In the time ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ was set Gerry and Chris’s relationship would have been extremely unorthodox and would have circulated a lot of town gossip. Having a child out of wedlock was extremely shocking and making the decision to then keep Michael even more so. In 1936 women had very few rights and with the shock of Michael being born only the towns respect for their brother, a missionary, kept them from being societal lepers. Friel presents the relationship between Gerry and Chris by using stage directions to show the true feelings between them and how their relationship is sustained.
Having Gerry and Chris talking in the garden while the four other sisters are inside listening intently shows how little privacy the two have in their relationship. When Gerry first arrives Chris appears extremely cold and offhand in front of him using one word answers ‘Chris: Hello, Gerry… yes…yes. ’ All of this gives the impression that she has very little time for him and doesn’t particularly care about him. However Friel’s staging shows the audience that she really does care because we see her reaction before Gerry comes on stage.
Friel portrays her as standing stock still in shock then, when coming to her senses, rushing around panicking, ‘adroitly adjusts her hair and clothes. ’ It is the panic before the extract that shows her much Chris truly does care about Gerry and also about how little the sisters have in their lives due to the their scramble to make themselves presentable. This highlights how Gerry is a key romantic figure in the play because even though all the while the sisters are saying ‘Kate: He won’t stay the night here’ and ‘Rose:
I hate him!’ they still all end up crowding around the window to listen in and watch, suggesting that though disapproving they still half wish to be in Chris’s shoes. The social constraints of the situation lead them to wanting Gerry out of the families lives, but still the desire is there through the constant comments. These comments are key to the suggestion of an invasion of privacy, ‘Maggie: you should see the way she’s looking at him…Kate: they’re not still talking are they?
’ Friel is trying to show how hard it must be for Gerry and Chris to live in such an enclosed area where everyone knows everyone’s business, thus exploring a theme of romance, or lack of romance. This is continued throughout the extract, the fact that Gerry never visits ‘Chris: 13 months’ making the relationship seem very one sided – Chris remembering the last visit to the day while Gerry can’t remember the month. Gerry proposes to Chris at the very end of the extract and this gives a sign that maybe he does care about her.
Even though Chris turns him down there is still the slight remembrance of this moment throughout the rest of the play, leading to the audiences opinion that maybe Gerry does truly care for Chris despite leaving her alone with child. However through Michael’s narrative closer to the end of the play in the second act we find out that Gerry already had ‘a wife and three grown children’, Friel choosing to leave this revelation till the end to produce a far more dramatic climax to their relationship. It is then that the audience realises that Gerry never intended to marry Chris and only offered in the knowledge that she would refuse.
This all gives the impression that there is never any real closeness or intimacy for the two of them and the whole summer of happiness before, ‘suddenly he takes her in his arms and dance. ’ was a lie. A large influence on Friel when writing ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ was the changing role of women in society. Thatcher had just been Prime Minister and women’s rights were becoming much more accepted in the 1990’s, perhaps why Friel chose to make this such a large part of the play. Set in 1936 the Mundy sisters would not have been at all accepted by society with Chris having Michael out of wedlock and then deciding to keep him.
Changing attitudes within society would have influenced Friel’s interpretation of Chris and Gerry’s relationship. Friel depicted this family as an example of what is yet to come, the sisters supported Chris throughout and after her pregnancy even though it went against societies beliefs, thus inflicting Chris’s embarrassment upon themselves as well yet still sticking together as a family. Friel emphasizes that women should have the right to do as they please through the disruption of outside influences.
At the beginning of the play the sisters are happy in their little bubble making jokes about the outside world ‘Maggie: steady on girl, today its lipstick; tomorrow it’s the gin bottle’ although never participating in it. It’s when they begin to allow others into their circle that things begin to go down hill for them. Before Gerry’s arrival they were all dancing and laughing but his arrival marked a change for them all, Friel perhaps suggesting that women don’t need the influences of men and all they bring with them is destruction.
Danny Bradley and Rose are another example of this, the death of Rose’s defenceless white rooster is symbolic of mans predatory nature and the violence of this act implies violence between Rose and Bradley. Therefore Friel is portraying women as stronger without the male interference, Chris and Gerry’s relationship is used to highlight this as it is obvious to the audience that Chris would have been better off without Gerry in the first place but it is this continued procrastinating relationship that truly destroys her.
The audience views Chris and Gerry’s relationship with trepidation throughout the play due to Friel’s depiction of him as a stereotypical womaniser. Kate calls him a ‘Loafer! Wastrel! ’ but conveniently neglects to mention the obvious charisma he has. In a short few minutes of conversation he has turned Chris from cold and unwelcoming ‘Chris: Thirteen months. ’ To one who is warm and laughing and allows Gerry to ‘dance her lightly, elegantly across the garden. ’ The audience views this exchange with surprise having heard only very negative things about Gerry from the sisters; the easy acceptance from Chris confuses them.
The audience’s mistrust of Gerry’s character increases after the small discussion of Agnes between the two. Having already seen Agnes’s rigid, almost forced disinterest in Gerry, and then to have Gerry asking specifically after her Friel creates a slight unease for the audience, suggesting that something may have between the two of them. This leads to the audience beginning to see the cracks in the family’s foundations with Gerry seemingly at the centre of this. Friel enforces this idea of him being a womaniser later in act 2 when he begins to flirt with Agnes ‘Gerry:
Dance with me Agnes.’ and then kisses her forehead, all of this watched by Chris. The audience begins to really mistrust Gerry at this point as it is obvious that he is the cause of conflict between the family they have come to love. The audience is seeing men in a bad light which relates to the feelings at the time it was being performed when the term ‘glass ceiling’ was coming into existence, women in the workplace being oppressed by men and now, in the play, them to being oppressed in relationships.
There is the feeling that men can get away with any sort of misdemeanour by just walking away, leaving, whereas women i. e. Chris, are always left with the result – a baby. Gerry’s carrying on represents this stereotypical male so that when the audience discovers that Gerry in fact has ‘a wife and three grown children’ it comes as no surprise.
In conclusion, Friel presents Gerry and Chris’s relationship as something parallel to that of a pre 1990’s relationship. He wants to suggest to the audience that women no need longer depend on men by showing how much better off the Mundy sisters were before the arrival of Gerry and the conflict he brought within the family.
Although the influences on Friel were all about the empowerment of women, he presents Gerry and Chris’s relationship with Gerry as the dominant figure, putting the play in the context of its setting and to show how the male dominance was a cause of the family breaking down. Through his presentation of the relationship he is evoking the idea that there are more possibilities available to an empowered women rather than a dominated one.