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“Lonesome West” by Martin McDonagh Analysis

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            Martin McDonagh, is a film director and a contemporary Irish playwright born on March 26, 1970 in London of Irish parents. “The Lonesome West” is considered to be a section of his Connemara trilogy of plays together with “The Beauty of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara”. Co-produced by Druid and London’s Royal Court, Directed by Garry Hynes in 1997, “The Lonesome West” won Martin McDonagh the 1996 Evening Standard Award and George Devine Award both for Most Promising Playwright (Llewellyn-Jones, 2002). Today, Martin McDonagh along with Conor McPherson, author of the highly acclaimed play “The Weir”, is among the most exciting new Irish dramatists.

In plays such as “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, a dark comedy play in 1996 and “The Leenane Trilogy” in 1997, he revisits the world of Synge and discovers equally strong story-lines, characters and language, but now the charm has all but disappeared, postmodernism has taken hold and Lady Gregory’s “apex of beauty” has been supplanted by a “base of realism”. Or at least, that is one view.

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For it can be equally argued that McDonagh’s humor empties the base of realism, overturns the misplaced heroic ideals of the Revival and returns us to language and the destructive charm of Irish speech (Pierce, 2000). In “The Lonesome West”, set in Leenane, Galway, in a typical farmhouse kitchen or living room, with table, basic kitchen sink and tattered armchairs, Martin McDonagh shows bachelors Coleman and Valene as they return home from their father’s funeral (Llewellyn-Jones, 2002). From these two thought-provoking characters, “The Lonesome West” explores masculine violence and certain moral values endemic in such frustrating (Pierce, 2000).  By understanding these and other contents of the book or the author’s style in making playwrights, analysis of the characters or comparison of features between Coleman and Valene can be done.

Intense sibling rivalry is signified from the start by aggressively large “V’s” with which Valene marks all his possessions, from whisky to rows of dusty figurines of the Virgin Mary which he compulsively collects. Apart from a short night conversation between Girleen, a pretty young poteen-seller, and local priest Father Welsh at a lakeside jetty in Scene Four, and the briefer moment in Scene Five when the priest recites out front a letter he has sent to the brothers, action is confined to the kitchen. Although exaggerated in nature, events remain within the limits of realist form (Llewellyn-Jones, 2002).

Sibling rivalry about petty objects escalates from fisticuffs to death threats, to the despair of Father Welsh, whose parish contains other individuals driven to murderous violence through the restrictions of local community and family. These include Maureen, of “Beauty and Queen” and Mick of “A Skull in Connemara”, other plays in the “Leenane Trilogy”. Details indicate pettiness of local events, from the passion for “vol-au-vents” at funerals, a bored neighbor’s suicide by drowning, to the prowess of the girls’ under-twelves football team. Both brothers are sexually frustrated, taunting each other about their inexperience, especially through encounters with foul-speaking and sexually teasing Girleen who is a potential Magdalen (Llewellyn-Jones, 2002).

The prevalence of the image results in a lack of emotional depth; this is particularly apparent in the language crisis from which “The Lonesome West’s” or Martin McDonagh’s characters suffer. Coleman and Valene speak in short, paratactic sentences and are prone to repetition, banal pronouncements and stating the obvious. Without a stable or meaningful world in which context can act as a guide to interpretation, simple words turn into potential booby traps. Moreover, the treacherous surface of words keeps drawing attention to itself and hence prevents true depth of feeling. After Thomas’s funeral in “The Lonesome West”, Father Welsh asks Valene, “Did you ever hear such crying?” Valene answers, “You could’ve filled a lake with the tears that family cried or a russaway at minimum” (McDonagh, 1998). Father Welsh, pauses and asks “A wha?”, which was replied again by Valene with almost the same words resulting to a cycle of short, repetition of questions and answers (Watt et al., 2000).

In “The Lonesome West”, Martin McDonagh presents gradually that Coleman had murdered his father by shooting him “accidentally” in a squabble or an Oedipal struggle reminiscent of the failed patricide in Synge’s “Playboy of the Western World”. Another “accident” occurred when Coleman maliciously melts all Valene’s plastic figurines in the new V-marked oven. Welsh deliberately immerses his own hands in the molten plastic as a sign of his own despair which eventually led to his death. Fortunately, in an attempt to turn his suicidal drowning to positive use, Welsh’ final letter to the brothers via Girleen is a kind of emotional blackmail to stop them from fighting or arguing (Llewellyn-Jones, 2002).

Because in “The Lonesome West” or in Martin McDonagh’s plays language is detached from any underlying or inherent psychological or moral reality, social and moral conventions become mere games to play. They have certain superficial formal rules that can be followed and abandoned at will. We see this when Coleman and Valene decide to honor Father Welsh’s last request to list all the wrongs they have done each other over the years and to forgive each other for them. They begin apologizing and forgiving, and Valene soon concludes that “This is a great oul game, this is, apologizing” (McDonagh, 1998). Before long, the game turns into a bidding war, with Coleman telling Valene, “I’m winning” and “You’re too slow” (McDonagh, 1998). Valene counters with a particularly heinous crime and asks his brother to “top that one” (McDonagh, 1998). Coleman does and they nearly end up killing each other. Having concluded the apologizing game, they decided that they like a good fight, because “It does show you care, fighting does” (McDonagh, 1998; Watt et al. 2000).

Since the characters in “The Lonesome West” are confused about their language, identity and values, they tend to invest their emotional capital in consumer items and in concrete, unchanging reality inanimate objects. Valene may be guilty of the murder, mayhem and miserlines of which Father Welsh accuses him, but he possesses forty-six holy figurines, and he is “sure to be getting into heaven with this many figurines” in his house (McDonagh, 1998). Valene cares little for his own life, that of his brother, his father, or Father Welsh, but he nearly cries when Coleman threatens to crush a packet of Tayto crisps worth 17 p., and he is positively heartbroken when Coleman blows his expensive stove to smithereens and smashes his holy statuettes. For this reason, it is difficult to see Valene’s inability to burn Father Welsh’s letter at the end of the play, and his careful arrangement of the letter on the crucifix with Girleen’s heart-shaped pendant, as being indicative of anything more profound than his obsessions with the preservation and surface value of material objects (Watt et al., 2000).

In Martin McDonagh’s trilogy, particularly in “The Lonesome West”, audience manipulation is pushed a step further. Martin McDonagh shifts the moral center from the play to the audience; “The Lonesome West”, particularly through Valene and Coleman, is effective only because they rely on the audience to be able to perceive and feel what the characters do not. We know we are watching a gallous story about dirty deeds and sibling rivalry, and we know that there is something wrong with this world. Perhaps influenced by Borges’s brand of postmodernism, Martin McDonagh presents a distorted world in which characters are imprisoned. The characters, Valene and Coleman, are unaware of the difference between the mundane and the meaningful, the trivial and the tragic, (and the only ones with a sense of morality kill themselves in despair) but we are not ignorant. We recognize the symbolism behind the crucifix and the heart, even if Valene does not and we understand that hurting or killing someone of your own blood is wrong, even if Coleman does not (Watt et al., 2000).


McDonagh, Martin. (1998). The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Other Plays. Vintage Books.

Llewellyn-Jones, Margaret. (2002). Contemporary Irish Drama and Cultural Identity. Great Britain: Intellect Books.

Pierce, David. (2000). Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader. Ireland: Cork University Press.

Watt, Stephen, Eileen M. Morgan and Shakir Mustafa. (2000). A Century of Irish Drama: Widening the Stage. Indiana: Indiana University Press.


Cite this “Lonesome West” by Martin McDonagh Analysis

“Lonesome West” by Martin McDonagh Analysis. (2016, Sep 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/lonesome-west/

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