Justify the title of “Riders to the Sea” by J.M.Synge

‘Riders to the Sea’ literally means people venturing out into the sea. In this play, Riders to the Sea the life of the Aran Islanders is represented through one family. The death of all its male members shows how the sea acts as an agent of fate. The sea sustains these people; it also swallows all the earning members of Maurya family. But Synge suggests the cruelty of the sea and human helplessness before its omnipotent power. Synge’s choice of title is the superb brainwork of his genius.

The title “Riders to the sea” is the most significant and symbolic to the thematic journey. The main theme of the play, Riders to the Sea is the conflict between man and the sea. The title is very attractive and thought-provoking. The readers are curious to know who the riders are. They will deep into the sea with the riders. Then the mystery will be revealed and the readers will shed tears. The two riders Barthey and Michael represent the whole riders of the peasant families of Aran Islanders. Real beauty will come out with the fragrance of the title.

In the play there are two riders rides on the grey pony and Bartley riders on the red mare. They ride on their horses to the sea. The Sea is the source of their living and dying. The Sea is the giver and taker of their lives. Through the riding of Michael and Bartley, we see the Aran islanders. Happiness and enjoyment bid them farewell. Sorrows and sufferings are the part and parcel of their riding. They have to fight constantly against the stony soil from which they will produce food grains after the hard toil and sweat of their body. And the hungry sea is ready to devour the riders. Firstly she tempts with the bait of their source of living and lastly, she snatches away every fisherfolk of the islanders.

The title helps us to go deep into the text and the sea. The story is about the tragic fate of Maurya an old woman of the island. She has her father-in-law, her husband, and six sturdy sons. They are all riders to the sea. But all of them except Bartley were devoured before the curtain rises. The play is about the last rider, Bartley. Maurya’s fifth son Michael was drowned in the sea nine days before the play begins. Bartley wants to go to the sea. Maurya dissuades but Bartley says Cathleen “It’s a life of a Youngman to be going to the sea.” The sea devours him also.

The title has a biblical significance. If we have a look at the Book of Exodus in the old testament we will realize the symbolical meaning. When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tumbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing. Miriam songs-

“Sing to the Lord, for he has
Triumphed gloriously;
The horse and his rider he had
Thrown into the sea.”

Pharao’s riders are destined to die as Maurya’s ‘riders’ are fated to meet their death in the sea.

The title has also a supernatural element. One of the riders is the ghost of Michael who pursues his living brother and takes him from this world. To quote T.R. Henn-

“It (the sea) is the killer of the young, the breadwinners, whose life is to be upon it. The fishermen are all its riders, mysteriously linked to the human and super-human riders, here and in tradition.”

The title also emphasizes the mythic and supernatural elements. It indicates the manner in which the final tragedy overtakes Maurya. The sea has devoured all the males of Maurya’s family. All are the riders to the sea. The lives of the Aran islanders are determined by the sea. Their fates are destined by the hungry sea, whereas Pharash’s horsemen were punished by their misdeeds. Synge with his tragic scheme pushes the riders into the sea. So all the riders have taken shelter under the sea after their death. Hence the title is very suggestive and symbolic.

Also read: Riders to the Sea as a Poetic Drama