Nora Clitheroe

Nora is the central character in the play - everything that happens turns directly or indirectly on her. She is the person with the most insight into what life should be like and where the dangers lie, she is all for life and is primarily the victim of forces outside her control. She realises that the nationalist adventures are divorced from the real needs of the people and that people are more important than idealist abstractions. Nora realises that happiness is a concrete thing that has to do with human harmony and fulfilment. To do this she is protective of Jack, she is determined to maintain a happy marriage and rise above the social level of the tenement building.

In Act 1 we are given a glimpse of this domestic happiness with ominous undertones of fated disaster. She insists on a strict set of rules for her lodgers, Peter and The Covey, and is quick to tell them that they are tearing down "the little bit of respectability that a body’s tryin’ to build". The marriage of Jack and Nora demonstrates the impoverishment of the husband-wife relationship in their working class society. Jack is the traditional husband whose life is not ruled totally by his marriage - a reality which Nora finds hard to accept "Oh yes, your little red-lipped Nora’s a sweet little girl when the fit seizes you; but your little red-lipped Nora has to clean your boots every morning, all the same".

Nora realises that she is losing hold of Jack and then becomes preoccupied with keeping him for herself. She descends to playing the role of a sex object. Mrs. Gogan’s remark "She dhresses herself to keep him with her, but its no use. After a month or two the wondher of a woman wears off". She persuades Jack to sing their old love song for them, but the effect is only nostalgic - there will be no new beginning - no better path. Her demands of complete devotion from Jack come under extreme pressure and while Jack has seemingly ceased all active participation in the Citizen’s Army, she admits that it is his lack of promotion rather than his willingness to be with her that has caused it. She goes to extreme length to protect and cocoon Jack, she destroys his letter of promotion but her idyllic plan is scuttled by the entrance of Capt. Brennan. Jack’s reaction to her "Little red-lipped" campaign is one of rebuffal, but says "None of that nonsense now". She has driven him away by her miscalculations, her wish to maintain her marriage is defeated by her failure to understand the wider world around her. Her tragedy arises from her position as a working class woman in a capitalist society. Her only world is that of her marriage and her husband and that which she can create within the walls of her tenement dwelling. She seems to have no other justification for existing, she completely focuses her demands, hopes and aspirations on the singular subject of her marriage. When Jack leaves for the rising she admits to the narrowness of her world "They have dhriven away the little happiness that life had in store for me". Her oncoming psycological breakdown has its roots in this realisation. Her sense of worthlessness overcomes her after Jack has willing left to "be butchered as a sacrifice to the dead". From this point on her actions and reactions become exaggerated, this is evident from her appearance, her self-centredness and her possessiveness. She completely disregards anyone else " What do I care for the others, I can only think of myself". The progress of her mental breakdown is represented as a malignant growth of her preoccupation with her husband. The incident concerning the injured Langon, demonstrates clearly how removed she has become from the situation around her. At this point of the action when the dramatic situation clearly leads the audience to sympathise with Jack’s situation, Nora’s fixation is all to apparent, "I want you to be true to me Jack … I’m your dearest comrade". Either Nora is a this point, so caught up with herself and her own preoccupations that she fails to realise the extent of Langon’s injuries or the sight of the wounded Langon leads her to draw a parallel between her psychological injuries and Langon’s bleeding wounds.

Nora’s madness is manifested even more clearly in the final act. Robbed of Jack she becomes unable to function, she ignores the dying Bessie and is capable only of calling for Jack to come and help her. The decline of Nora in the play is a personalised reflection of the world at large - the unnecessary death and suffering caused to the working class by a capitalist inspired uprising. Nora’s character reflects the brutal reality of war and its reflects on the individual and her story helps O’Casey to expose some of the short-comings of the rising. Nora provides the link between the outside world and the world of the tenements and the human tragedy of the rising. In tracing the decline of Nora’s character throughout the play O’Casey exposes the futility of the rising for the working class. Materially, she is no better off at the end than she was at the beginning - psychologically she has been destroyed. The rising prevents her from rising out of the degradation of tenement life. It robs her of her husband, it destroys her marriage and cost her her sanity and in the loss of the next generation. O’Casey cleverly anticipates that the result of the rising will provide hardship rather than relief for those represent by the characters in the play. One could argue that Nora is the architect of her own downfall. Her inability to understand the rationale of the typical working class man, immediately erects a barrier between her and Jack and therefore between them and future happiness. O’Casey portrays Jack as a romantic idealist, impressed by the pomp and ceremony of uniform and parade. Finding in this outlet and acknowledgement of his work, an escape from the drudgery of every day life. In promotion, Jack finds a sense of purpose and fulfilment that Nora finds in her hat from Arnotts. Nora however must be judged against the backdrop of the society she came from and with O’Casey’s hindsight about the personal costs imposed on women by war.

Home : Jack Clitheroe : Socialism and The Covey : Language in The Plough and The Stars