J.M.Synge’s Riders to the Sea is fraught with numerous symbols elevating the domestic tragedy to the position of a universal tale of suffering.Most of the symbols used in the play are archetypal in keeping with the classical spirit of the play .The most powerful symbol is that of Sea, the giver and taker of life.The islanders depend on it for their sustenance but it also snatches the live that it gives.Synge makes use of the popular belief that the flood tide induces birth while the ebb tide causes death,reminding us of shakespeare’s treatment in Henry V.Like Shelley ‘s West wind,it is at once destroyer and preserver of life.The sea symbolizes the tragic destiny of the aran islanders.The sea is a supernatural entity over which even the Almighty God of the christians has no control.That is evident from Maurya’ s rejection of the’young ‘ priest Another archetypal symbol is the Riders.
The menfolk of the island are all riders who ,in order to keep the family wheel a going, ride on the sea.Like Santiago,they venture into the sea only to be defeated reminding us of eternal human predicament. There are several symbols associated with life and death.They exist side by side.Mention may be made of the red mare of Bartley and grey pony of Michael .While red stands for viriliy, grey symbolizes death .Bartley also sets out his fearful journey in the shirt that his dead brother left at home., The use of number nine is another important symbol derived from mythology.It is a triple trinity and therefore a perfect number.
There is no news of Michael for nine days and Maurya weeps for her lost son for nine days. Maurya’s turing of the empty cup mouth downwards is another significant symbol suggesting a failure of christian solace and showing the pagan theme of suffering and renunciation. Thus, the symbols employed here bring out the tragic scheme of the play