Important Questions and Answers from Riders to the Sea by J.M.Synge

1. Write a short note on sources of “Riders to the Sea.”

W.B. Yeats suggested to Synge that he should go to Aran Islands off the West coast of Ireland and take the experiences from the place rather than stay in France. Synge accepted the advice heartily and got the sources in writing his play. He paid several visits to these Islands and made a minute study of the simple lives of the peasants and fishermen living there. He participated in their joys and sorrows, their habits and manners, and their beliefs and superstitions. He wrote his play on the basic-of what he saw and heard in these islands. To quote Skelton-“In the Aran Islands he found his vision of human nature and of the human predicament.” The play is based on his experiences during his third and fourth visits to these islands. The atmosphere, the ‘recognition scene’, the white Boards, keening for the dead, ‘Bride Dara’ story, the ghost of Michael, Bartley’s death, Maurya’s last sentence all are taken from his experiences of the life of Aran Islanders.

2. What is the symbolic significance of number ‘nine”?

Synge makes full use of symbols in order to create a tragic scheme and to have a deeper significance. He uses number nine again and again in the play “Riders to the Sea.” Michael was missing for nine days. Maurya like Niobe wept for nine days for her lost son. Maurya herself, recalling the drowning of Patch, reports that she saw “two women, and three women and four women coming in. This adds up to nine again, as do the numbers mentioned by Bartley himself when he says optimistically, ‘you’ll see me coming again in two days, or in three days or maybe in four days if the wind is bad. So the number nine is unlucky for the family. Nine symbolizes bad
news and evil. Even the people coming to bemoan the death of Bartley, are nine in number. The influence of nine number is disastrous for the family. Eight men have been drowned of Maurya’s household ….. the nineth will. So Maurya’s number is implied.

3. Who are the riders to the Sea? Why are they so-called?

Ans. The riders to the sea are the inhabitants of the Aran Islands. In John Millington Synge’s (1871-1909) one-act play ‘Riders to the Sea’ (1904), the riders to the sea are Maurya’s father-in-law, husband, and her six sons-Sheamon, Patch, Stephen, Shawn, Michael, Bartley. But all passed away before the play starts except Bartley
and Michael. So here these are two riders only Bartley and his specter brother Michael.

Also read: Significance of the title of “Riders to the Sea”