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Is there SYMBOLISM in the Playboy of the Western World? If so, how is it used and how effective is it?

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Introduction

Is there SYMBOLISM in the Playboy of the Western World? If so, how is it used and how effective is it? Symbols are a powerful way of conveying information and feelings by substituting something concrete to represent an idea e.g. the heart (love), the dove (peace). Such representation is called symbolism. In writing The Playboy of the Western World, Synge serves us an Irish delicacy, in which lies the subtle yet memorable flavour of symbolism, in the midst of rollicking comedy and luscious language. The play opens with Pegeen writing about wedding requirements since she is to marry Shawn Keogh. This marriage is a symbol of the Mayo peasants' bondage to a life of boredom, from which only 'until death do (they) part'. Christy, however, takes the village of Mayo temporarily out of this reality, as Pegeen answers to his question with the words, "What would I want a wedding so young?" knowing that she is to marry Shawn. It appears a life of excitement awaits Pegeen but she says rightly "We're only talking, maybe." ...read more.

Middle

The bed is "clean" as in his story he is in the right; the bed is also "soft" as being potboy is relatively comfortable, bearing promise even of "soft, lovely skin" (symbolic of gentility and genteel lifestyle that every commoner and peasant would aspire to). The implications of such symbolism are soon fulfilled by the locals and their gifts of homage to their (mock) hero. The eggs, butter cake and pullet are symbols of the comforts and richness of the life that awaits Christy as he achieves full self-realization. In the same way, the three wise men's gifts to Christ upon his birth were symbolic: gold is fit for a king, frankincense resembling His deity and myrrh symbolic of his death. The looking-glass is symbolic of Christy's image, which turns from distorted to delightful: "Didn't I know rightly I was handsome." The clothes that Christy receives from Shawn are symbolic of his gallantry at the games. "I'll leave you the garments for the sports today," Shawn says. Christy then goes from oratory to physical prowess thus walking more fully in his true image of the playboy. ...read more.

Conclusion

Pegeen vows that "any girl would walk her heart out before she'd meet a young man was his like for eloquence." The blackthorn which is said to "lick the scholars out of Dublin" is a symbol of his authority. Formerly, Christy has "a little switch in his hand" which conveys the message of laziness and unrealized potential. Thus the two symbols bring out the contrast in the state of Christy's affairs well. The fight between Christy and Old Mahon is symbolic of Christy's battle between his old self and his new self where his future lies at the stake. Ultimately, Christy wins. His being captain and Old Mahon being his servant symbolizes Christy as having a firm grip on his past and living out the implications of his new image. At this point, we know self-realization has been fulfilled since Christy himself tells us "you've turned me a likely gaffer at the end of all." The impressiveness of Synge's use of symbols rests also in their natural occurrence throughout the play, as well as the union they form between the physical and the abstract, adding more depth to the play as a whole. ...read more.

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