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In what ways could Hugh justifiably be said to be the central character and hero in Translations?

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Introduction

In what ways could Hugh justifiably be said to be the central character and hero in Translations? Hugh, as the teacher at the hedge school and as a prominent social figure within Baile Beag, is a central character in the narrative of the play. He is also the device through which Friel arguably sets out what he believes to be the best course of action in response to the situation in Baile Beag, and is therefore the central protagonist in Translations. He is by no means a traditional hero, in the sense that he not a physically strong and brave man who fights against evil (the English) in order to preserve good (Irish culture). However, it is possible that by refusing to condone any form of violent action regardless of motive and by being in favour of cultural adaptation, Friel has created his own version of heroism in the character of Hugh. In this way he surpasses the more traditional view of heroism, and achieves his end (preserving existing cultural values) by acknowledging that change is inevitable. By concentrating on the development of Hugh's response to the situation in Baile Beag, we are able to understand the ways in which he is the central character and hero of Translations. ...read more.

Middle

Either way it hardly epitomises heroism. However, Hugh does manage to insult the English language (a great insult in his eyes no doubt) and reinforce the image of Irish as a poetic language, and English as more suited to 'commerce.' He explains how English 'couldn't really express' the Irish, and upon learning of Lancey's lack of Greek and Latin, describes him as 'suitably humble.' By the end of Act 1, Hugh is beginning to recognise that the Irish people will need to find a way of coping with the changes imposed upon them by the English. By Act 2, Hugh is beginning to develop an opinion considering the situation in Baile Beag, and it is evident that his snobbery and sense of superiority towards the English has become more explicit, especially when he inquires as to whether William Wordsworth '[spoke] of him to [Yolland],' (as if he is a household name in England). However, this could be attributed to drunkenness. He explains how he 'dabble[s] in verse...after the style of Ovid,' and points out that 'English succeeds in making it sound plebeian.' In doing this, Hugh is exploring the positive aspects of Irish culture, describing how the Irish 'endure around truths immemorially posited,' and how Gaelic is 'full of mythologies of fantasy and hope of self-deception.' ...read more.

Conclusion

Hugh's call for the community of Baile Beag to 'learn where [they] live.' And to make them [the place names] our own,' in Act 3, demonstrates Friel's opinions concerning the loss of cultural identity, and what he feels is the most effective way of preserving cultural values. Translations was first shown in Derry in 1980, at what was arguably the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland and perhaps Friel's intent for the play was to encourage people to adopt and adapt to cultural changes, while preserving traditional Irish values, in place of joining the paramilitaries. He voices this message through Hugh, who seems to represent the compromise. Contextually, The play reflects the switch from violence to peaceful protest that the IRA made at the time (namely the Hunger strikes of the early 1980s). Throughout Translations, Hugh and his journey of understanding of the situation in Ireland is symbolic of a similar journey that perhaps Friel intends for the Irish people to make. As the character through which this message is voiced, Hugh is the central protagonist, and his heroism is evident in his realisation that passive submission is the only way forward for the Irish people, and that 'tradition can only survive through translation.' ...read more.

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