Leaving Cert Comparative: Cultural Context

Sive is set in Ireland. It is a story of a young girl forced by her family to marry an older man for their financial benefit. It is a standalone text as well as being a text on the comparative syllabus.

King Lear for Comparative
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From the comparative point of view I am going to discuss Cultural Context here.

Obviously, what you say depends on the other texts. Remember, it is not about this text by itself, but rather how it compares to the other two.

Socioeconomic Issues
It is difficult to reliably discern social class here as compared to most other texts you study, perhaps owing to the specific location and time where Sive is set. Sive's household is impoverished but probably no more so than most others: "nothing but a scaith of spuds on the floor to fill us." Social status is conferred by small things like showing off walking down a church aisle. Sean has money most likely because he never had a family. This puts him above Mike and Mena socioeconomically: he is able to make them an offer to buy Sive, in effect. The dispossessed nomads Pat and his son represent a distinct social group with their own customs and they strongly influence on the life of the community.
Sive John B Kean Leaving Cert Comparative Notes

Role of men and women
Men are clearly dominant. "The man of the house is home, the woman must become alert" is a stage direction that says it all. Male dominance seems to have a lot of side effects here: the callous attitude of Sean and Thomasheen and Mike's stupidity ultimately lead to Sive's tragedy. Mena has a role to play here too, in fact she undermines Mike by mocking him and calling him "man of straw," provokes resentment against Sive and acts purely out of greed and disregard for Sive. Sive is powerless and vulnerable here, not just due to her gender, but also due to her age and her social status, just like Nanna, who is also abused by Mena. Nanna responds in kind giving Mena a hard time about her not having children, which brings me on to the issue of family.
leaving cert gift for a girl
Family
In a setting of poverty, children are regarded as either a burden or an opportunity to make money through receiving a dowry. Mena and Mike seem to have no affection towards Sive. The fact that Sive was born out of wedlock is frequently pointed out with a lot of judgement, indication the conservative nature of family culture. Emotional welfare seems like a luxury when getting food on the table is a daily struggle.

Law
Sive seems to come from such poverty that there is no legal structure that she can appeal to, there is no way to stop the wedding.

Religion
Interestingly, religion is not portrayed as having much of an influence on rural Irish life. Moral guidance seems to arise from words of Pat and Carthalawn, who reference Puca, the Mad Moon and seem to have a variety of spells for different occasions.

leaving cert gift for a girlA point I would like to make about the play is that is really contrasts good and evil. There is a very clear delineation between right and wrong in this play. As many other Irish literary works, it describes a very sad story, but one where one's character can be studied as if it were transparent. Sean Dota's carnal desires come above all else to him. Thomasheen is more suited to work in finance than matchmaking, having no regard for Sive's welfare, and probably ultimately only interested in his cut of the contract. Mena is a pathetic and selfish woman who will do anything to achieve some degree of financial independence and comfort. (Doesn't her name remind you of the word mean?) She won't stop at ruining a young woman's life, bullying an elderly lady and nagging and manipulating her husband. Liam and Sive seem morally pure. This shows that it is clearly not the environment that is responsible for people's behaviour, i.e. not everything can be justified by acting out of poverty. Pat and Carthalawn speak periphrastically to fill all the gaps in our understanding of characters. Their culture seems odd but ultimately they are only ones who were there to help Sive, which shows yet again that it isn't culture or differing values of Mike, Mena and Thomasheen that led to Sive's death, but rather their evil nature. John B. Keane shows it to us in black and white, making this short but powerfully dramatic play a starkly contrasting portrayal of good and evil.

See our Complete Guide: A1 Leaving Cert English Notes and Sample Answers 2016 (Paid Content)

Read more on the Comparative:
Comparative: Theme or Issue

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