing the sea cannot take from people living on the islands.

Ultimately, Synge's "Riders to the Sea" provides brief insight into life in the Aran Islands and provides commentary on how life and religion remain unchanged even as the world changes around them. Synge artfully captures tragedy and poetically conveys the power of nature as a creative and destructive force and emphasizes that religion is the one thing that remains unshaken in the small island community.


J.M. Synge. (n.d.). The Poetry Foundation. Accessed 17 February 2013, from

Notes on Synge's "Riders to the Sea." (n.d.). Bielefeld University. Accessed 17 February 2013,


Synge, J.M. (1902). Riders to the Sea. Chapter 13. [END OF PREVIEW]

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Synge's Riders to the Sea.  (2013, February 18).  Retrieved July 23, 2019, from

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"Synge's Riders to the Sea."  18 February 2013.  Web.  23 July 2019. <>.

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"Synge's Riders to the Sea."  February 18, 2013.  Accessed July 23, 2019.