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Using Act One of the play ‘Translations’: Brian Friel Presents Us With An Intellectual Irish Arcadia. How Far Do You Agree With This Interpretation?

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Introduction

Using Act One of the play 'Translations': Brian Friel Presents Us With An Intellectual Irish Arcadia. How Far Do You Agree With This Interpretation? I think that on one level we stumble across this little hidden goldmine of intellects but on another these people can seem backward and old fashioned in their ways. By looking at Act One and reading between the lines I should be able to prove which of these is more true. To understand what we are trying to look for we must look to the question and it's meaning. The Encyclopaedic World Dictionary says intellectual means ' possessing or showing intellect esp. to a high level. This should guide me in what I'm looking for. When we start the play we are instantly brought into the little community of Baile Beag. From the word go we can see what Friel is telling us about these people. Each of the characters are significant, from the major to the mundane. They each play a very relevant part in trying to decide whether or no this is a brainy people. We find Manus, a lame school teacher, helping Sarah, a dumb young woman without age or identity. Instantly we feel sympathy for the characters concerned. Manus is a stereotype- pale, lame with a good heart. Sarah is the same- accepting her fate as the village idiot without fuss, doting on Manus. Another character present in the initial scene is Jimmy Jack Cassie. ...read more.

Middle

And Greek. He is clearly a man without great social skills but of great intelligence in the field in which he's interested. At the start we hear he comes to the classes 'partly for the company and partly for the intellectual stimulation' so we see he is eager to learn and improve himself. It also mentions he is fluent in Latin and Greek but was not pedantic which enforced the point that his intellect is something he takes as normal- as does everyone else around him. Maire is harder to decipher. We can tell she ably bodied, collecting in the harvest and working hard, long labour. We can see she interested in travelling abroad in the hope she can earn money in America to send home. She studies a map of America avidly but we can't tell whether or not her interest is purely for the purpose of earning money or whether she actually concerned about America or Geography. We do know she wished to learn English- perhaps in the hope it will benefit her in America. She even goes as far as to mention it to Hugh. "We should all be learning to speak English. That's what my mother says. That's what I say." In this respect we can see she wants to better herself, perhaps an indication that she feels Hugh's teaching in Greek and Latin is no longer sufficient for her needs. However she has been brought up without a man in the house, forced to work hard to raise the children beneath her and her forte seems to be labour rather than mental work. ...read more.

Conclusion

Owen mentions that his job is to change the names of the places in Ireland with the help of Yolland. But the way he says it is very revealing. "My job is translate the quaint, archaic tongue you people persist in speaking into the King's good English". He belittles their language, saying it's old fashioned and they still speak with it. He also calls English good, another term that puts down Irish. Owen has gone away an Irishman and come back an Englishman and this helps us understand why these people seem so out of date. He has gone away and made a fortune but only with the help of the English. Without them , we have to ask, would he have become so successful? And if he hadn't have moved away from Baile Beag would he have all the things he has? Probably not, which undermines this quaint, perfect image we have of the community. Now the people are no longer cutely unaware of anything but their little existence, they are backward and their way of life isn't just simple, but damaging to their prospects. This is a community with several intellects and I think the point that Friel is making is that these people are intelligent but it's an intelligence with boundaries, in this case the boundaries of the village. You go outside these boundaries and you find that their learning is no good for them and they can't use anything they know. However, because they are a simple, rural, sort of people their intelligence is sufficient for them, despite our perception of what intellect should be. ...read more.

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