Riders to the Sea

The White Boards Symbol Analysis

The White Boards Symbol Icon

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

The Riders to the Sea quotes below all refer to the symbol of The White Boards. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Spirituality and Mourning Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Riders to the Sea published in 1993.
Act 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Maurya (speaker), Michael
Related Symbols: The White Boards
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Maurya (speaker), Bartley, Michael
Related Symbols: The White Boards
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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The White Boards Symbol Timeline in Riders to the Sea

The timeline below shows where the symbol The White Boards appears in Riders to the Sea. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Fate and Mortality Theme Icon
The Power of the Sea Theme Icon
...washes up. She then reflects on the injustice of having paid so much for the white boards to make Michael’s coffin since there’s no body to bury yet, and Bartley dismisses the... (full context)