1 May 2002
Generational Sins: The Tragedy of Marina Carr
As a member of the new generation of Irish dramatist, Marina Carr's short yet impressive career speaks volumes about her growth as a playwright. Her early plays, namely Low in the Dark (1989), The Deer's Surrender (1990), Ullaloo (1991), and This Love Thing (1991), allowed her the necessary experimentation to develop the tragic mastery she displays today. With the absurd, Beckett-influenced style of these early works, she announced her presence as a dramatist writing from a female view. Carole-Anne Upton expertly describes these plays: "What Carr adds to her treasured Beckettian landscape is her own irreverent woman's song, bringing an ironic feminine perspective to an icon of masculine Irish writing" (77). Thus, she opens the door for a new dialogue on the feminine in Irish culture through Irish drama.
After a three-year hiatus in writing, from 1991-94, while she worked to further develop her art, Carr returned with a new approach to her portrayal of women. What she brings to the stage in her more recent plays reflects an incorporation of Classical and Irish mythology with the tradition of fatalistic Greek tragedy. Commenting on her effectiveness in experimentation of style and perspective, Anthony Roche writes: “Marina Carr acknowledges the possibility for women that their condition of ‘desperation’ may never be expressed or dramatically represented at all. Through her plays she is claiming the right for herself and a whole new generation of younger Irish playwrights to be among the singers of contemporary drama [. . . .] ” (288).
In light of such positive criticism, the plays The Mai (1994), Portia Coughlan (1996), and On Raftery’s Hill (2000) all carry many of the same motifs in Carr’s effort to accurately depict a ground-breaking view of the roles and expectations for women. This is not to say that she necessarily is a feminist writer: though "she certainly mobilises [sic] a woman's point of view, [. . .] she is too protective of her individualism to employ political analysis dramatically. Myth rather than politics shapes her narrative" (Murray 237). In her more recent dramas, Carr attempts to show the cause and effect of women driven to desperation simply by living, and she does so with harsh truth tempered by compassionate humanity. The characters’ struggles in her plays are compounded by the sins of the father, and the mother. By tracing the characterization and the symbolic imagery through these plays, one sees how these generational sins reflect a compilation of dramatic tradition and Carr’s own representation of women.
The work that first brought Carr wide acclaim is The Mai, first performed in the Peacock Theatre on 5 October 1994. It received the Best New Irish Play Award at the Dublin Theatre Festival that year. In the tradition of Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, the play follows the narration of Millie, the daughter of the title character. Carr calls it “a meditative coming-of-age story in the manner of The Glass Menagerie,” in which Millie “attempts to free herself from the traps and calamities of her matriarchal family by transforming the wounds of the past into lasting poetry” (McNulty, "Unmotherly" 106-7). The four generations of women in the play certainly make up the matriarchal family, but tragically, by the end of the running narrative, Millie realizes she will not escape; she can only hope she does not pass her legacy on to the next generation.
The women in The Mai possess both strength and desperation. The play opens with the return of Robert to The Mai after five years absence. In that time, she works to buy land and build a house for her family, all the time hoping and watching for him from the bay window that overlooks the Owl Lake. His return only last through the year, and then he begins an affair, this time remaining in the house. Throughout the play, the four generations of women discuss their individual situations that have come from their relationships with men. With these very real, very flawed characters as the basis for the play, it is "quite realistic, as is the setting. The characterisation [sic] is no longer absurdist but grounded in realism, although with much room left for fantasy and eccentricity" (Murray 237). These latter qualities reveal themselves through both the romantic vision of the characters and the natural symbolism related to mythology.
Grandma Fraochlàn is the feisty hundred year old, opium-smoking head of the clan. Murray calls her "a mixture of the naturalistic and the cailleach from folklore: her stories of love and fidelity carry a mythic power and yet she remains a Falstaffian rogue" (237). Her mother gave birth to her after a brief affair with “a Spanish or Moroccan sailor – no one is quite sure – who was never heard of or seen since the night of her conception. [. . .] Whoever he was, he left Grandma Fraochlàn his dark skin and a yearning for all that was exotic and unattainable” (Carr, Plays 115-16). She constantly speaks of the “nine-fingered fisherman,” the love of her life. Her two most poignant speeches in the play reveal her relationship with her mother and with her husband. Speaking of her mother, she considers fate and if it is her fault she was “born to an absolute nut” (168-9). She tells of how her mother made Grandma call her The Duchess. The Duchess told Grandma every year that her father was the Sultan of Spain who would return for them next summer (169).
Grandma Fraochlàn. And I don’t know which of us believed that story more – her nor me. I was tha only bastard on Fraochlàn in living memory and tha stigma must’ve been terrible for her. I don’t know, but I’m not over the dismantlin’ of that dream yet. [. . .] (169)
Perhaps the influence of this “nut” sparks the thread of desperation in this line of women, for Grandma goes on to say that the social stigma she saw her mother dealing with became the reason she forced her own daughter Ellen to marry when Ellen conceived out of wedlock. Furthermore, she states unabashedly that she took on the same longing for the perfect love that her mother felt, that her mother instilled in her for the missing father.
Grandma Fraochlàn. I know he was a useless father, Julia, I know, and I was a useless mother. It’s the way we were made? There’s two types of people in this world from what I can gather, them as puts their children first and them as puts their lover first and for what it’s worth, the nine-fingered fisherman and meself belongs ta the latter of these. I would gladly have hurled all seven of ye down the slopes of hell for one night more with the nine-fingered fisherman and may I rot eternally for such unmotherly feelin’. (182)
Therefore, in Grandma Fraochlàn begins both the cultural repression and the dysfunctional relationship to the unattainable male figure that shapes these female lives. Thus, The Mai depicts "modern marriage, but 'this love thing' now both defines and is the Achilles heel of the woman's role" (Murray 237). Her seven children for whom she holds these unmotherly feelings fall next in line as victims to this destiny. Julia, seventy-five, and Agnes, sixty-one, are Grandma’s two surviving daughters. As the Catholic stronghold, they now see to the morality of the family, such as trying to prevent their niece Beck’s divorce and distributing leaflets about premarital sex to the children. They have been described as "parodies of traditional Abbey types, as well as women with very specific views on marriage and divorce" (Murray 237). In other words, they are the cultural repression.
Agnes plays the peacemaker when her mother and Julia argue over the past. Julia, on the other hand, retains strong feelings of resentment for Grandma Fraochlàn’s failure in the role of mother. After one particular fight with Grandma, Julia tells The Mai about some of the reasons she holds such a grudge against her mother.
JULIA. [. . .] She had little or no time for her children except to tear strips off us when we got in her way. All her energy went into my father and he thought she was and angel. And then when she was left with all of us and pregnant with Ellen, she was a madwoman. Mai, I’m not makin’ it up. She spent one half of the day in the back room pullin’ on an opium pipe, a relic from her unknown father, and the other half rantin’ and ravin’ at us or starin’ out the window at the sea. [. . .] she couldn’t live without the nine-fingered fisherman, [. . .] and she made our lives hell. (145)
Julia continues in this passage to explain Grandma Fraochlàn’s interference with the youngest child, Ellen. Ellen was The Mai’s mother who died in childbirth. She was a beautiful, bright college student until she became pregnant. After Grandma Fraochlàn pushing Ellen into marrying a husband that “left her on Fraochlàn to rot. Came home every summer, left her with another pregnancy” (145), Grandma then began to belittle the husband to Ellen, Julia explains. “And it only filled Ellen with more longing and made her feel that what she had lost was all the greater. [. . .] that’s what killed her, not childbirth, no, her spirit was broken” (146). In this generation, the effects of Grandma’s unfulfilled life manifest in her daughters in two ways: as the romantic Ellen and the realistic Julia and Agnes. "Carr seems to want to bring together the mythic and the trite" by placing such pragmatists along side the tragically romantic (Murray 237). Yet, both sides experience the destructive influence, only Ellen’s becomes the unbearable one.
The ‘tradition’ passes on to The Mai and her sisters again through Grandma Fraochlàn, for Ellen died while her daughters were still children. Connie appears happily married, but in one scene she fantasizes about the ability to have a bed of her own and the freedom to go pick up a strange man and take him to a hotel room (Carr, Plays 160). This reflects what Declan Kiberd says in "Mothers and Daughters" of his Inventing Ireland (393-410). He discusses how the formation of the Irish Free State, with politics and social views firmly based in the Catholic Church, undermined the fight for social equality, for women to be acknowledged beyond the domestic sphere. These issues entered contemporary literature in the depiction of the Irish family as a "trap" (408). While Grandma Fraochlàn was one of the "lucky few" to "partake of that most rare and sublime love" with the nine-fingered fisherman (Carr, Plays 143), her granddaughters exhibit disappointment in the institution of marriage. An exchange between the three sisters explains why this is:
THE MAI. [. . .] I used to dream that a dark-haired prince would come across the waves on the wings of an albatross and he'd take me away to a beautiful land never seen or heard of before and he'd love me as no girl had ever been loved.
BECK. My prince had a white horse.
CONNIE. Mine had a chariot with golden bells that could sing my name.
THE MAI. My God, we were some eejits.
BECK. Too much listenin' to Grandma Fraochlàn and her wild stories.
THE MAI. She didn't prepare us at all.
CONNIE. She did her best.
THE MAI. She filled us with hope – too much hope maybe – in things to come. And her stories made us long for something extraordinary to happen in our lives. I wanted my life to be huge and heroic and pure as in the days of yore. [. . .] (162-63).
Responding to this disillusioned romanticism, Beck, in contrast with Connie, resigns herself to living out her days alone because she cannot seem to have a healthy honest relationship. She breaks from cultural conventions by having premarital affairs. When finally she marries, it disintegrates when her husband discovers she lied about her age and education. She explains this to Mai: "Don't get me wrong, he was kind, kind enough until one night I got a little drunk and believed myself to be a lot closer to him than I actually was and I told him I wasn't thirty-one and that I wasn't in fact a qualified teacher but a low-down waitress" (Carr, Plays 131). Consequently, she sees The Mai's situation with an unfaithful husband as a better one than her lonely state. Even so, she "can't think of any good reasons to do anything ever again" (134) and falls into the role of an uneducated, untrained spinster who thinks everything she touches "turns to shite!" (133) because she did not make the fantasy happen.
The Mai becomes the most tragic victim of the cycle of destruction. At forty years old, her beauty and success as a college professor provides little happiness in the face of her failing marriage: "The Mai lives and dies with all the dramatic intensity of a tragic heroine, but her restless yearning reflects an emotional reality common to all women who are waiting, as it were, for their prince to come" (Upton 78). She expresses the sensuality that lies at the heart of her romanticism by "playing" her body with Robert's cello bow (as Robert does when he first returns), taunting him into a fight rather than sex when she first learns of the affair. She fights viciously with him, saying: "Tell me Robert – tell me, it is that faraway pussies are greener or is it your mother crowin' on your cock?" (Carr, Plays 156). And later, in response to Robert telling her not to speak of his mistress as a "bitch," she snaps: "How dare I? You may be in love with her but don't for one second think that I am, you shit!" (175). Still, she clings tightly to the belief that they are meant to be together, as she tells Millie shortly before her suicide:
THE MAI. Millie, I don't think anyone will ever understand, not you, not my family, not even Robert, no one will ever understand how completely and utterly Robert is mine and I am his, no one – People think I've no pride, no dignity, to stay in a situation like this, but I can't think of one reason for going on without him. (185)
The Mai's devotion to her husband corresponds to the life of the swans on Owl Lake. The swans associate her with the natural world, further emphasizing the sensuality in the representation of her as the cello. They also link her to Celtic mythology, for swans hold a significant place in the ancient legends. Most significantly, though, The Mai becomes the pair of birds lyrically described by Millie in her account in how neighbor Sam Brady reacts to Robert:
MILLIE. [. . .] Sam's final statement of his disapproval of Robert was to take his gun and blow the head off the cob feeding innocently near the bank. It's true what they say: swans do keen their mates. She circled him for days. The Mai was transfixed at the window. It's a high haunting sound that sings the once-living out of this world. It's a sound you hope never to hear again and it's a sound you know you will. (Carr, Plays 157-58).
The Mai connects with both the male and the female: she mourns the loss of her husband to another woman as the female swan mourns her life-mate, but she also becomes the one mourned, as seen in the ghostly image of Robert standing in front of the window "with The Mai's body in his arms, utterly still" (sd, 147).
The Mai's Fate illustrates the legend of Owl Lake, "from the Irishloch cailleach oíche, Lake of the Night Hag or Pool of the Dark Witch" (Carr, Plays 147), a powerful symbol of a confining world. Millie relays the oppressiveness of the lake through her recounting of its legend of origin and her telling of her own nightmarish draw to it. The story of the lake begins with the love of Coillte, daughter of the mountain god, and Bláth, lord of the flowers. The deep love they share is intercepted in the fall when the bog witch casts a spell that causes Bláth to abandon Coillte. "[. . .] heartbroken Coillte lay down outside the dark witch's lair and cried a lake of tears that stretched for miles around. [. . .] the dark witch pushed Coillte into her lake of tears" (147). When Bláth returned in the spring, he began his search for his lover. The Mai and Robert embody this legend. The names change out easily to be replaced with the characters in the play: Mai for Coillte; Robert for Bláth; and the witch for the 'other woman.' The Mai's children take on the role of the swans and geese that fly away "because they hear Bláth's pipes among the reeds, still playing for Coillte" (147).
Now that her mother is gone, Millie struggles with Owl Lake herself, though she fled to New York to try to escape its lore. She says: "I dream of water all the time. I'm floundering off the shore, or bursting towards the surface for air, or wrestling with a black swan trying to drag me under" (Carr, Plays 184). Her legacy becomes that of her predecessors: she has an illegitimate five-year-old son to whom she tells fantastic stories about his absent father (165). She steps into the shoes of the failed mothers before her, and she knows it: "Already he is watchful and expects far too little of me, something I must have taught him unknown to myself" (164). She wanted to avoid the cycle, but as in Greek tragedy, mortals do not escape destiny.
These emblems, beautiful and natural and somewhat exotic, create a lyrical background on which the characters of The Mai play out their Fates. Though grounded in the reality of emotion, setting, and character portrayal, these events must be Fate, for why else would these women watch themselves follow the generation before them into complete heartache? Upton neatly sums up the passing of the torch of disenchantment: "Patterns of behavior and aspirations are repeated across the generations, each woman being haunted by an inherited dream, 'a yearning for all that [i]s exotic and unattainable.' When their princes fail to materialize, disillusionment is the inevitable consequence" (77).
Carr picks up the same motifs in her follow-up play, Portia Coughlan, where the symbolic body of water becomes the Belmont River. This story tells of the final two tortured days of a woman mourning her suicidal twin on her thirtieth birthday. His singing replaces the cello as the musical symbol, but in more of a haunting allure than a sexual one. This time, it is the entire natural world that responds like Portia. She tells her father: "There's not a corner of your forty fields that don't remind me of Gabriel. His name is in the mouths of the starlin's that swoops over Belmont hill, the cows bellow for him from the barn on frosty winter nights. The very river tells me that once he was here and now he's gone" (Carr, Plays 214).
Belmont River holds the same legendary connection as Owl Lake. This legend is of how the community impaled a local woman because they thought she was a witch. The god Bel found great injustice in this and came down through the valley with a flood, carrying the woman out to sea and forming the Belmont River. Legend says her cries can still be heard by those sensitive to her, as Portia's brother Gabriel was (Carr, Plays 219). Now, Portia hears Gabriel's voice that from the Belmont River.
As in The Mai, the life-giving water also stifles: "In Portia Coughlan, the water again links death and the experience in the womb with another time before and after life, when Portia believes she will be reconciled with her brother, whose singing still calls her to the river" (Upton 78). Her memories of the womb produce a deep psychological exploration. Just as The Mai says no one understands her bond to Robert, the lack of understanding of the bond between Portia and her twin plagues her life. She cannot exist wholly without Gabriel, spiritually nor physically, as shown in the following series of revelations of their relationship:
PORTIA [to Marianne]. [. . .] When God was handin' out souls he must've got mine and Gabriel's mixed up, aither that or he gave us just the one between us and it went into the Belmont River with him – [. . .] . (Carr, Plays 211)
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
PORTIA [to Maggie]. [. . .] Don't know if anyone knows what it's like to be a twin. Everythin's swapped and mixed up and you're aither two people or you're no one. He used call me Gabriel and I used call him Portia. Times we got so confused we couldn't tell who was who and we'd have to wait for someone else to identify us and put us back into ourselves. I could make him cry just by be callin' him Portia. (241)
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
PORTIA [to Raphael]. [. . .] And I never told anyone this before – ya see, me and Gabriel made love all the time down be the Belmont River among the swale, from the age of five – That's as far back as I can remember anyways – But I think we were doin' it before we were born. Times I close me eyes and I feel a rush of water around me and above we hear the thumpin' of me mother's heart, and we're a-twined, his foot on my head, mine on his foetal arm, and we don't know which of us is the other and we don't want to, and the water sweels around our ears, and all the world is Portia and Gabriel packed for ever in a tight hot womb, where there's no breathin', no thinkin', no seein', only darkness and heart drums and touch – [. . . ]. (254)
These passages help define Portia's psychological characterization, showing her haunted by the legend of Belmont, by her dead twin of fifteen years, and by the Fate of her blood line. "The gender is significant:" Upton explains, "Carr seems to propose a Jungian theory of the coexistence of masculine and feminine, which coincides with ancient creation myths involving male and female twins" (78). By depicting the twin-bond for this genderless pair as shared souls and minds Carr creates "a modern psychological myth" (Murray 238).
The comfort of coexisting in the womb with Gabriel in the last scene of the play strongly contrasts with the unrest and the lack of fulfillment in Portia's other relationships. Murray calls her "a discontented, sexually-liberated married woman capable of articulating in violent language her disillusion with men [. . .], children and marital responsibilities" (238). That describes her mildly. As she falls deeper into despair over Gabriel, she isolates herself. Sexual affairs seem like ways to remain active in the physical world as a means of thwarting the dream world that Gabriel inhabits. At fifteen, she began an affair with Damus Halion, causing Gabriel to stop speaking to her. Now, though, she rejects Damus, telling him: "Ya were never more nor a distraction, [. . .]" (Carr, Plays 237). Then, in a moment of desperation, she makes a date with the local bartender. She rejects him, too, for "he was useless, just as I knew he would be" (222); he could not distract from the Belmont either.
Portia's most significant breaks are with her family: "Like her forebears in The Mai, Portia yearns to transcend the limits of her petty life and dysfunctional family. She speaks her mind with brutal honesty, facing painful truths and inflicting cruel blows, [. . .]" (Upton 79). Portia physically attacks her mother, Marianne, and has violent words of accusation and betrayal with both parents in Act 3, Scene 5. Also in this scene, Portia discloses the consequences of Marianne's inability to be a mother: "[. . .] you'd turn on us because we were weaker and smaller than you, but that was nothin' compared with your feeble attempts to love us. We'd sooner have your rage any day!" (Carr, Plays 249). The conflict with her parents revolves around the blame they place on each other for Gabriel's death and the parents' inability to comprehend the twin's relationship, which they saw as "unnatural ways" and "perverted activities" (248 & 251). Again in this drama, Carr addresses the issue of women who refuse, or cannot accept, the expectations of motherhood: "Like Grandma Fraochlán in The Mai, Portia finds herself unable to love her own children because all her passionate energy is consumed in her one true love" (Upton 79). Portia angrily tells Raphael: "I never wanted sons nor daughters and I never pretended otherwise to ya [. . .]. But ya thought ya could woo me into motherhood. [. . .] I can't love them, Raphael. I'm just not able" (221). Still, she is more truthful in her complete rejection than Marianne's "feeble attempts," but her four-year-old that cries for her already feels the motherly absence.
Portia cannot accept the role of wife either. She admits to her mother her true motive for marrying was not because Raphael was rich but "because of his name, a angel's name, same as Gabriel's, and I thought be osmosis or just pure wishin' that one'd take on the qualities of the other. But Raphael is not Gabriel and never will be— [. . .]" (Carr, Plays 210). She echoes this in her final speech:
PORTIA [to Raphael]. [. . .] the stillness and the sureness that came off of you was a balm to me, and when I asked who ya were and they said that's Raphael Coughlan, I though, how can anyone with a name like that be so real, and I says to meself, if Raphael Coughlan notices me I will have a chance to enter the world and stay in it, which has always been the battle for me. [. . .] (255).
This speech shows that, although she wanted him to fill the void left by Gabriel's death, on some level she knew, and wanted, Raphael to be different, real, so to ground her.
Alas, her destructive nature will not allow her to accept this reality. In her attack on him, she says: "I despise you, Raphael Coughlan, with your limp and your cheap suits and your slow ways. I completely and utterly despise you for what you are in yourself, but more for who you will never be. Now leave me alone" (222). To her misfortune, he grants her this request, and the "intensity of Portia's obsessive desire for something more wholesome [than her dysfunctional family life] leads to her destruction through insanity and ultimately suicide" (Upton 79). In the final scene before she gives over to suicide, Portia makes one last attempt at life. Up to this point her desperation forces her to face unbearable facts and to throw them into the faces of those around her. They cannot understand her, so she cannot abide by their misconception of her. She is alone now after explaining her relationship with Gabriel to Raphael:
RAPHAEL. [. . .] I've waited thirteen year for you to talk about me the way you've just talked about him. I'm weary of it all. (Goes to exit.)
PORTIA. Raphael, don't leave me here be me own. (254)
The scene, and the play, closes soon after with the stage directions: "Exit Raphael. Sound of Gabriel's voice, triumphant" (255). She knows Raphael is her last hold on reality,—"[. . .] he's closing in on me, I hear his footfall crossin' the worlds," (Carr, Plays 251)—and when that tie breaks she will re-join Gabriel. For that reason, the play easily accepts the label "dramatisation of alienation [sic]" (Murray 238). It appears that the only people Portia is kind to are the "misfits" (McNulty, "Invasion" 104) in her life: Maggie May, her mother's sister and a one-time prostitute; Senchil, Maggie's fuss-budget husband; and Stacia, Portia's best friend, called the Cyclops of Coolinarney because she wears a patch over one eye. They do not place demands on her like others do, but sadly, they do not know her true self either; she remains alone to the end.
"Despite the shadowy presence of such supernatural forces [as ghosts and legends], the tragic impulse is still given some genetic source" (Upton 79). And in this drama, Carr introduces a new theme to drive the cyclical destruction: incest. The origin of the desperate woman comes from Blaize, Portia's grandmother. She is an eighty-year-old reincarnation of Grandma Fraochlán, but filled with bitterness rather than romantic regret. Blaize treats everyone cruelly, but especially her daughter-in-law, Marianne. "We don't know where ye came from, the histories of yeer blood," Blaize charges. But Marianne responds with the same accusation: "And what were you before ya were married? One of the inbred, ingrown, scurvied McGovern. They say your father was your brother! (Carr, Plays 215). This all seems to be juvenile name-calling until Maggie divulges the truth about Marianne and Sly to Stacia and the pattern of incest between twins becomes real and internal.
MAGGIE. Me mother told me on her death-bed that Marianne was auld Scully's child, around the same time Blaize was expectin' Sly. She knows. The auld bitch! Always knew. That I'm convinced of.
STACIA. And she let them marry?
MAGGIE. Done her best to thwart it, but would never own up as to why of the thwartin'! Too proud, ya see, and me mother too ashamed. Besides, me father would have killed her if he ever found out – [. . .].
STACIA. Portia know all of this?
MAGGIE. No, but her blood do, [. . .] (245)
In this way, "the subject of incest lurks in the background [. . .] of an insular community, where repressed sexual longing transmutes into a near classical sense of fate" (McNulty, "Invasion" 104). No one speaks of it until Portia does, but her tragic soul cannot withstand the truth. Like The Mai, she falls victim to the her own myth, just as the tragic figures before her.
Once she deals with incest gently, Carr then brings it center stage where "she has descended into hell with On Raftery's Hill" (Royal Court, O'Kelly). Another dark tragedy with moments of dark comedy, this play also reflects Greek drama and Carr's innovation. The raucous grandmother, Shalome, captures the romantic fantasy of Grandma Fraochlàn, but with the added touch of moving in and out of moments of senility and lucidity. She almost chooses senility as a barrier to a truth that she, like Blaize, refuses to admit. Michael Coveney of the Daily Mail describes Carr's bold treatment of this taboo subject:
Incest is a hot topic. The Greeks had a word for it, and it was tragedy. This is emotionally retarded, socially injured Catholic Ireland, and the cultural legacy, and probably its reality, is still very much in evidence. [. . .] The past is still the present in this play. And you just wonder what other horrors might be masked in lives of apparently abject normality. (Royal Court, Coveney)
The audience goes through a discovery along with the character Sorrel, the youngest of Redmond Raftery's daughters. While the learning process does not hold the same physical horror as it does for Sorrel, the nature of things on Raftery Hill still shocks and confounds the onlooker. The first striking revelation is that of the physical condition of Red's fields, which replace the body of water as a metaphor for suffocation and entrapment. Just as Shalome fashions her own reality, Red forms his own idea about normalcy. He literally and figuratively looks down on the valley dwellers of the community, saying: "Yees should take a draught a the air up here on the Hill" (Carr, On Raftery's Hill 24). In truth, dead livestock carcasses lie rotting in every field. Foul air, instead, takes on the oppressive symbolism that Carr associates with water in The Mai and Portia Coughlan. The cow replaces the swan as the symbolic animal in this play, being more suited for the farm landscape. They fall victim to this environment, as Sorrel's fiancé reports:
DARA. I seen him cut the udders off a cow noh two wakes ago. Down in the river field. And then he shoh ud, and then he dragged ud to the river wud a rope, a job should take three men to do. And then he pushed ud over the bank into the river. Cows is the most beauhiful creatures, gentle and trustin and curious [. . .] and all the time he's cursin and scramin abouh ould Raftery and the fairyfort, couldn't make head nor tail of ud. (Carr, On Raftery's Hill 33)
Seen here, Red's violence hardly illustrates normalcy, and his ranting over his dead father (auld Raftery) begins unearthing the past in the present. When added to the flighty talk of Shalome and other incidents, a new portrait the inhabitants of this once-grand piece of land emerges.
Shalome continually speaks of leaving the hill to return to her Daddy. She rambles of life and men before marriage, but whether this is senile ramblings or truth is unknown. Yet in one conversation with Red, she reveals a piece of the puzzle: "Well [Old Raftery] never laid a hand on me. Thirty years of marriage and not once did I touch him. How many wives can boast of that?" Ironically, she is speaking to her son. She then tells Red that his father was an English Captain. (—a figment of her imagination? a lie? true?) Red responds by calling her a "lyin witch!" (Carr, On Raftery's Hill 28). Why he does becomes clear later in the play.
At this point, the audience sees Red as a violent man who apparently resents his father and mother. After Dara tells Sorrel about the mutilated cow, however, the extreme nature of Red's violence becomes known. Red listens from the dark as the couple speaks. When Dara leaves, Red accuses Sorrel of plotting against him. He says, "I've allas been too soft on you and look where ud's goh me," and rapes her, cutting off her clothes as if skinning the hares brought home from a blood-thirsty hunt (Carr, On Raftery's Hill 35). No one in the family comes to help, though they all hear Sorrel's cries. The reason finally unfolds when the oldest daughter, Dinah, admits her guilt in the cycle of sin:
DINAH. For eigheen years I watched ya and minded ya and kept ya safe. [. . .] Eigheen years, the best part of me life and nah wan bih a grahitude from you! [. . .] Nowan ever stood up for me. Ya know whah my mother done? She sent me into the bed aside him. [. . .] She didn't want him, so she sends me in. I was twelve. (55-56)
This collaborates a truth already disclosed by Ded, the idiot son who mourns his dead mother and lives in the cowshed out of fear for Red. He carries the musical motif as an expert violinist, but in this family, Ded holds the truth that he cannot live with, so they sedate him and threaten him with an asylum. When not taking his medicine he reacts to the knowledge within himself:
DED. [thrashing around in the middle of a fit] I was the wan had to do ud all! Daddy came to me and he says, you're to go down to the cowshed wud Dina. And I says Daddy I won't, I want to stay wud Mother, and he says, go now and do what you're tould. And there's blood and every fuckin thing comin ouh a Dina. And I says Daddy I don't know what to do and Daddy says she's only calvin and I says I didn't want to be be left wud her and he gives me a belt and draws me up alongside a hees face and says go now and do whah I'm sayin and if ya ever spake of us after I'll cut your balls off. (48)
All of what the audience sees adds up to a shocking conclusion: Carr uses the same four-generational structure to portray an internal frailty passed along like a gene for eye or hair color. Only this inheritance does not signify difference alone, it isolates from society and reality because of its very real horror. By the play's end, one learns that Shalome came to Raftery Hill because she was pregnant and needed to marry. Her longing to return to her Daddy reveals a disturbing truth about the incestual relationship, reflected in how Dinah and Sorrel defend and romanticize their father in the same breath that they curse him. Shalome brought her secret to Raftery Hill. This secret destroys any decency in Red, and then he passes it along to Dinah, with Ded the unwilling, grand keeper of it all. Finally, the young, beautiful Sorrel, the only one with means to escape the clutches of the Hill, falls victim to the secret. Shalome's last comment in the play reinforces the theme of destiny. In response to Red trying to get her to remember her father is dead, Shalome retorts: "Daddy dead? What a lark. Daddys never die, they just fake rigor mortis, and all the time they're throwing tantrums in the coffin, claw marks on the lid" (Carr, On Raftery Hill 57). This destiny will not die either.
This, her most recent work, is undoubtedly Carr's most difficult to view. She takes an unmentionable topic and presents it in such a way that it cannot be ignored. Director Garry Hynes praises her: "Marina has returned again and again to the family, to that central unit by which we organize our society, and has challenged how it works. What she's doing is extremely courageous. It has an extraordinary, terrible beauty" (qtd. Fricker 9). While critics feel Carr makes no attempts at social criticism or moralizing by depicting the complexity of characters and relationships, she makes no disguise of the destructive qualities of such subject matter. Besides the usual symbolism of her plays, Carr introduces the dark imagery of death to echo what occurs on Raftery Hill. Not only do dead animals cover the landscape, but the time of year approaches what is believed to be an unusually harsh winter. Likewise, Red's friend Isaac tells of another bad winter when his wife died and he slept with the body for three days before he could bury her (Carr, On Raftery Hill 41). What's more, in a tale of incest from a valley family, the daughter goes insane after her child from the incident dies. She digs the dead child up and sleeps with it until she dies days later. This image of death in the bed clearly reflects the death of spirit that results from living on Raftery Hill (22).
With such honesty of character and such powerful symbolism in her work, Marina Carr takes bold strides in her playwriting. She recognizes the genius of her predecessors and then digs deep into her culture to present elements of humanity in a new way. Critic Joyce McMillan says of her:
I am not aware of another woman who writes about tragedy with such grandeur. She goes to a deep place that has not just to do with society now but that touches an inner tragedy of existence. The female quality of her writing comes through not only in the way she writes about women, it's in the physicality in her writing. She is right in there with the cycles of life, with the blood and the dirt." (qtd. Fricker 9)
Joyce answers the question of whether Carr's work is feminist or not. It has been said that "there is no feminist message. Her plays to date feature anti-heroine female characters who are individuals and certainly outsiders, but they are neither stereotypes nor wronged Joan of Arcs" (Battersby). Nonetheless, Carr noticeably writes from a female perspective. It is precisely the women outside the norm that makes her distinctly female writer, for she portrays women without the stereotypes. She creates characters that desperately yearn for something more than the cultural constraints, than even the confines of life, allow them. By presenting these characters in classic form and through the reenactment of legend, she gives them a voice that allows the rest of the world to recognize their greatness, as well as their creator's.
Battersby, Eileen. "Marina of the Midlands." Irish Times. 4 May 2000. 5 April 2002. <http:// www.ireland.com>.
Carr, Marina. Plays One: Low in the Dark, The Mai, Portia Coughlan, By the Bog of Cats. London: Faber & Faber, 1999. 100-186, 187-255.
- - -. On Raftery’s Hill. Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland: Gallery Press, 2000.
Fricker, Karen. "From Ireland, A Palette That's Dark Yet Humane." New York Times 14 May 2000, sec. 2: 9+.
Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. Cambridge:
Harvard UP, 1995.
McNulty, Charles. “Unmotherly Feelings.” American Theatre 18.8 (2001): 106-108.
- - -. “Irish Invasion.” Village Voice. 43.16 (1998): 104.
Murray, Christopher. Twentieth-Century Irish Drama: Mirror Up to Nation. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1997.
Roche, Anthony. Contemporary Irish Drama: From Beckett to McGuinness. New York:
St. Martin’s Press, 1995.
Royal Court. Production page. Royal Court Theatre. 4 April 2002 <http:// www.royalcourttheatre.com/reviews/raftery.html>.
Upton, Carole-Anne. "Marina Carr." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Ed. John Bull. 3rd ed. Vol. 245. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 75-80.