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Heroism in O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars

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Arielle Ang

on 10 October 2013

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Transcript of Heroism in O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars

Heroism in Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars
Early Life of Sean O'Casey
Born in 1880 as the youngest of 7 in an impoverished family

Received only 3 years of a formal education

Had a hunger for knowledge - books were his food

Placed himself as an outsider, observer, writer-ish type which would stay with him throughout his life and career
Communicating Heroism through Setting
Focus taken off the frontlines and instead placed on common, domestic milieus (which can be taken as the antithesis of a typical heroic locale)
The domesticity of the four settings displaces notions of the militaristic glory of direct action that is the Rising itself
“The juxtaposition of two totally contrasting worlds of experience” (Murray xxxi)
Those directly involved (i.e. Clitheroe, Lieut. Langon) and those on the periphery (i.e. Nora, Bessie, Fluther)
Questions
1. Do you think that O'Casey meant to instill the quality of heroism in some of the characters in the play, or do they all ultimately represent tragic figures in the Easter Rising? If applicable, which of the characters do you think is a heroic figure?

2. Do you think that the settings reflect O'Casey's tragic representation of the Easter Rising? Or do they reinforce idealistic heroism?
Bessie as a Heroic Figure
Protestant, very religious
Voice of reason against war and more fighting
Initially in opposition with the other characters, but in the end, takes care of Mollser and saves Nora's life
Bessie as an Anti-hero
Explicitly makes fun of heroic characters fighting for the cause
Corrupts good characters (ex- Mrs. Gogan) to steal during revolution
Redeems herself by taking care of Mollster and Nora...but why?
Heroism in Jack, Nora, Peter and The Covey
Jack Clitheroe
Clitheroe acts heroically in the play to garner pride and honour instead of to instill the values in Ireland that the Rising is about.
He spurns his family for the cause, yet gives no mention throughout the play of the purpose behind the Rising nearly as in depth as the Voice of the Man outside the pub or even The Covey.
His desire to appear heroic drives most of his actions within the play and he ultimately triumphs. Yet the Rising has failed and his wife is left a widow, so there seems to be have been no real world need for his heroism.
Nora Clitheroe
She, too, is self-involved. She is displeased with her current standing in life and resents what her life will be like should her husband be away most of the time.
When the fighting is going on she acts heroically, but for her own means, so when inevitably they are unfounded her heroism is shown to have been useless.
Act Two: The Pub
The commonality of the pub is at odds with the Figure in the Window’s idealistic rhetoric
The heroism attributed to direct action is turned into a form of intoxication by being set in a pub
Act One vs. Act Four
The pristineness of the Clitheroe’s apartment/the idealism of the Irish Civilian Army is degraded and transformed into the poverty of Bessie’s apartment /death and despair during the Rising
1906 - Gaelic League
deeply nationalistic group that promotes preservation of Irish language and culture
John Casey = Seán O'Casey
1913 - O'Casey and Larkin
shift from fighting for Irish freedom to fighting for labour workers

"the cause of labour took precedence over the cause of Irish freedom" (x, Murray)
April 24th 1916
The Covey
The Covey preaches his Communist ideals throughout the first half of the play, denouncing the approach of the Irish Citizen Army to revolution.
However, he fails to act on behalf of these ideals, only once approaching a barroom fight with Fluther over them.
When an appropriate platform for heroism presents itself, he acts in a surprising way - he loots from shops and associates it with heroism. In this way he highlights his inherent self-interest and that his Communism until now has been fraudulent.
Peter Flynn
Acts in self interest throughout the entire play, rebuking The Covey and Fluther in their mocking of him.
His denial of the lost woman upholds his selfish ways, even when such an opportunity for chivalry presents itself.
His last line, however, is a subtle act of heroism in that it is upbraiding a British soldier for including himself in business that isn't his.
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