The white boards that Maurya bought to build Michael’s coffin are onstage for the entirety of the play, and their presence is an omen of death that implies that another fatality will occur before the play’s close. Maurya refers to these boards often, which makes clear that death weighs constantly on the minds of the characters. Furthermore, the ambiguity of whose body will go in the coffin underscores the notion that death on the Aran islands is common and encroaching. Though the boards are meant for Michael, his body has not yet washed ashore, which means that the coffin can hold someone else. While Maurya suggests that the boards could be for her, since she won’t live after all her sons are gone, Bartley’s body is the first to be returned to the house. Despite the implication that the coffin is Bartley’s, the boards remain onstage, unbuilt, until the close of the play, since Maurya has inexplicably forgotten to buy the nails needed to build the coffin. Thus, even as the curtain drops, the boards still lean ominously against the wall, implying more death to come.
The White Boards Quotes in Riders to the Sea
It’s a hard thing they’ll be saying below if the body is washed up and there’s no man in it to make the coffin, and I after giving a big price for the finest white boards you’d find in Connemara.
Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living for ever, and we must be satisfied.