A Whistle in the Dark

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A: Tom Murphy Pf: 1961, London Pb: 1970; rev. 1989 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Living room of house in Coventry, c.1960 C: 7m, 1fMichael Carney is a 35-year-old Irishman working in Coventry and living with his English wife Betty and his three wild younger brothers Harry, Iggy, and Hugo. Their father (‘Dada’) and youngest brother Des are coming for a week's holiday. Michael hopes that Des will return to Mayo with his father and not get drawn into his brothers' violent way of life, especially as they are squaring up for a fight with the Mulryans. Dad sneers at Michael: ‘Any man can't fight isn't worth his salt.’ The following night, word comes that the Mulryans are ready to fight the Carneys, and the brothers leave. Michael admits to Betty that his brothers saved him recently in a racial attack and that he had run away. Betty urges him to join their fight now. Dad spends the night in the pub, but pretends to have been detained by muggers when his sons return victorious, but without Michael. Eventually Michael comes home drunk to find his family celebrating. The despairing Betty asks them all to leave and is hit by Michael for her pains. She packs and leaves, while Dad and the others urge Des to fight Michael. At first Michael hardly defends himself then hits Des with a bottle, killing him.

A: Tom Murphy Pf: 1961, London Pb: 1970; rev. 1989 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Living room of house in Coventry, c.1960 C: 7m, 1f

This powerful early play by arguably Ireland's greatest contemporary dramatist depicted the male violence and mindless arrogance of a group of thugs, dangerously reinforcing English stereotypes about the Irish. However, the Carney brothers are representatives of any deprived class (indeed Pinter, influenced by Murphy's play, portrayed similar family relationships in The Homecoming). Rather than being a social document, A Whistle in the Dark has all the force of a tragedy: Michael the protagonist commits fratricide not through wickedness but because of the almost impossible pressure he is subjected to.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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Tom Murphy (b. 1935)

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