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‘It is women who have to cope with problems created by men.’ Discuss O’Casey’s role of women in Juno and the Paycock.
One of the main themes throughout the play is that men are weak and incapable where most aspects of life are concerned, and that it is their female counterparts who usually have to suffer the consequences. This belief, which is firmly supported by O’Casey, is perhaps a little too sweeping, as there are always people who are exceptions to the general rule.
This theme of the enternal uselessness of the male, and the strength of the female mind permeates through every Act of the play, and is particularly apparent in the relationship of the leading male and female, Boyle and Juno.
I think in relation to my background knowledge of the writer’s upbringing, he is using Juno as a very significant representative of the female race, which he held in high regard. He was brought up by women, his father died when he was in his early years of life, and so he combines the many character strengths in human nature into the leading female role of Juno.
This is cleverly done to emphasise his respect and admiration for women in general, and in contrast his contempt for the male in society by the use of Boyle, Juno’s husband.
It is through the character of Boyle we see Juno’s strengths, and it is clear that she, as well as O’Casey, does not hold the male species in much regard, which is apparant in Act III when she claims:
“Ah, what can God do agen the stupidity o’ men?”
Boyle lives in a world of fantasy, dreaming of his days as a sailor and a hero, which in reality never occurred.
This is clearly illustrated in Juno’s remark in Act I:
‘…everybody callin’ you “Captain” and you only wast in
the water, in an oul collier from here to Liverpool…’
He also accepts no responsibility for anything, whether it is in connection with his family, his role as a husband or as the breadwinner. By being such a poor specimen of manhood he is leaving Juno with the huge responsibility of bringing in enough money to support the family, which would have been very difficult at that time for a woman. She also has to deal with keeping the whole structure of the Boyle family together, things that predominantly would have been the responsibility of the man of the house in early 20th century Ireland.
However, Boyle seems to have no conscience about the harm that he is inflicting on his family, especially on his wife; he spends all of his money on drink and doesn’t care what the consequences are. Not only does he spend all the money, he brings nothing into the family as he is profoundly workshy, or as we know, downright lazy. The weak excuse he offers to Juno of the pains in his legs obviously frustrates her, as it is she that then has to cope with their financial problems. The fact of his laziness is quite obvious to everyone, even to Joxer: another male in the story who indirectly creates problems for women. Joxer’s sharp comment –
‘Lookin’ for work and praying to God he won’t get it!’
– shows just how lethargic Boyle is, not only in regard to work, but also with his roles as an Irish Citizen, as a father and a husband. Boyle’s constant complaining of pain in his legs shows him to be completely shameless, and to the utter disgust of the reader he is also nothing but a manipulative liar, which is shown when he swears to Juno “on the holy prayer book” that he has not been drunk for the past three weeks. Even before the appearance of the money from the will, we can see that Juno is under considerable emotional stress just from having to live with Boyle.
All the flaws and weaknesses of man seem to be embodied in Boyle, who is such a poor father and a husband that even at the end of the play he seems unfit to stop the removal men from taking away their very remaining possessions, because he is once again drunk. One might also conclude that Jack Boyle does not have any conception of the gravity of the problems around him because his thoughts only concern questions of how to make life easier and more agreeable for himself.
Boyle constantly wears Juno down. He saps her strength, and makes her life a misery. She is rarely happy in the play, and she is often left with the very unpleasant task of hounding Boyle into undertaking something productive for family life. She is never sure of when he will return home, and so she has to become independant and almost self sufficient as she sadly realises it would be stupid to entrust any responsibility in her husband. She has almost grown accustomed to his selfish ways, and we can see this in Act I:
‘Oh, he’ll come home when he likes; struttin’ about the town
like a paycock with Joxer, I suppose.’
This quotation emphasises O’Casey’s ongoing criticism of Boyle through the whole play. The word “paycock” is phonetically written in the Irish accent, and it means “peacock” in standard English. Peacocks are rather arrogant birds, and this idea is portrayed effectively in Juno’s statement with the use of the word “strutt” as that is exactly what they do. They pronounce themselves in a very superior manner, and through this O’Casey is trying to attack Boyle’s foolishness that he thinks he is superior than any of his family, because in fact, he is quite the opposite.
The announcement that money is going to enter the Boyle family sends Boyle’s selfishness into overdrive. Without the presence of the actual money, he commences lavishly to treat himself to all the finer things in life, as he sees them. However, we can conclude from O’Casey’s detailed stage directions that their small tenement just ends up looking suitably tacky, but this prospect of money seems to lift a strain off their unstable family life, in particular the feelings of Juno who almost seems happy, or at least a little more content without her previous financial pressures. Whenever Boyle realises the money will not grace them with its prescence, Juno is put under further emotional anxiety as another trouble is added to their already disastrously huge load of problems. Sensibly Juno, after defending Boyle for many years, makes the wise decision to leave her unhappy life with him, and take Mary with her. This quite significantly shows the reader how O’Casey has left Boyle bearing the brunt of his own stupidity, another attack by the writer on the male sex.
Perhaps the most contemptible and, indeed, fundamental, flaw in Boyle’s character is his considerable lack of support, and thus love, for his daughter Mary. At the only point in the play when Mary needs so much help she even turns to her father (due to reasons in relation with her pregnancy), he only offers spiteful words of indifference and hatred. He has no positive thoughts for her, in contrast to Juno who provides much needed support by accompanying her to the doctor’s etc. Even though earlier on in the play when Mary was stronger, Juno had scolded her about her vanity, when she is in trouble and is pregnant, Juno defends her to the point where she would leave her husband, showing tremendous strength of character.
The prejudices against unmarried mothers in the early 20th century were clearly seen by Juno and she was determined to stick by her. In that society Mary would have lost much of her social integrity and credibilty when she became pregnant. It is likely that most other women would also have adopted Juno’s attitude but unfortunately this was not the way that most men thought in those troubled times. This insensitivity was also shown by her brother Johnny who claims,
“She shoulds be dhriven out o’ th’ house, she’s brought
Johnny also demonstrates this lack of passion further when he blames the removal of the furniture on Mary. At such a difficult stage in her life, where she must of been in a complete state of turmoil, by using the fact that Johnny (a man) forces this huge problem on her shoulders, is also very significant to O’Casey’s portrayal of women suffering as a result of actions done by men. However we can perhaps lighten our contempt a little as it is very apparent that Johnny is in no sound state of mind, whether or not he is exaggerating it. He is constantly on edge and very irrational where most situations are concerned so it is possible that he may have displayed a different attitude had he not been so agitated and scared.
Johnny is another man who relies on a woman to bring him all that needs, again displaying men to be controversially the weaker sex. He uses his “sickness” to demand Juno to bring him glasses of water, when he could have easily fetched one himself. He depends on her to shield him from his own immense guilt when he imagines that he sees Robbie Tancred kneeling before the statue of St. Anthony. Even worse though, is that he is generally very bad-tempered towards his mother, constantly asking her to do things for him, which wears Juno down and makes her irritable, and ensures that she is nearly always in a bad frame of mind. This is another very obvious example of how women have to suffer for the actions of men. Johnny directs his guilt and his anger towards Juno because of the murder that he committed. O’Casey uses this so we view Juno as a victim of other people’s stupid mistakes, mainly those of men.
On the other hand, it is important to note that O’Casey paints Johnny in a slightly different way to that of the other men in the play. He is a character of certain pity; the image created of him being dragged out screaming to his death provokes some sympathy. He is though, mainly used to show another obstruction to his mother’s happiness.
In Juno and the Paycock, Jerry Devine also conveys another way on how a man lands a problem on a women and how it is she who has to deal with it. He deserts Mary when learning that she is pregnant, displaying a similar narrow-mindedness to that of Johnny and Boyle. He is a man who promises much but fails to deliver and all of his surrounding ideals do nothing for Mary in her greatest time of need. He speaks a lot of empty and meaningless words:
‘Your mother has told me everything, Mary, and I have come
to tell you, Mary, that my love for you is even greater and
deeper than ever…’
‘My God, Mary, have you fallen as low as that?’
Bentham is the other man who was involved with Mary, and is the father of her baby. He is another typical representative of the male species in O’Casey’s eyes. He shows only selfish love for Mary – he only wanted her for the money promised to the family in the will. His smarmy manner is remisicent of many members of society and this along with his very limited intelligence shows him to be a thoroughly distasteful character. He is similar to Boyle, only a little more refined; they are both cowards who shrug responsibility and betray those who value their love. They also both create huge problems for women, and refuse to support them through it. Here we can see the satirical style of O’Casey, in criticizing a “type” as well as just a “single character.”
Boyle’s “friend” Joxer does not bring about any direct influence on any of the characters in the play, but he aids Boyles in his ways. He is a terrible weight on Boyle’s shoulder, even if Boyle fails to realise this, and in the midst of Boyle’s troubles Joxer stirs things up even more, which Juno too realises:
‘There’ll never be any good got out o’ him so long as he
goes with that shouldher-shruggin’ Joxer. I killin’ meself
workin’, an’ he sthruttin’ about from mornin’ till night like
This quotation also shows Juno to be a family woman who tries to keep life working and in a bearable state. This is the complete antithesis to the role portrayed by her husband, whose responsibility for fatherly and marital duties are seldom evident in the play. He leaves Juno to play both mother and father to Mary and Johnny, which is incredibly difficult and hard to accomplish with Boyle’s severe lack of support. He helps out with nothing, and spends the days ” gallivantin’ ” with Joxer, with whom he has formed a rather unreliable “friendship”.
In the play when Boyle is present , so too is his “sidekick” Joxer in most cases. He is parasitic and is basically only out for what he can achieve out of every situation. He represents a man who O’Casey despises, and although he does not have a direct influence on any of the female characters in the play, he does indirectly influence Juno because in Boyle’s eyes he takes priority over his wife . O’Casey demonstrates him as a typical member of society, however his role in the play is exaggerated to emphasise other themes in the play, like that of humour.
In the playscript O’Casey creates through detailed use of description and language, the character of Boyle, who epitomises human weakness and uselessness, specifically that of men. And in contrast through the actions of Boyle, he portrays a very courageous and determined character in Juno, who O’Casey uses to represent women in general.
In Boyle O’casey seemed to create one of the most dispicable individuals possible. Of course there will be some people in society who will adopt this view of men in general, as indeed O’Casey did seem to, but it is a little harsh and unreasonable in my opinion. However it must be remembered that all the characters are a little exaggerated in order to convey a message and to show the true heroism of others. In Juno’s case her determined attempts at keeping her family together are further highlighted by her husband’s constant state of drunken oblivion.
Also, the huge problems suffered by women are not only inflicted by dominant male parts in the play. For example the “rough voice” that delivers the news to Juno and Mary that Johnny is dead, I believe, is another attempt by the writer to symbolise male arrogance, and their attitude of impatience towards the women in Ireland at that time, as displayed in the quotation:
‘Are yous going’ to keep us waitin’ for yous all night?’
At the end of the play it dramatically finishes with Joxer and Boyle only having each other. This is possibly justice for them in that they both deserve only the other’s drunken and foolish company. Boyle has already ruined the remainder of whatever life Juno could possess, and she has wisely broken free from her husband’s oppression and turns out the be the admirable heroine of the play. This is the ultimate controversial point as at the time of a very male-dominated society, O’Casey dared to write this, and not a member of the opposite sex, as one may well think.
It is important to realise that O’Casey had a slightly biased view. When he was a child, his father died in 1886, and the sickly, weak-eyed boy was raised by his mother who came to personify the unsung heroines of oppression in many of his plays.While this is a play of its time showing the social mores and attitudes of a particular era in Dublin life, O’Casey’s representation of prejudice and inequality is still significant to us today.
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