‘Re-read Act 2 from page 56 (CHRIS: There she is!) to page 59 (KATE: what has happened to this house? Mother of God, will we ever be able to lift our heads ever again…? (Pause)). Discuss the presentation and role of Rose in this extract and elsewhere in the play. Although mentally handicapped, Rose Mundy is perhaps the most fearless of all her sisters. Her role in ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ is key in highlighting the morally and religiously restricting traits in her sister Kate as well as outlining the confining constraints of living in very rural Ireland. As the plot unravels, the audience become increasingly aware of Rose’s dispersing innocence when symbolic events such as the dead ‘stained’ rooster occur. As a result of her disability, ‘simple’ Rose is very vulnerable to the likes of the unseen character, Danny Bradley. Naturally, the sisters are cautious of Danny’s motives as they are aware of his marriage. At the beginning of Act 1 the girls warn Rose of what he is really like when she tells them “he wants to bring me up to the back hills”.
Poor Rose is unaware of Danny Bradley’s obvious sexual intentions and attempts to justify her feelings with innocent remarks like “he calls me his Rosebud” which make the audience pity Rose even more as she is so unaware of the seediness that lies beneath it all. Rose becomes easily absorbed by her ideas of certain situations, the fact that she has only been with Danny Bradley for a short time and is already naïvely declaring that “I love him” suggests that she is very immature and especially susceptible to the false, grand illusion of love that Danny Bradley has exposed her to. This indication of Rose’s ability to become quickly engrossed into things is emphasised to the audience again when in the mad outburst of dance in Act 1 she is the only one left “dancing her graceless dance by herself” at the end. Moreover, suggesting that as the ‘simpleton’ she becomes the most easily engrossed and continues her dance to the end; childishly, she finds it the hardest to accept that this outburst of freedom must end, reiterating that once she has a hold on things, Rose finds it hard to let go.
Rose is reliant on the care of her family to survive; despite helping Agnes with her knitting, her lack of intellect means that she could never earn enough money to support herself, moreover this is proved twenty five years later when Michael finds her dying in a hospice for the destitute in Southwark. So Friel uses Rose to demonstrate yet another burden on the other sister’s lives, she is very childlike and as a result her sisters express an anxious concern over her. This is illustrated when her sisters learn of Rose’s disappearance in Act 2; Agnes begins to cry and sobs “where is she? What’s happened to our Rosie?” Although simpleminded, Rose is a thirty-two year old grown woman who-if her sister’s allowed her to could look after herself for at least an afternoon. To an audience, this scene of the sisters frantically obsessing over Rose’s whereabouts would probably appear rather unnecessary.
Especially upon her return, Rose is seen in an almost different light, described by Friel as potentially being ‘any youngish country woman’ she seems to have blossomed and matured. The audience are reminded of the irrational distress displayed by her sister’s moments before, when in contrast Rose walks ‘lethargically’ emphasising her calmness and composure. The audience feel pathos for Rose more than anyone in Act 2, there is this great sense of dramatic irony as the audience are aware of the news she will soon receive. What’s more, for the first time Rose is presented by Friel as this contented, laid back young woman which makes the scene even more tragic because the audience know that soon Rose’s world will fall apart. Secondly, the audience also know that Danny Bradley is married; unlike Rose they do not trust him. She is unaware of his deceiving nature which is deeply sad and so, when she explains how she met him at Lough Anna and then together they “went up through the back hills” the worst is assumed by everyone.
Small details that appear romantic to Rose such as him calling her “his Rosebud” seem sleazy and worrying to everyone else as they know what Danny Bradley is really like, but unfortunately poor Rose is too simple to realise. It is also very disheartening to watch Rose have to return to her banal, grubby household duties after just seeing her in such a natural, relaxed state. Maggie tells Rose that she needs to go and get some turf and Rose replies “I’ll change first, Maggie.” It is sad that Rose’s happiness cannot last any longer; moreover it is interesting that she changes her clothes because Rose’s outfits are very representative of her routines. She changes from her good skirt and her good shoes to her overalls and her wellingtons which show the drastic return from freedom and femininity to these monotonous dirty tasks which she is summoned to. There is a significant loss of innocence seen in Rose by her sisters and the audience after she has returned from her date with Danny Bradley. Firstly, after thrusting some berries into her mouth she is left with “stained fingers.”
This has sexual overtones as a staining of red suggests a loss of innocence that can never be washed out. Similarly, when Agnes rushes to meet Rose ‘Instead of hugging her, as she wants to, she catches her arm.” Thus emphasising that Agnes realises Rose is no longer a child, she is a woman now and she should not hug her as if she is a little girl. ‘Catches’ suggests that Agnes has to restrain herself from showing her true feeling, which quietly reiterates the repression that dominates the lives on the sisters. Similarly, much later in Act 2 the sentimentality of the family picnic is shattered when Rose appears with her pet rooster which has been ominously killed by a fox. Friel describes how “Its feathers are ruffled and it is stained with blood.” This visually arresting event reminds the audience that Rose’s life is soon to be ‘ruffled’ and all over too with her job loss, her homelessness and eventually her death.
The fact that the white rooster is now stained red also echoes her stained fingers earlier; it signifies a loss of virginity and a loss of innocence within Rose. Her reaction to the death of her pet rooster is very interesting, the lack of mournfulness suggests that Rose has already grown up and let go of her pet. She tells Maggie “I don’t want another” which reiterates her new found maturity as she realises she is too old for pets. Also, Rose’s attitude towards her sisters changes after she has been with Danny. Rose‘s response to Kate’s very typical sharp questioning is at first very blunt, but eventually she launches into a long account of her afternoon directing her speech at the sisters individually and also to the whole group. Thus even her interacting composure has changed and matured after being away from her sisters.
Rose also undermines Kate’s authority by telling her that “the boy you said was dying” is now “on the mend.” This shows that after being away from her sisters and returning she feels that she can now speak up. Finally, this change in attitude may also suggest that it is Rose’s restrictive home environment which is causing her disability as she has never been given the chance to fully speak out for herself before. After revealing where she has been, Kate rhetorically asks “Mother of God, will we ever be able to lift our heads ever again…?” This outlines that Rose’s actions with Danny Bradley do not reflect the strict rules of the Catholic Church which Kate so consciously abides by.
According to her older sister, the events of Rose’s afternoon brought shame on their household, reiterating how religion imposes a restriction on Rose’s life. To conclude, Friel uses Rose to illustrate not just another constraint the other Mundy sisters are burdened with, but to paint a larger picture of the hardship that many young, single and especially mentally handicapped women faced when living in 1930s Ireland. Finally, Rose plays an important role in triggering emotion in the audience as the most heart-wrenching moments are offered by her scenes.