‘In Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlan The Past Is Inextricably Bound Up With The Present.’ Discuss

1160 words - 5 pages

Throughout Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlan it is clear that Portia is a woman who is infatuated by the events and misfortunes of her past. When we first meet her in the opening scene it is clear that she is a distressed and deeply haunted woman “whose legacy is rich only in horror” (Dean, 1997). Her past is haunting her marriage, her relationship with her children and her day to day life. The continuing ghostly presence of her long departed brother immerses her back into the past rendering her present life unimportant and somewhat of a burden. Throughout the play events from the past rear their heads and it is clear that “Portia is fighting blind against a past kept hidden from her” (King, 1997).

Throughout the play the Belmont River plays a central role in connecting Portia to Gabriel and the harrowing events of the past that consume her. The river flows through the characters’ lives and is the location of Gabriel throughout the entire play. Portia regularly seeks solace at the riverside, “land she fiercely claims as her family's own and the scene of Gabriel's suicide fifteen years ago” (Fitzpatrick, 1997). When she meets Damus Halion by the banks of the river she tells him “I come here because I’ve always come here and I reckon I’ll be comin’ here long after I’m gone. I’ll lie here when I’m a ghost and smoke ghost cigarettes and watch ye earthlin’s goin’ about yeer pointless days” (1.3). The river and drowning are regularly talked about by not only Portia but other characters in the play. Portia’s mother, Marianne makes reference to both when she visits Portia “And where’s your children? Playin’ round the Belmont River, I suppose. You be lucky they don’t fall in and drown themselves one of these days” (1.5). It is clear that it is not just Portia whose life is affected by the past. Marianne is a deeply bitter and guilty woman who can’t seem to accept the role she may have played in her son’s death. She and Portia constantly come to blows over Gabriel and the circumstances of his death “I don’t want to hear you talkin’ about him. You sully him on me always” (3.5). Portia, Gabriel and the Belmont River have become “indistinguishably merged” (Maxwell, 2007).

All of Portia’s current relationships are a direct link to Gabriel and the past. Her affair with Damus Halion is a half-hearted one that she believes somehow connects her with Gabriel because “He knew Gabriel” (1.5). She has no interest in him besides this link with the past. Even her marriage to Raphael is a direct link to her past and her strong unwavering connection to Gabriel. She makes it clear that she didn’t marry him for his money or because her parents wanted her to, she tells her mother “the only reason I married Raphael was because of his name, a angel’s name, same as Gabriel’s, and I thought be osmosis or just wishin’ that one’d take on the qualities of the other” (1.5). Her relationship with her own children is deeply affected by her fear and her natural maternal bond with...

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