History, Language and Post-colonial Issues in Brian Friel’s Translations

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History, Language and Post-colonial Issues in Brian Friel’s Translations Owen: Back to first principles. What are we trying to do? Yolland: Good question. Owen: We are trying to denominate and at the same time describe . . . ” Dun na nGall or Donegal? Muineachain or Monaghan? Same place, same difference? As Owen says about his own name: “Owen - Roland - what the hell. It’s only a name.” ( Translations ) For the student of post-colonial literature, what transpires in Friel’s play as the British army proceed to map this particular corner of the empire is that like language itself, it is not so much the naming and the changing of names but what that signifies and what those names signify in a particular context, coming from a particular mouth. A simple post-colonial reading could view such events as a violation of geographic space: “Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence through which virtually every space in the world is explored, charted, and finally brought under control.” (Said, 10), and an appropriation and subversion of identity. What makes Friel’s play so rich is the way his dialogue plays with the subtle antinomies and nuances of the situation. Can one identify a coherent imperial project, a desire to exterminate subversive Gaelic or is it the inevitable pragmatic impulse of commerce and laissez-faire economics? The practicalities of day-to-day existence are clear in Maire’s desire to learn English so she can work in America. Owen exemplifies engagement with the colonial centre in contrast to his brother, Manus. However, when the play has taken it’s tragic turn it is Owen who suffers ignominy at the command of Lancey who orders him, “Do your job - translate.” (Act 3) The translations acquire the bitter taste of complicity, betrayal and shame in Owen’s mouth. Owen also serves, potentially, as ‘mimic-man’ in his role as servant of the empire - one who, “ . . .simultaneously reinforces colonial authority and disturbs it.”(Sharpe) His final exit, to find Doalty - be it to help him or hinder him - as a Yeatsian ‘man of action’, potentiates this aspect of the theoretical type. His blend of pragmatism and willingness to engage mark him as, in Saidian terms, a potentially liberating force. Manus in this binarism represents Said’s first stage of Nationalism. Jose Rabasa, in ‘Allegories of Atlas’, discusses the significance of the map in colonial and post-colonial contexts. Functioning as a mirror of the world it offers a conception of ‘a reality’, “ .

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