We admire her for her courage in the face of the worst disasters which can happen to a mother. Misfortunes do not break down her spirit. She is calm in difficulties.
Due to her power of endurance, her determination to carry on in spite of calamities and her cool courage this peasant woman takes her place as the heroine of this play.
Maurya is a typical mother who lives entirely for the welfare of her children. She is praying for them all the time. She had a lot of trouble in giving birth to her sons. But they grew to be six sturdy young men. But the sea started wallowing them up and at the end she was left only with her two daughters. The poor mother's prayers could not save them. All that she wants to do now is to give them a decent burial. She has purchased good white boards which we see in the kitchen at the beginning of the play. These are finally used to make a coffin for her last son, Bartley.
When the play opens, we find that Maurya is in deep mourning for her fifth son, Michael, who was drowned in the sea nine days back. She is half-crazy with weeping. She cannot sleep and she keeps going to the seashore to see whether Michael's body has been washed ashore.
All her life she has been watching the moods of the sea and crying and praying. She has suffered one disaster after another. The sea was the bread-giver of her family and also her worst enemy. Her sons, Stephen and Shawn, were lost in "the great wind" and their bodies were found in the Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth. Her father-in-law, her husband and her son, Sheamus, were lost in a dark night and no trace was found of them. Her fourth son, Patch, was drowned when his curragh (boat) was overturned. Michael was drowned nine days ago. Now only Bartley is left and she has a sign that he too would be drowned if he goes to the sea that day.
Maurya tries her best to prevent Bartley from going to the sea. When Cathleen tells her that the cake she is baking will be needed by Bartley if he goes to Connemara, she says emphatically that Bartley will not go to the sea that day because the wind was rising from the south and the west and the sea would be rough. She is sure that the young priest would prevent him from going. Nora, however, tells her that the priest would not prevent him from going. When Bartley comes he takes up a rope and wants to make a halter out of it. Maurya tells him to let the rope remain hanging because it would be needed for lowering Michael's coffin in his grave. Bartley does not listen to her and keeps preparing the halter. Then she tells him that he should not go because he would be needed in the house to make a coffin for Michael if his body is washed up one of these days. Bartley tells her that Michael's body is not likely to be washed up now. Then she tells him that the previous night she saw a star against the moon and it was rising in the sky. That indicated that the sea would be very rough and so he must not go. But he pays no heed to her words and wants to go to the mainland to sell his horses in the fair where he is likely to get a good price for them. She tells him, "If it was a hundred horses or a thousand horses you had itself, what is the price of a thousand horses against a son where there is one son only?" When Bartley wants Cathleen to sell a pig in his absence she tells him that Cathleen would not be able to get a good price for it. When he says that life would be difficult for him now because he is the only male member left in the house, she says, "It's hard set we'll see surely the day you're drowned with the rest. What way will I live and the girls with me, and I an old woman looking for the grave" When he does not pay any heed to her words she calls him "a hard and cruel man" Something within her tells her that she will not see him again. She cries as he is at the gate, He's gone now, God spare us, and well not see him again. He's gone now, and when the black night is falling I'll have no son left me in the world". There is a prophetic ring in these words. Her warning about Bartley turns out to be true.
Maurya is an ignorant and superstitious woman. She is a Roman Catholic Christian but she believes in all the superstitions which were common in Aran Islands. She sees ominous signs and mystic visions. A star seen close to the moon indicates a disaster to her.
When Bartley leaves, Cathleen remembers that she had forgotten to give the bread to her brother. She also feels that her mother had not blessed Bartley when he was going and instead of that, she had said very unlucky words. She, therefore, suggests to her mother to go to the Spring head and give her blessings and the bread to Bartley when he passes that way. When Bartley passed that way she could not give him the bread and the words of blessing stuck in her throat because she saw "the fearfullest thing" she had ever seen. She saw the ghost of Michael riding on the grey pony behind Bartley who was riding on the red mare. This Must have been the figment of her own over-worked nerves. But she became certain that Michael had come to take his brother to the other world. When she told her daughters about it, they, were also horrified and they became certain that Bartley would die soon. Maurya also believed in the efficacy of the Holy Water collected in the dark nights after Sarnhain. She sprinkles this water on Michael's clothes and also on Bartley's dead body. Maurya shows great courage when Bartley's dead body is brought before her. She does not wail and moan. She does not faint. She does not break down,' as any other woman would have done. She does not think of jumping into the sea. She recalls her past sorrows and finds consolation in the fact that the sea, having done its worst, cannot do any greater injury to her now. None of her dear ones will go to sea now and so she will have no need to cry or to pray for someone's safety. She says, "They're all gone now, and there isn't anything more the sea can do to me. I will have no call now to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, and the surf is in the west, making a great stir with the two noises, and they hitting one on the other"
At the end Maurya resigns herself to her cruel fate. Like a true stoic, she does not complain about the cruelty of God or Destiny. Even at the time of her worst misfortune she finds consolation in the fact that now she will not have to cry or pray for anyone and she will have a long rest and undisturbed sleep during the long winter nights.
Maurya has a strong faith in God and this faith remains firm in spite of the fact that God has not heard her prayers in the past. She prays for peace, not only for the souls of her sons, but for the whole of mankind. She says, "May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley's soul, and on Michael's soul, and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and Shawn (bending her head) and may he has mercy on my soul, Nora and on the soul of every one is left living in the world"
In her contest with the sea, she is defeated. But the law of nature is that everyone who is born must die. Her family can be no exception to this law of mortality. So at the end she bows before the Divine plan. She says, "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 forever, we must be satisfied"
Maurya is a truly great tragic figure. She does not suffer because of any flaw in her own character. She is the victim of fate. The sea has swallowed all the menfolk of her family and she is left utterly destitute. In the fight between man and the sea, she is defeated. But she is not crushed down. She maintains a dignified demeanor. She finds consolation in the fact that nothing worse can happen to her. Now she will have peace and sound sleep. Her sufferings are great, but she rises above them. In the end, this peasant woman, by her stoic acceptance of her cruel destiny, attains tragic greatness and becomes a true heroine of this grim tragedy.