ACIS Logo Drowning as Attempted Escape in Marina Carr’s The Mai and Portia Coughlan

In two of the three plays that make up Marina Carr’s Midlands Trilogy, the female protagonist drowns herself and her dripping body is carried home by her husband. On the surface, both women kill themselves for the love of an absent man, the Mai, for her straying husband Robert, and Portia for her dead twin and incestuous lover Gabriel. Carr’s women thus fulfill what Margaret Higonnet calls, “the insistent representation of women – rather than men – who commit suicide for love‚” thus supporting “the familiar assumption that woman lives for love, man for himself‚” (“Suicide: Representations of the Feminine‚” 108). Yet Carr carefully overdetermines her heroines’ deaths, making them not just personal but political. As postcolonial women, the Mai and Portia Coughlan long for a return to a pre-colonial past. Yet as women, the structures that imprison them run deeper than colonial occupation. Even in a nostalgic return to a pre-colonial idyll, the Mai and Portia would find themselves trapped by their gender, forced to face the same misogyny, violence, and domestic drudgery that characterize their present-day lives. Thus Carr portrays women who are drawn to the water, seeing in its fluidity and movement the possibility of escape. Yet even after drowning they are unable to free themselves as their bodies are carried back home by their husbands and their “ghosts” are forced to relive the circumstances leading up to their deaths. For women, Carr suggests, memory can never serve as a true escape, only an alternative prison.

Published on: March 23, 2019