Class 12 | Heritage of Words
Writer: William Butler Yeats
W.B. Yeats’s play “Purgatory” depicts the restlessness of spirit after the death and bothers the living beings. Purgatory refers to the place or state into which the soul passes after death to become purified of pardonable sins before going to heaven. In the play, there are two characters as an old man and his son. Besides that, there is a dead spirit who hovers here and there for his part. The play basically concerns with the sorrow of the dead and the consequences of the crimes of the dead upon the living ones. The father of the old man committed a great crime by wasting the property by drinking and destroying the honourable house and deprived his son (the old man) of education and inheritance of the property. As a result, the old man, when he was sixteen, murdered his own father. In the play, the ruined house is often visited by the remorseful spirit of the old man’s father and mother. The suffering spirit is not purified to enter heaven because of its crimes and sins alive.
The groom (one who looks after the horse) marries a rich lady and the couples have a son. The lady dies after the birth of a child and the groom wastes her property by spending a lot and drinking. When the son becomes 16 years old, he murders his own father who burns the honoured house, wastes the property and makes his son deprived of education and inheritance (legal rights) of the property. The son has become old now and he has a bastard son (born out of wedlock). The scene of the play is a ruined house and a bare (naked) tree in the background. The old man and his bastard son stand in the moonlight before the house.
During the anniversary of the old man’s mother’s wedding night, the old man finds that the suffering spirit visits the house again and again in the ruined house. The old man sees the ghost of his mother and hears the hoof-beats (sound from animal feet) of his father’s horse. The boy sees nothing and calls his father mad. The old man discloses the history of the destroyed house to his son. The boy steals the bag of money from the old man and tries to run away. They fight for the money that is scattered (spread) on the ground. The boy threatens to kill the old man. Now the old man is afraid of his own son who has become 16 years old. The old man thinks that his son may repeat the disgraceful tradition of his father. The old man decides to stop the polluted tradition which may last for generations. In the meantime, the boy also sees the spirit of his grandparents and he becomes shocked. The old man suddenly stabs (kills by knife) his son to death to finish all the consequences. The stage is darkened and the bare tree appears “like a purified soul’ in the white light. The old man at the tree and explains why he has killed the boy. He wants to put an end to the chain of consequences, the polluted blood and its consequence. When he bends to pick up the scattered money, he again hears the hoof-beats of the dead spirit and sadly thinks that the consequence has not come to an end. He laments that he has killed his own father and son without any obvious purpose. Finally, the old man prays to God to free the tormented soul and calm them.
Important Questions and Answers:
1. What is the theme of purgatory?
Ans: Purgatory is a story of remorseful of a departed soul that committed mistakes on itself while being alive. In order to purify itself, it is undergoing suffering in purgatory. It is also concerned with the living beings who suffer the consequences of the sin committed by the dead people while alive and the help rendered by the living beings to get the soul released from purgatory.
2. What is the motive (aim) in murdering his son by the old man?
Ans: The old man believes that by murdering his son, he has stopped the boy to have a son of his own who would kill him after attaining 16 years of age, thereby breaking the endless cycle of violence. He also believes that by killing his son, he helps his mother’s soul to get released from