“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” (1996) is Martin McDonagh’s first play, it is part of The Galway Trilogy together with “A Skull in Connemara” and “The Lonesome West”. All three plays are set in the small village of Leenane, County Galway, and depict three villagers’ closely interwoven stories.
Set in the kitchen of a cottage in the west of Ireland, the play centers on the life of Maureen, a forty-year-old, and her brutal relationship with her mother Mag, a seventy-year-old. “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” is one of those plays which, through theatrical innovation, represent a critique of modern life. McDonagh explains the impact of isolation with different literary elements by the interaction between Maureen and Mag, how they are isolated with themselves, and with society.
First, the mother-daughter relationship of Mag and Maureen stems from hatred because of the power struggle between them, how similar they are, and the impact they have on each other. Since both characters are isolated from everything, their family ties have disintegrated, giving way to spite, resentment, and hatred.
This circumstance leads the play to the creation of a conflict, character versus character. In other words, Mag is content to control Maureen by deceit and whining, not concerned that Maureen is lonely, love-starved, and likely driven to madness by her mother’s selfish demands. Hence, their relationship ends in violence, both in language and in action.
On the other hand, this frustration also comes from how similar Mag and Maureen are. Although there is a certain beauty behind watching a daughter morph into her mother, in this play, it is different. Maureen and Mag have a bad relationship because they hate how the other acts. Maureen is afraid of becoming his mother, and Mag wants her to live as she does. For instance, we see this similarity when at the end, Maureen takes the place of his mother in the chair.
Then, Mag becomes a mirror for Maureen, reminding her that they are alike. And if she does not change, her destiny is laid out before her. In addition, Mag works as the antagonist of Maureen, the protagonist, in the play. She drives her daughter crazy and is the booster of Maureen’s decisions. Mag is constantly putting Maureen down and not letting her experience her own life.
For this reason, when Maureen was younger, she tried to leave the oppression of her mother to find her way in life, but as she found out there was no escaping it. To summarize, Mag is so scared to be alone and more isolated from everything that she uses power and their alikeness to stop her daughter from leaving, which ends in a violent and cruel relationship.
Second, as victims of isolation Mag and Maureen struggle with themselves, which can be seen in the setting, and characters’ descriptions. These characters have different conflicts around the play; however, all come from their inner conflicts. On the one hand, Mag internally thinks she is useless and that she cannot be alone.
For instance, she is always sick, drinking her Complan and eating biscuits, which exemplifies the idea that she is vulnerable and worthless. The actions always represent the values, desires, and thoughts of a character. Therefore, when the audience sees a character that throws her pee in the sink or is obsessed with specific food or medicaments, it can be inferred that this character is taken this decision based on what she thinks she deserves.
Moreover, Maureen experiences something similar related to dependence and unsteadiness. For example, she exclaims to her mom “I’m not appreciated” (6), in this case, she needs to hear it because she creates a dependence to accept herself. Also, she sees Pato as her solution to leave her life without thinking she could do it herself. In addition, the setting help to externalize the inner conflicts these two characters have.
As they feel with themselves, the place is trashy, disorganized, gross, and old. All the characteristics represent how old, gross, and grotesque are these characters. The setting itself is isolated, which helps to create the foundation of the main theme that controls Mag and Maureen. Lastly, how the characters are portrayed explains the effects of been neglected by society. To illustrate, Mag says, trying to create a negative vision of Maureen, that she has experienced mental illness.
Although Pato reacts by saying, “That’s all past and behind you now anyways, Maureen” (44), McDonagh limit all Maureen’s actions based on this condition. Also, Mag is described as a hypochondriac, explaining her necessity of being the center of attention. To conclude, Mag and Maureen faced inner conflicts that define their setting and characterization throughout the play.
Third, the mother and daughter have a conflict with society since they do not adapt to the common behaviors or social classes. McDonagh delimitates in a cruel but clear way how Mag and Maureen were apart from the other world. First, as in the real world, their economic situation sets them apart.
There were different social classes in the play, one that does parties and one that cannot attend them. Maureen gets excited when she is invited to Pato’s party because she is not normally invited. With this in mind, it seems immature of Maureen, 40-year-old, to be so excited and buying a new dress just because she is invited to a party, although analyzing it, it is logical for a person that has been isolated from these events all her life. Also, Pato expresses concern for the national and regional exile, a symbol of nomadism in Ireland. Pato explains that because there is no work in Leenane he has to emigrate.
This explains that not only are Mag and Maureen isolated from the world, but Ireland itself. As Irelands, most characters express how hard life is outside their country or Leeanne. Pato explains the horrific working conditions in London as a reason for him to emigrate to the United States. Besides, Maureen when trying to find a life outside Leenane ends in a psychiatric hospital. It seems as if the world does not want them, although both express that they neither feel comfortable living in Leeanne.
Lastly, Mag and Maureen’s behaviors and values create an explosive environment that might not feel normal for the outsiders. Proof of this is Mag and Maureen’s discussion when Pato is at home. He is not only uncomfortable because of the things he realized Mag and Maureen do, but also of how intensive, disrespectful, and brutal the conflict is.
As a mother and daughter, no one expects them to have this type of relationship; even so, this behavior is a daily habit for them. To sum up, the protagonists of the play live in certain circumstances that set them apart from society, which is worse since they live in a place that is also isolated.
“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” shows a series of events that lead to an outburst of violence in a family setting; however, this is not the only topic developed in the play. Isolation is developed through the whole play as a common force to the character’s conflicts with themselves, society, and each other.
McDonagh uses a mother-daughter relationship, one known as full of love, and converts it into a brutal correlation between two characters that from dependence and isolation carry a whole story of violence. To conclude, the author critiques and highlights the consequences of being isolated as an individual or country, causing people impactful scratches and practically impossible to erase.
McDonagh, Martin. The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Theater Company Drama in association with the Royal Court Theatre, 1996.
Moe, Christian. “The Beauty Queen of Leenane – Themes and Meanings” eNotes, 2003, <https://www.enotes.com/topics/beautyqueenleenane#themes-themesandmeanings>
“Themes in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”.” StudyMoose, 2016, https://studymoose.com/themesinthe-beauty-queen-of-leenane-essay
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