Characters' Reactions to Death in Riders to the Sea
In "Riders to the Sea" several reactions to the death of Michael take place when each of the individual characters learn of the tragedy and express their grief.
The first, which would most naturally occur, is for someone to become extremely pessimistic. The character Mauyra most obviously becomes pessimistic even while she is still not sure of the fate of her son. Even the idea of Bartley leaving to sell the horses makes her nervous, she’s afraid of losing her last son. Her pessimism is obvious when she says, "It’s hard set we’ll be surely the day you’re drownd’d with the rest. What way will I live and the girls with me, and I an old woman looking for the grave." Mauyra is completely destroyed by the deaths of the other men in her life. The death of her second to last son left her with an unabated pessimism that Bartley would die when he left to sell the horses. Mauyra’s angst is evident when she says, "He’s gone now, God spare us, and we’ll not see him again. He’s gone now, and when the black night is falling I’ll have no son left me in the world." Mauyra's pessimism is her way of keeping those around her from dying, perhaps some sense of guilt drives her emotions.
The least obvious reaction to a death is that of optimism. Though most people tend to seem optimistic, in all cases it is a false hope, a vocalized prayer in hopes that their worst fears will not come true. Cathleen has this same optimistic hope that so many hold onto for their dead loved ones. The optimistic impression given by Cathleen comes through most clearly when the girls set out to identify the clothing that the young priest had given to them. While going through the clothes they both look for telltale signs that the clothing may or may not belong to their "supposedly" dead brother. Cathleen takes her first optimistic tone when looking at the shirt that came in the bundle, when referring to the type of fabric that the shirt is made of Cathleen claims "…but if it is itself aren’t there great rolls of it in the shops of Galway, and isn’t it many another man may have a shirt of it as well as Michael himself?" This trend continues...