Character of Sergeant
The play has a simple structure, is only seven pages long, and has only four characters. The brevity of the play allows for the message to be direct and clear. The Sergeant and the Ragged Man are the two main characters.They are also antagonists (opponent), by all social norms. The Sergeant stands for what is good, law and order, and in the old English way.
The two main characters work as caricatures (exaggerated for comic effect), not as individual people. Their descriptions are purposefully vague, so that the reader can easily identify with them as generic Irishmen. The Sergeant is not described physically, and he does not even have a Christian name. Known only as Sergeant, he spends much of the introductory segment stressing his duty and loyalty to the law. The Ragged Man is also a personification: “Dark hair—dark eyes—smooth face, height five feet five—there’s not much to take hold of in that”, says the Sergeant upon reading the Man’s wanted notice.
Throughout the play, there are several inversions between good and bad, and up and down. The Sergeant would represent good and up, the Man bad and down. At the beginning, the Sergeant says,
“Haven’t we a whole country depending on us for law and order? It’s those that are down would be up and those that are up would be down, if it wasn’t for us.”
Thus, Sergeant represents the status of the current social order.
The Sergeant is looking for an escaped convict/Irish revolutionary/freedom fighter. A random “ballad singer” appears out of nowhere and helps the Sergeant keep watch for the convict.
The Sergeant is loyal to the law, the norm, and the English. The Sergeant knows that there is both a monetary reward (Consisting of money) for turning in the Man, and also a social reward in the form of a probable promotion. He has a duty to the force, and probably to his family, and he is loyal to them. The Sergeant hates music, and resists every time the Man speaks: we can assume that hearing folk songs makes the Sergeant feel guilty for abandoning Irish nationalism. Eventually, the Sergeant sings “Granuaile” and this is the moment when the sergeant and the man begin to work together.
They both sit there in the dark and talk about how the Sergeant could have ended up like the convict, that they may have grown up together and been good friends. Come to find out, just as everyone with multiple functioning brain cells predicted, the “ballad singer” is the escaped convict. And naturally, the Sergeant covers for him so that he can escape to freedom. As the Man escapes by boat, this line of distinction is blurred: we no longer know if the Sergeant is the enemy, nor what the Sergeant is loyal to.
The criminal has become good, and the Sergeant is left grappling with his own values. This suggests that inversion is both good and necessary for Irish nationalism. Lady Gregory is suggesting that there is less of a binary between good and bad and up and down—that the real distinction is between Nation and Other. The Irish should focus less on the tensions between themselves, and focus instead on their shared heritage.