Riders to the Sea by John Millington Synge Summary & Analysis

Riders To The Sea
Riders To The Sea

  Riders to the Sea: Summary

Maurya, an old wife of a dead fisherman, lives together with her family on an island, to the west of here. Unfortunately, she has lost a majority of her sons, and therefore the only surviving ones are her two daughters, Cathleen, Nora, and her son, Bartley. within the exposition of the play, Nora and Cathleen are seen getting to hide the garments of their drowned brother, Michael, who is rumored to possess died within the sea. they are doing so to momentarily spare Maurya, the grief of losing yet one more son.

However, the last son, Bartley enters to announce his forthcoming journey to a horse fair in Connemara, despite his mother’s plaintive forebodings and inclement weather. Bartley finally departs without receiving his mother’s blessings. Shortly after this, when the 2 sisters manage to convince their mother to offer Bartley the cake as a token of her blessings, Maurya obliges but on returning, reveals how she has seen the spirit of Michael behind Bartley and consequently, being shocked, has did not give him the cake. The vision, both sisters confirm may be a portent or an unlucky symbol. And, indeed a touch later, because the women on hearing someone crying, rush to the seaside with hopes of retrieving Michael’s body, they find yourself getting Bartley’s instead. The curtain falls with Maurya’s poignant resignation that she would finally sleep peacefully in the dark, for, having lost all her son’s, she has nobody to stress about.

Riders to the Sea: Summary Analysis


The sea within the play assumes vital roleit’s the chief source of livelihood for the helpless islanders and simultaneously, a continuing explanation for unexpected and unavoidable death. Bartley is fully conscious of how the ocean has claimed the lives of his brothers, yet he desperately sails out, disregarding all odds. Determining the destiny of the islanders, the ocean intrinsically is fate.

Synge’s observation of the keen inclination of the islanders towards Celtic paganism is brilliantly portrayed through the numerous traits of the central character, Maurya. Despite being a Catholic, she invests more faith in the ocean, and natural happenings are looked upon by her as a warning of impending doom. it’s only after the death of her last son that she will surrender herself fully to the Catholic faith.

Maurya, together with her rigid reluctance to go away her cottage and her belief in pagan values, stands for a standard way of life, whereas her children embrace a contemporary outlook in refusing to scrub away their capabilities around the uncertainties of the ocean.

Riders To The Sea
Riders To The Sea

As a Greek Tragedy

Riders to the ocean follow a typical Greek tragedy in most of its aspects. Primarily, its central plot, revolving around the unending misery of the central character, Maurya, suffering from the merciless sea, directly echoes the classic theme of the Greek tragedies that specialize in human suffering against a backdrop of unyielding fate. Maurya’s stoical philosophy in calmly accepting her deadly misfortune imparts a universal tone to the present tragic play.

Secondly, its structure also adheres to the three unities of action, time, and place. The deaths of Michael and Bartley, being the sole action occurring, help in achieving the unity of action. The unities of place and time also are observed as everything takes place on one day and Maurya’s cottage is that the dominant scene of the drama. In commenting on the proceedings of the plot, Cathleen, and Nora, to an excellent extent, act because of the chorus. On the opposite hand, Irish superstitious beliefs, just like the mentioning of “pig with the black feet” or the “star up against the moon” play the part of tragic foreboding, an integral component of Greek plays.

As a Poetic Drama

The chief tenets of a poetic drama – the inclusion of a poetic vision also as epical characters are admirably attained during this elegiac play. Dissatisfied with the insistence of the then raging “Prose Plays of Ideas” on urban life and its multiple issues, dramatists like Synge and Eliot sought to radiate emotion, vitality, and spontaneity through their works. Naturally, poetry appeared to be a perfect medium of expression as compared to prose. the straightforward lifetime of the Aran Islanders appealed to Synge, and he captured their universal struggle for survival through the suggestive, lyrical, and symbolic power of poetry. Even the characters, their heroism, passion, and dedication help to strengthen this poetic spirit. The poetic quality is additionally achieved through the utilization of lyrical dialogue and symbols within the play.


The sea is that the major symbol, representing both the giver and taker of a lifetime of the islanders.

Number 9, used randomly within the play, indicates bad luck; Maurya mourns for nine days when Michael goes missing, and nine unknown women come to console her after Bartley dies.

Bartley’s red mare and Michael’s grey pony suggest death. Imminent demise is additionally hinted by the whiteboards for a coffin and therefore the rope that Bartley uses as a halter for his horse.

The spinning machine and hearth, around which Cathleen is usually involved, represent the type of labor women inhabiting the island are habituated to try to to. It also makes a crucial gender distinction – Bartley and Michael are always the providers while Cathleen and Nora are the ones hooked into them.

The “Holy Water” stands for purification and traditional Catholicism, thereby acting as a contrast to the mighty water of the ocean.


The ragged, wet piece of blouse that the 2 sisters believe is of Michael’s, is a strong image for it suggests how fragile human life is.

Maurya’s vision of a finely attired Michael on a horse maybehaunting image, for it prepares the audience for some impending danger.

The Major Conflict

The dominant conflict within the play concerns whether all of Maurya’s sons would be claimed by the ocean or not.

The Important Characters


Maurya is the tragic protagonist, who portrays heroic endurance in passively accepting the deaths of her loved ones. Significantly, it’s not her flaw in character that creates her a victim; nonetheless, she embraces all her adversities with dignity. Maurya thus reflects an unyielding spirit that refuses to bow down ahead of overbearing fate.


Bartley shows his daring zeal when, ignoring the premonitions of his mother, he ventures out into the ocean. His desperation to follow the footsteps of his late brothers glaringly point at the helplessness of the island’s males, who had no alternative vocation aside from the ocean.

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