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A Guide to Understanding "Big Maggie" for Leaving Cert Students

Updated: Feb 17

"Big Maggie" is a play by Irish playwright John B. Keane. It is a dark and powerful exploration of a mother's desire for power and control over her family. The play is a popular choice for Leaving Cert English courses, and studying it can offer students a unique perspective on Irish culture and society. In this blog, we will explore the themes and structure of "Big Maggie" to help Leaving Cert students gain a deeper understanding of this important work.

1. Overview of "Big Maggie"

"Big Maggie" is a play that takes place in rural Ireland and explores the theme of power and control within a family. The play tells the story of Maggie, a woman who has just lost her husband and is determined to take control of her life and her family. Maggie's quest for power leads her to clash with her children and the other people in her community, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

2. Themes of "Big Maggie"

The themes of "Big Maggie" include power, control, family dynamics, and the role of women in Irish society. The play explores these themes through vivid characters and powerful dialogue, making it an excellent example of Keane's work as a playwright.

3. Structure of "Big Maggie"

The structure of "Big Maggie" is a three-act play, which allows for a natural and organic flow of the story. Each act builds upon the last, creating tension and drama as the play progresses. The play is set in a single location, Maggie's home, which adds to the sense of claustrophobia and tension that permeates the play.

4. Analysis of "Big Maggie"

The play begins with the death of Maggie's husband, which sets the stage for her quest for power and control. The play explores the theme of power and control through Maggie's interactions with her children, who are all struggling to find their own place in the world. Maggie's desire for power leads her to make decisions that ultimately have tragic consequences, highlighting the dangers of unchecked ambition and the damage it can cause to those around us.


In conclusion, "Big Maggie" is a powerful and thought-provoking play that explores the themes of power, control, and family dynamics in a rural Irish context. Through its vivid characters, powerful dialogue, and three-act structure, the play offers a unique perspective on the challenges facing families and women in Irish society. As a Leaving Cert student, studying this play can help you develop a deeper understanding of Irish culture and society, as well as the power of drama to capture important social issues.

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