Gender inequality

The male and female characters stand in stark contrast to one another.

The women in the play are shown as more compassionate and intelligent than the men, who are often self-centered and cowardly.

The men resort to alcohol, nationalist dreams and violence while the women are shown to be stronger and wiser.

The women in the play suffer because of the actions, and inaction, of the men. Thereby showing that women had little power over their own lives in Ireland at that time.

Mary is vain, but she has passion. This is demonstrated by her principled decision to go on strike on someone else’s behalf.

Her suitors, on the other hand, are self-centered and desert her in her time of need.

She is a young woman born into poverty with a lazy, "hopeless" father. Yet she shows a desire to get out of the slums through reading and educating herself.

She is obviously an intelligent woman and her strike action shows that she is willing to stand up for her beliefs.

However, in the end she is let down by all the male characters and their lack of strength, integrity and compassion:

  • Bentham abandons her without a goodbye
  • Jerry Devine rejects her when he finds out she is pregnant
  • her own brother and father scorn her for bringing "disgrace" to the house

It is only the other women in the play who stand by her. Juno promises "If Mary goes, I’ll go with her."

The men in the play do nothing for Mary in her time of need.

The most detailed contrast is between Juno and Boyle. Her hard-working nature is contrasted with his idleness in the opening scenes.

He spends all his time and money drinking with Joxer and accuses his pregnant daughter of bringing shame on the family, rather than supporting her in her plight.

In contrast Juno feeds the family, stands by Mary and grieves desperately for her dead son.

The strength of the female characters - particularly juxtaposed with the male ones - reflects a feminist perspective in O'Casey's plays.

Juno herself wonders "is there not even a middlin’ honest man left in th’ world" as she laments the disappearance of any decent men.

Despite the feckless nature of the men in the play we see that the female characters are blamed - much as Eve has been since the Book of Genesis - for the misfortunes that befall the characters.

Mary is disgraced for the pregnancy, despite Bentham’s role in it. She has to accept the scorn and live with the stigma.

Even her mother assumes that it is Mary’s fault that Bentham has gone without a word and asks her “Are you sure you said nothin’ to him?”

And despite her feeding, clothing and soothing him in his time of need, Johnny says to Juno in the end, “You’re to blame yourself for a gradle of it - givin’ him his own way”.

Perhaps O’Casey is commenting on the unfortunate position of women in society and the expectation that they be the backbone of families, and yet be treated as scapegoats for all the misfortunes of men.

This certainly seems to be the case when Juno finally rejects her previous beliefs that everything that happens is the will of God and says, "These things have nothin’ to do with the Will o’ God. Ah, what can God do agen the stupidity o’ men!"