Heroism & Authority in John Synge’s Playboy of the Western World:

The protagonist of John Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Christy Mahon, is transformed into a local hero among Mayo for murdering his father. Whilst Christy does not personally view himself as a heroic figure as Christy is preoccupied with legal anxieties, Christy quickly understands that the story positions Christy as a legend. For the villagers, heroism is defined as an act of defiance against an authoritative figure, viewing the death of Christy’s father as heroic as opposed to murder. The villagers believe that Christy saved himself from a monotonous and tedious existence, which the villagers are unable to alleviate themselves from. The loy is employed as a symbol of Christy’s heroic elevation as the long spade, used traditionally for farming, represents Christy’s rural farming life, implying Christy’s ability to transform a tool of his toil into a tool of power and rebellion. Synge presents a close-knit community longing for a saviour figure, symbolised by Pegeen as a figure keen to accept and praise Christy.

However, Christy is juxtaposed with Shawn, who refuses to play the role of Pegeen’s protector. Pegeen casts away from Shawn once learning of Christy’s story, revealing Pegeen’s visceral desire for a heroic figure. However, once Synge reveals that Christy’s father is not dead, Pegeen and the villagers turn on Christy. The Playboy of the Western World explores the easiness of considering a story fantastical as opposed to real, highlighted by the mythical pedestal that Christy is placed upon. After Christy leaves Mayo, Pegeen is presented as distressed, illustrating Pegeen’s unwaning longing for a protective and heroic figure. Linked to the exploration of heroism, Synge presents the villagers’ attitudes towards authority. Christy is celebrated for killing Old Mahon, whom Christy describes as tyrannical and the villagers seem unconcerned about the legal repercussions of harbouring a fugitive. Whilst Christy is originally viewed as a worldly and authoritative figure, the villagers turn on Christy and Christy is saved by Old Mahon. Despite Christy trying to kill Old Mahon twice, Old Mahon is presented as Christy’s authority figure and Old Mahon’s saving of Christy presents authority as simultaneously oppressive and protective. The villagers conclusively remain ambiguous towards authority as whilst they are tempted by the prospect of defying authority, they concurrently desire the security that authority provides, fearing the potential consequences of authority figures turning against the village.