Essay on Anne Devlin’s After Easter

Published: 2021/11/04
Number of words: 1128

After Easter may confuse many readers; however, the absurd dreams or visions Greta has are the key to understanding the overall plot. Greta’s dreams seem to be the main stumbling block to creating a cohesive understanding of the overall story, but Macrobius’s three types of significant dreams, which are manifested in Greta’s mind: the somniumvisio, and oraculum, which offer a straightforward blueprint to the overall plot. Placing her dreams in these contexts can better explain her state of mind, and why her family reacts the way they do toward her.

The first absurd vision Greta encounters is that likened by Macrobius as an oraculum. This is the sort of dream where a great personage or god manifests itself to deliver specific information that the dreamer requires. Greta says she is woken by a horrible scream, and then she sees “a figure with long black hair, pale, very gaunt and wearing long white robes” (10). She says it is a banshee, but when talking with Elfish this is revealed to be false. The figure never is clarified as to what it is, but I feel that it is a great personage of some sort that visits Greta to deliver an important message, and that message is that the whole of Ireland is crying out for her. Greta leaves Ireland and marries an Englishman. She does not seem to ever really be loved by her husband and is miserable in the foreign land. The figure comes to her and tells her that no matter what she has done, Ireland will always be there for her and that it is never too late to return. Thus, I see the figure as a shadow of Mother Ireland who beckons Greta to return home. We later read that she is miserable in England and wishes to kill herself.

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Being a stranger in a strange land has pushed Greta to the point of depression where she has the second type of Macrobian dream: a visio, or vision. She sees the time she will die, a spiritual death of some sort. A vision is a very exact dream picture–in living color–of what will subsequently happen later on. Thus, a vision is a foreseeing of events that really will happen, according to the foreknowledge of God. Greta sees she is surrounded by roses everywhere. She looks up and sees a star constellation and then comments, “I was in such despair that I opened my mouth and let out a huge cry until my voice filled the whole sky. And I felt it leave my body and go up into the stars. I did. And I knew I had died that night.” (14). The constellation she sees is that of seven stars, possibly the Pleiades (the seven sisters). One of the seven sisters is named Electra, so this association sets the stage for what will happen later between Greta and her mother.

In Greek legend, Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon who was slain by his wife. Out of revenge, Electra kills her mother. This is referred to in modern times as the Electra complex, which is an obsessive attachment of a daughter to her father and, thus, the female counterpart of the Oedipus complex (Holman, 161). Later in the story, there seems to be some bizarre competition between Greta and her mother over the affection of the father. When the mother reads the story of the rape of a girl by her father, it drives her mad. “She used to run in screaming: Where is he? Where are you hiding him?” (20).

To further add evidence to the Electra connection, Greta marries a man who looks just like her father; he also happens to be a great fisherman too, just like her father. After this realization, Rose’s voice is heard offstage yelling at her husband: “You love her more than you love me! (61). The vision Greta receives is a sign of things to come, and near the end of the play, the truth comes out, completing the assumption towards an Electra Complex. Manus says, concerning the mother and father, “Aye, Greta, you tell us. How you really believe that she worried him into an early grave” (64). Where Greta admits, “She did. She really did. She lost him” (65). It is through feeling that Rose kills her father that Greta feels inner hatred toward her mother, but the guilt that follows stabs her very soul so that she feels as if she is dead.

The true tragedy comes when Greta realizes that her father did love her mother. She dreams her dead father is strangling her. This is an example of somnium which is an enigmatic dream that usually needs an allegorical interpretation. The father retaliates over the grief Greta and the others caused their mother. After she acknowledges that her father loved her mother more than her, Greta then realizes that she suffered her mother’s beatings because she thought that her father loved her the most. At that point of realization, Greta’s inward jealousy over her mother dies. She feels betrayed by her father. She vents out all her frustration on her father by dividing his ashes all over the city. Greta is slowly starting to become independent, free from her father, free from her husband.

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Greta’s desire for freedom comes in the form of another somnium. “I believe that the sleeping-bag . . . was the womb and I had gone back into it to be born again” (25). This is her inner desire to change her life. The sleeping-bag vision is followed by a couple of other religious visions that show her desire to reform. She is feeling guilty over her sinful life by noting her dream about the priest who is the devil trying to smother her. She is saved by floating toward a bright light. That is when she realizes that she requires deep spiritual help.

Greta’s tale to her child at the end of the play shows that she is on the road to recovery. She relates a story that occurs after Easter, after her resurrection, but there is still snow everywhere, representing a spiritual winter. Not until she becomes independent, a provider, does the snow melt and she find her freedom by reconciling with her past, in the form of the stag. Thus, the rather confusing dreams bring a reality to the problems Greta faces and overcomes through the course of the drama.


Devlin, Anne. After Easter. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.

Holeman, Hugh C. and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 6th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

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