Isolation, Rurality and Modernity in McPherson's The Weir

Conor McPherson’s The Weir, written and first performed in 1997, tells the story of a group of men and a woman who spend an evening together in a pub and experience, paradoxically, a deep sense of isolation. The setting of the play does not make a mention of a specific place or a time period other than rural Ireland in the present. This allows for the interpretation of the setting according to the audience’s experience. The play is in itself a study on the paradoxical realities of modern and rural lifestyles, on the haunting isolation that lurks in between the spaces among cities and the countryside. The play can be adapted to the passage of time and allows for the reflection of the universal experience of isolation in the past, present and the future.


Paul O'Brien & Mary McCann in The Weir. Irish Repertory Theatre. 2015.

The sense of isolation comes about according to some critics, such as Andrew Hazucha, through ‘tension represented here between rural identity and the pressures of modernity’ (Hazucha, 2013). The warring forces of the rural and modern identities are very clearly exemplified in the lack of light outside the pub. In a city, there is always some form of light, but in a pub attached to a farm, darkness reigns. Inside the pub, there is a clash between the modern, a television set; and the rural, exemplified by the lack of wine and other beverages that are common in pubs in cities. Modernity presents itself as the opposite of the isolation and separateness embodied by the rural setting.


The characters see themselves as not quite fitting in with their community, which seems to be embracing modernity in the shape of infrastructure and tourism. The pub seems to be frozen in time, empty, with black and white photographs on the walls, unoccupied chairs, and an unused TV. When the first character, Jack, is introduced, he appears to be lost in the vast expanse of the pub. The more Jack is on his own on stage, presumably in silence, the more his appearance suggests an element of loneliness and isolation. If the scene took place in a metropolis the expectation would be for others to be at the bar, perhaps there would be noises coming from the outside, conversations, or cars. It is this first blank auditive space which suggests that this pub is its own microcosm. The feeling of isolation seems to recede a little with the appearance of some of the other characters but it does not dissipate completely.


Amanda Quaid, Tim Ruddy, Sean Gormley and Paul O’Brien in The Weir. The New York Times. 2015.

Throughout the play, even when characters talk to each other, there seems to be some more of these blank spaces that hint at a deeper sense of isolation. According to an article written by Nicholas Grene, McPherson's characters suffer from an ‘existential alienation’ (Grene, 2014). The isolation that permeates the lives of the characters is directly affected by the physical distance they are from big cities, and bigger communities. This is exemplified by Valerie, the only female character and the newcomer who has arrived in town to escape her past life and the death of her child. Valerie embodies the contradictory feelings of belonging and non-belonging since she cannot go back to her past life due to her trauma but at the same time she finds some common ground with the men at the pub.


The outside world penetrates the microcosm of the pub in the form of supernatural stories about fairies and ghosts. All of the characters seem to have a story to tell, they eagerly share them and are gratified when others listen to their stories with understanding. Time, as well as geography, become abstract as the stories begin to unravel and once a tale is told, the location disappears with it. The characters themselves state that they will one day disappear and leave nothing behind. The only exception is the weir, of which there is a black and white photograph on the wall. However, the photograph was taken so long ago that it creates a sense of loss when it’s being discussed. The inability to return to that time and place, and the threat of modernity coming to take over the weir and the locations near it creates a void of sorts from which the characters don’t seem to be able to escape.


Amanda Quaid, Tim Ruddy, Sean Gormley and Paul O’Brien in The Weir. Irish Repertory Theatre. 2015.

In an article analysing the play, Kevin Kerrane, a critic of Irish drama, claims that there is a ‘reversal, or peripeteia, [which] is a structural shift in the plot itself that helps to generate pity and fear by surprising the audience as well as characters’ (Kerrane, 2006). This is particularly prominent as not only modernity is perceived as a threat to the rural identity but as the loneliness which appears to come from the rural lifestyle itself becomes an oppressive force.


In order not to be consumed by loneliness, the characters must necessarily seek each other out. They eventually leave the pub in groups, riding with each other and helping each other make their way out through the darkness. The darkness serves to heighten the feeling of isolation. The men, and Valerie, seek others with whom they can share experiences that have separated them from others in the past. The pub they visit is, in itself, a liminal space, one in which seemingly contradictory forces converge. Just as modernity and rurality have intersected, so have these people who, even if just for an evening, have found a community.


Bibliographical References

Grene, N. (2014). Urban Alienation and Mental Geography in Conor McPherson's Dublin. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS), 20 (2). JSTOR.


Hazucha, A. (2013). The Shannon Scheme, Rural Electrification, and Veiled History in Conor McPherson's "The Weir." New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, 17 (1). JSTOR.


Kerrane, K. (2012). The Structural Elegance of Conor McPherson's "The Weir." New Hibernia Review/Iris Éireannach Nua, 10 (4). JSTOR.


Visual Sources

Amanda Quaid, Tim Ruddy, Sean Gormley and Paul O’Brien in The Weir [Photograph]. (2015) The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/theater/review-in-the-weir-things-go-bump-in-the-night-at-the-pub.html


Amanda Quaid, Tim Ruddy, Sean Gormley and Paul O’Brien in The Weir. [Photograph]. (2015). Irish Repertory Theatre. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/irishrep/photos/a.10153083732455345/10153083734580345


Paul O'Brien & Mary McCann in The Weir [Photograph]. (2015). Irish Repertory Theatre. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/irishrep/photos/a.10153083732455345/10153173643530345



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Analicia Garcia Priego

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