English Literature » Notes » Juno and the Paycock: O’Casey’s Pacifism

Juno and the Paycock: O’Casey’s Pacifism

O’Casey is not only a great dramatist but also a great humane. Irish characters and Irish civilization constitute basic themes in his plays. O’Casey was committed throughout his life to the liberation of individualism. Being a humanist, O’Casey could never reconcile with the idea of jingoistic patriotism. He was without any exaggeration a great pacifist. He was disillusioned with the Irish republicanism. Though he did not fight in the Easter Rising yet he was imprisoned by English soldiers. He wishes for an independent Ireland but his sympathies were with the non-combatants.

His sympathies were enlarged because of his deep affection for his mother who narrowly escaped during the Easter Rising. He was the member of Irish Renaissance. He unveiled the depraved and highlighted the miseries of poor people during the civil war.

“Juno and the Paycock” also has, like O’Casey’s other plays, war at its background. O’Casey is very much against the war fought under any pretext. He closely observed how war affects the society and the individuals, how war crushes the economy and the system, how war disintegrates the family structure, how it demolishes the psychology of the people and how it creates generation gap. Thus O’Casey condemns the exploitation of man-by-man, man’s inhuman treatment towards man, man’s barbarity against man.

The play begins with Mary’s reading a newspaper. The very first information we get form the play is of a gruesome murder.

On a little bye-road, out beyant Finglas, he was found.

O’Casey evidently has sympathies for the poverty stricken and war ridden Irish society. There is nothing predicable in Ireland. Everyone is in extreme danger. They are hanging between life and death.

There are lots of references in the play regarding Ireland’s religious and political history. Irish makes many attempts to shake off the foreign yoke. Foreigners are very inhuman to them. In 1916, hundred of casualties and the execution of the leaders are faultless examples of that.

But this inhumanity is not just caused by foreigners. The real problem arises with the killing of Irishman by Irishman. War, or to be more exact, a civil war has no solution to man’s problem; rather it aggravates the miseries of victims. The civil war is not confined to two fractions rather it expands to the whole Ireland. The death of Robbie Tancred and Johnny Boyle are perfect examples of that.

Johnny, who has lost an arm and has a hip shattered in a fight, is at the end dragged away and shot by his former republican commanders because he betrayed comrade Tancred. All this shows that Ireland is preying on herself. Earlier Johnny had undoubtedly behaved heroically but the hellish civil war compelled him to betray his comrade. This means the stupid civil war is turning into traitors because of its nothingness and hollowness and purposelessness.

Juno emerges as a great humanist and realist. She is a true pacifist and is against man’s inhumanity against man. She has an acute observation and knows about the truth of things. She is very realist and anti-idealist. When Mary emphasizes that one ought to stand by one’s principle being “a principle’s a principle” and tries to justify her call of strike, Juno very realistically remarks:

When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.

Being a realist, she has a firm belief in the idea that the fault does not lie with the stars but with the people themselves. She says:

Ah, what can God do agen the’ stupidity o’ men!

The opportunist class represented by Nugent has also been condemned. According to O’Casey this opportunist class is more harmful than even the combatants. They themselves become the cause of civil war and play a double role. Nugent wants other to respect “Irish people national regard for the dead” but stitches suits for the civil guards at night.

The domestic tragedy, which mainly springs out form pregnancy, is due to the inhumanity of the male. That male chauvinist society cannot tolerate a mistake by a young girl. Whereas on the other hand the idiots like captain Boyle and Joxer Daly are left unaccountable.

Hope for a good time is only due to the courage of women. They are very humane and cooperative. O’Casey’s criticism of life is conveyed through the repetition of significance of deep dialogues. The words of Mrs. Tancred lamentation are pungently recorded by Juno, when she too, is mourning over a slain son.

Sacred Heart of the Crucified Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone……..an’ give us hearts o’ flesh! ……..Take away this murdherin’ hate … an’ give us Thine own eternal love!

Against the vanity and moral bankruptcy of masculine character, O’Casey elevates the mother figure when Juno plans to work for Mary and her unborn child. Juno suffers the pain of existence but she sustains life.

Thus, we see O’Casey very beautifully depicts man’s inhumanity towards man. O’Casey is at heart a humanist and a pacifist. He considers life mere inevitable and all idealism is subservient to it. He condemns all principles and gives one and the only principle to live all the days of life peacefully.