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Purgatory - Class 12 Heritage of words

Purgatory        William Butler Yeats 



‘Purgatory’ is a poetic-play which is open to wider perception. It can also be regarded as a symbolic play written by Anglo-Irish poet and playwright W.B. Yeats. It deals with the destruction of an honored house.
The play is based on the concept and theme that the souls in purgatory revisit the scenes of their earthly activities and ‘relieve’ their transgressions, and thereby understand them. Then alone can they be freed from their taint. If they fail to understand their actions, they will be condemned to other unhappy lives. In the given play a spirit suffers because of its share, when alive, in the destruction of an honored house, which may be interpreted as the symbol of Ireland.
According to the play, the daughter of an aristocratic family married her groom, a drunkard who simply wanted her money to spend lavishly. This caused separation between her and her cultured mother. Later she gave birth to a son known as the Old Man in the play and breathed her last. Although he was not brought up properly, he managed to have education through the help of a gamekeeper’s wife and a catholic curate. In course of time when he was about sixteen years old, his father being drunk burned down the house and he stabbed his father dead with a knife. Then due to fear of being caught, he became a wanderer and went about as a peddler and adventurer. After a time he returned to the scene of his crime, the ruined house where his parents used to live.
Presently he finds the house haunted by his mother’s spirit who comes to relive her past experience. There has been a great change in his appearance. He has a son by his side born between him and a thinker’s daughter. The knife with which he had slain his father is still with him. At the sight of his mother’s spirit, a thought occurs to him that she will never know peace as long as the consequences of her deed, the marriage, are still present. Being convinced that his mother’s spirit can be relieved from the taint by bringing the pollution and consequence to an end, he stabs his son to death with the same knife. He does it because he feels that his sixteen-year old son is the consequence of her deed.
But the tragedy consists in his realization that neither this murder nor anything can save her from the taint. Therein the patient must minister to herself.
In other words, if the consequence of the transgression is more upon the self than upon others, there can be no help except in the self and in the mercy of God. Hence, it is essential for the spirit to repent for her transgression in order to have salvation. However, it doesn’t turn out to be as easy as Old Man expects. Prior to killing his son as an attempt to help his mother’s spirit, he has a vague suspicion about it. In order to remorse, she has to relive the transgression in exact detail which involves renewing the sexual act. The sexual out is attached with pleasure. Hence he wonders “If pleasure and remorse must both be there which is the greater?”
Along with this metaphysics of individual responsibility for one’s own salvation, Yeats has woven his aristocratic disdain for his newly independent country, Ireland. The cultured
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woman who married her drunkard groom can be interpreted as the symbol of Ireland. The woman prior to marriage stands for old and prosperous Ireland that was led by cultured people and the woman after the marriage symbolize the New Ireland governed by parvenus who have neither old culture nor wisdom. The act of murder represents and reflects Yeast’s will to end the New Ireland.
The views expressed by the playwright after opening performance of ‘Purgatory’ justifies the same aspect. According to him, “In my play a spirit suffers because of its share, when alive, in the destruction of an honored house. That destruction is taking place all over Ireland today.”
Thus, the play appears to be quite significant on account of its spiritual and political appeal.







Important Questions from Purgatory by Y.B. Yeats
Short Answer Questions

1. Why did the Old Man kill his own son? [2058] 2. What is the Old Man’s motive in murdering the Boy? [2067, 2069]
Long Answer Questions
1. Sketch the character of an Old Man. [2063] 2. “We are always punished for our sins.” Elaborate this statement. [2064] 3. Interpret the play ‘Purgatory’ from any perspective you like. [2069]
Glossary: [transgressions: something done against the law, freed: allow to leave, taint: to spoil something, aristocratic: rich, lavishly: carelessly, gamekeeper: someone who looks after wild animals and birds that are going to be hunted, curate: a person who works in the church of England and whose job is to help the priest, peddler: the person who sells something (esp. drugs and goods of bad quality) by roaming countries, ruined: destroyed, slain: to kill someone in  a violent way, repent: to feel sorry, salvation: when god saves someone from evil, vague: not clear, remorse: the feeling that you are sorry for something bad you have done, metaphysics: a branch of philosophy, woven: gone somewhere by moving a lot of things, disdain: when you think someone do not deserve respect, parvenus: a person of obscure origin who has gained wealth, influence or celebrity]

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