The music is at first ‘scarcely audible’ and then increases in intensity to a ‘very fast; very heavy beat’. This is symbolic of the building sense of anger and frustration within Maggie. The news about Bernie’s success has aroused deep feelings of inadequacy within Maggie as she is frustrated with the lack of achievement in her own life. Bernie’s achievements have awakened deep seated feelings within Maggie which she always tries to suppress and ‘mask’ from others. These feelings come bubbling to the surface in this scene and are vented through her dancing.
Maggie’s dancing is a great way for her to channel her emotions as it is not in her nature to take her frustrations out on others.
As the melody begins to emerge, we are told that Maggie’s head is ‘cocked to the beat’; this indicates that Maggie is now absorbing herself in the music as a means of escaping from the harsh reality of her present situation.
Friel indicates that as Maggie listens to the music she is ‘breathing deeply, rapidly’. Her ‘deep breathing’ indicates that Maggie is trying at this point to control her anger before it gets the better of her. Her ‘rapid’ breathing is an indication of this anger and frustration.
Friel then draws our attention to Maggie’s facial expressions as her face becomes ‘animated’, this indicates that we can learn a great deal about her emotions at this point by analysing her expressions. Maggie has ‘a look of defiance’ on her face; ‘defiance’ means to be openly disobedient. At this point Maggie is wishing to defy all the things in her life which have repressed her and held her back from fulfilling her dreams. She is defying the repressive forces of Catholicism as she immerses herself in a pagan dance. The Catholic Church had a significant role to play in Donegal society in 1936 and people felt the need to adhere to its expectations, for once Maggie doesn’t care about this and wishes to rebel. Maggie’s face also contains ‘a look of…aggression’, this is unusual for Maggie who is usually ‘the joker of the family’. This facial expression indicates that Maggie has a great deal of anger suppressed within her. She is angry with herself, with society and perhaps, to an extent, with her sisters.
Maggie puts on ‘a crude mask of happiness’, this description is highly significant as it confirms a great deal about Maggie’s character. The word ‘crude’ means to be vulgar and unpleasant; the fact that Maggie’s look of supposed ‘happiness’ is described as ‘crude’ indicates that it is false and ugly. Maggie has never experienced true, natural happiness, only happiness which is false and forced. Friel indicates that Maggie wears ‘a mask of happiness’, the word ‘mask’ is an apt word to apply to Maggie as she is constantly hiding her true self and true feelings behind ‘a mask’. Her characteristic upbeat jokes, singing and dancing, are all a means of ‘masking’ her true feelings of loneliness, frustration and regret. She never takes her ‘mask’ off to reveal her true feelings to her sisters, she takes it upon herself to maintain optimism within the house at all times. As Maggie stands almost trance like ‘absorbing the rhythm’ she surveys her sisters with ‘a defiant grimace’. This is the second time Friel has used this word within a short space of time, clearly he wishes to emphasise that this is Maggie’s moment of disobedience and rebellion. A ‘grimace’ is a twisted expression on the face showing pain or disgust; this is also a very apt stage direction for Friel to use here as it effectively conveys Maggie’s obvious pain and anger. It is interesting to note that Maggie holds this expression while ‘surveying’ her sisters. This could possibly indicate that Maggie holds a degree of resentment towards them as she may feel that her sense of duty to them has prevented her from fulfilling her own dreams. After this, Maggie ‘pushes back her hair from her face and