The play ‘Translations’ by Brian Friel is set in Ireland in 1833, During this time Ireland was undergoing colonisation by the English and the play represents a microcosm of the events occurring all across the nation at the time. Throughout the English empire’s reign many Irish people were left without say in what was being happening to their own country and having to encounter suppression by the overwhelming power the English had had over them.
The play very much portrays this image within itself and Friel has deliberately done this in order to reiterate history and reveal the struggle the Irish had to encounter. Suppression and the unspoken are heavily used within the play and the importance of its role within the play varies. Although some being more important compared to others, the issues as a collective seem much valid in justifying its importance. It can be argued that Friel illustrates it like so in order to aid the audience in judging for themselves the issues surrounding the colonisation.
Suppression is a key theme which is used through Translations; ultimately it is the intrusion of the English which is deemed the biggest suppression the Irish had to confront and the unspoken nature of the Irish is what inevitably lead to the suppression. It is apparent in the early phases of the play that characters within the play encounter suppression even before the English arrive. A character which would be deemed as being suppressed is Manus. Culture plays a major part within Manus’ suppression as it comes from his father. Manus is described as a “Monitor to his father”. It seems that despite what Manus may want for himself, it is the oppressive hand of his father which ultimately decides what happens to him.
A further sign of Manus’ oppression can be noted through his acceptance of the position he is in. Despite being in his early thirties and the eldest son in his family, Manus is still treated in such a way that it seems people’s respect for him is very limited. During the early phases of the play, it seems that Manus has no other alternative to his lifestyle and must accept it. He is ignored by Maire several times and has to cover for his dad who is late for class.
Suppression also affects a character who we would not have presumed as being a target. This character is Owen. Since the introduction of when Owen’s character appears in the play, we assumed he had a unique bond with the English. It would seem normal for Owen to be treated fairly for assisting the English in completing the mapping, however we discover that Lancey is just as suppressive to Owen as he is to all the other Irish people and Hugh is to Manus. The audience is quick to have a negative feel towards Lancey as his character is very cold-hearted, blunt and very forceful in speech.
We get this feeling through Lancey’s appearance in the play and discover his inability or uneasy nature with foreigners. When he is offered drink by Hugh his brisk reply lacks diplomacy, as does his remark: “I’ll say what I have to say, if I may, and as briefly as possible. Do they speak any English Roland?” Lancey’s quote here reveals his intimidating personality and he seems to look down on the Irish. His complete ignorance of calling Owen, Roland can be seen as a technique deployed by Friel to highlight the lack of importance the English had on the cultural and historical aspects of the naming.
The unspoken and concealed nature also ties in with the theme of suppression within the play. There are many cases where there are misunderstanding and a lack of clarification. This is most predominant especially through the language barrier. This barrier can be seen as a means of performing the mapping without the consent and full understanding of the Irish. The unspoken is noticeable where Owen is asked to translate the speech by t he English into Gaelic for the Irish to understand. Despite Lancey’s lengthy speech, Owen restricts it to a very shortened and misinterpreted form.
This doesn’t go about unnoticed as both the audience and Hugh are aware of his mistakes. Norman Fairclough, a modern linguist, proclaimed that “language is power,” implying that if you want to control a person or gain power over a nation, you must first control language. This fits into the play directly and I would agree with the quote as although the renaming of street names may seem harmless, it is in f act a method of gaining control and overpowering the Irish.
In the play Translations, language and its effects is clearly one of the central themes. This is evident because the characters all show what language means to them ranging from Manus who uses his knowledge of languages as a form of power over the British to Owen who does not show any concern for his language and identity and allows the British to call him Roland. Furthermore the title of the play Translations is ironic because although one of the themes of the play is keeping your identity the book itself looses its identity.
This is because although the play is written by an Irish author and set in Ireland, it is written in English. Thus the title foreshadows the outcome of the play, however, despite all the attributes Manus and Owen possess, they are still forced to remain unspoken and accept authority. Owen does eventually realize what he has gotten himself into, however, once again it is too late to alter anything back to its original state.
In conclusion, it is apparent that the theme of suppression and remaining unspoken runs through the length of the play. This technique reveals the difficulties and boundaries which existed between the Irish and the English. The choice of using such theme could also be noted as being a deliberate act by Friel in order to create further suspense within the play. As the play is written about a historical event which had already taken place, the audience would be aware of the outcome. This then makes the audience character bond far closer as the audience would prefer a less demanding approach of control from the English and a greater sense of support from the Irish in maintaining and pursuing their culture.