Manus and the position that he takes in relation to the situation in Baile Beag is symbolic of the hatred of the English presence in Ireland, and is perhaps comparable with the IRA of the period which Friel was writing in. Manus’ monosyllabic replies to Yolland, ‘so’, ‘thanks’, create of tone of extreme dislike towards Yolland, who represents the English presence. In addition ‘how’s the work going?’ has a tone of mocking sarcasm that suggests that Manus sees Yolland as an enemy.
Furthermore, Manus sees Owen as a collaborator, working for the English for purely personal gains ‘there are always the Rolands, aren’t there?’ suggesting that there are always the people who are prepared to sacrifice their cultural heritage in order to benefit from the situation. There is a sub-textual agenda between Manus and Owen that is evident in this extract. It is possible that Manus resents Owen for leaving in the first place ‘I come back after six years and everything’s just as it was.’ (pg. 27) In addition to this Owen has returned bringing the foreign oppressors with him, which could only serve to exacerbate the negative emotions that Manus has towards his brother.
Manus demonstrates an almost irrational dislike towards Yolland in the passage, and seems to have a stereotypical preconception of the English (Lancey). Without acknowledging the fact that Yolland is by no means individually culpable for the changing of Gaelic place names Manus is demonstrating the hypocrisy in generalising about a race of people in the same way that Lancey seems to. This could be one of the reasons that Friel seems to condemn the extreme approach to cultural change that characters like Manus and the Donnelly twins symbolise. This is evident when Manus claims that he ‘understand[s] the Lanceys perfectly, but people like [Yolland] puzzle [him].’ It is easy to hate a figure like Lancey, but Yolland seems to care about Ireland and its culture, and even shows a side of himself that is in agreeance with Manus about the changing of the place names when he asks Owen to ‘leave [the place name] alone.’
Friel portrays the relationship between Owen and Yolland as one where the cultural differences are meaningless, and a sense of equality begins to develop between the two characters ‘Now… where have we got to…? George!’, ‘Yes I’m listening.’ Conversely, Captain Lancey assumes an air of superiority with the Irish natives when he suggests that “Ireland is privileged’ (page 34). The pair are connected through their mutual sense of cultural ambiguity. Yolland is caught between his English heritage, and his newfound love of Ireland. They seem to have an almost student-teacher relationship ‘we met it yesterday in Druim Luachra,’ ‘a ridge! The Black Ridge!’ It could be that their relationship is an example of what a peaceful reaction to the situation can produce.
By analysing the symbolism of the characters in this passage we are able to understand how Friel explores the relationship between the British and the Irish, including the different reactions to the English occupation including the condemnation of unfounded hatred of the British, and even what benefits adaptation to cultural change can bring.