This book is a very dark glimpse into a dying world that once existed through all of human civilization. Fairies and giants and ghost ships are as much a part of these people’s real world as is God and the police who come onto the islands to kick people out of their homes.
I do wonder, however, what Synge’s intention was to portray these people as being so simple. He does admire their skill with the boats but he spends so much time with old men who tell tales that have no point that it’s easy to think the whole island lives and thinks as these old men do. Yet the young men, Michael in particular, leaves the islands to find work elsewhere because he knows there is no future on those grey, wet rocks. And the other danger is that we get pulled into a nostalgic portrait of the islands that never really existed outside of the imaginations of these old men.
Still, there are moments that are quite beautiful and telling as to how things really are on the Aran Islands. First is the priest, whom we never meet but are always told about braving the rough sees day after day and risking his life as he tends to his flock. Though we never meet this man, I couldn’t get the image out of my head of a man dressed in priest’s black, standing upright on a small boat tumbling upon the waves in a fierce gale. I would love to have heard his story. The other telling moment was for the funeral of the young man. This was a beautiful and very sad scene where they bury him in the same spot where his grandmother had been buried and they find her skull among the black planks on her coffin. This image, coupled with the young man having lost his head at sea, is a wonderfully confusing image where the nostalgic sensibility of the old is placed on the dead body of the young that can’t carry it to any future other than the grave.
Perhaps this is why all the stories end with absolutely no point because life is, to them, pointless. Life is hard, the women wear out in childbirth before they’re even 20, the men drink and fight and die at sea for a pittance of a catch, or the lucky ones move to America and never come back, their story unfinished.
I didn’t know you could use a ferret to help you hunt for rabbits.
One of the major themes Synge encounters is the language. This is central to the islands’ identity and is a source of pride for the people. Add in that academics are always visiting the islands to study the language and many residents believe the whole world is absorbed with learning their language.
Funny how people always ask if there is war.
I’ve been trying to imagine what sort of person our narrator, the author, is. We hardly know anything about him and he only tells us what other people have said or done. Yet he seems well liked and respected by most of the people he runs across – which says as much (even more) about their hospitality than his charm.
I liked the bit about the rough boat ride and the old man asking him when he’s getting married.
Very sad scene about the police who come to kick the people out of their homes, especially the women who have nowhere to go. This parallels their desire to keep things the same – specifically their language – as it’s the new cutting into the old. Yet all the boats are leaky, all the children move away, and their is very little future here.
Not sure what the point of the story about the young man who sets out to seek his fortune and then kills three giants (making the cows give a ton of milk each time) and then killing the giant fish over three days to save the queen was all about, but it does speak to what the people of the islands believe about the world and how people should behave – though it is obscure.
More girls. He loves girls (who doesn’t?)
The image of the men riding (basically) side saddle as they go about at full gallop counters strangely with the old woman who perform the hysterical wailing at a funeral amid the wet rocks, cold wind, and old graves. He always notices the young women – he must want some company of that sort on these lonely islands, especially since he’s ‘lived in France’
The opening amounts to much of a sketch of the islands and a few people he briefly meets or just sees. The weather is always gray and rainy, but the women are always beautiful and full of life and leave an area more lonely after they leave it (as he puts it). This sets the stage for a story told of a young man who, after obtaining gold from what must be a leprechaun, marries then tries to kill his wife.