All of the characters present in this play are representative of particular views and beliefs, all of characters representing different aspects of the same political process, the transformation of antiquated Gaelic society into modern British colony, this in its self creates conflict. It is the relationships between these characters, and the various views and positions which they adopt in relation to each other, the produce the tensions and conflicts of the play.
One can view conflict in the way we are introduced to Jimmy Jack. He is obviously immersed in the myths and legends of ancient Greek and Celtic folklore. A world of hyperbole and almost perfect beings, yet here he almost does not see the reality of his situation, a filthy, dishevelled and very lonely old man. There are no “flashing eyed Athene’s ” in his life yet we sense he truly believes there will be. Jimmy is clearly symbolic of the mindset time, trapped in romanticising the past and oblivious partly to the events of the present
Conflict is also shown through Sarah, in the form of internal struggle. In the opening scene, she is trying to learn to speak yet she keeps reverting to mime, a process of communication we imagine she has had to use all her life. We are told she is aged anywhere between seventeen to thirty-five which shocks “us” the reader. This conflict and internal struggle within Sarah, is apparent because she obviously wants to learn to speak and seek attention from Manus. Friel makes one empathize with Sarah, and almost feel pleased as well as we see her producing hidden flowers for the school room or are they for Manus? Once again Friel presents us which conflicting interruptions, which are left for ‘us’ the reader to interpret. Personally, One feels the conflict within Sarah is one of struggle with education and feelings of adoration, which is why she reverts to grunting when Maire, a rival for Manus’ affection, enters.
Maire is another character that presents conflict. She hints at future disagreement to come when she hears of the new state school opening at Poll nagCaorach “when it opens, this is finished: nobody’s going to pay to go to a hedge school.” Its almost as if Maire’s way of life is about to change forever; the educational confliction has come back into play and it would seem the power and size of the state school will crush the small, rural hedge school. This whole image is full of contrast and confliction, the English empire in Ireland, the big against the small, the educated town against the simple countryman. Maire also highlights confliction for work as she wants Manus to take the new schoolmasters job at Poll nagCaorach but he refuses because he believes his father is going for the same job. Unbeknown to Manus, Maire is looking to the future she can see the hedge school folding, she needs Manus to have a paid job to be her suitor. Manus on the other hand only sees the confrontation with his father, Hugh, for the job. A small conflict but one that we feel will have tragic consequences for all parties.
Doalty is another character who presents conflict, but of a different kind. Doalty is a scruffy local and quite mischievous; moving the soldiers surveying pole to mess up their readings. In contrast to the soldiers who one imagines are crisp, clean, and humourless in their work. Doalty presents the first physical conflict, “just to indicate a presence.” our first insight into the conflict between the English soldiers and the local Irishmen. A theme that is furthered by the enquiry of the Donnelly twins, who we are not introduced to but we feel are shady, rebel characters almost the mention of “the Donnelly Twins” conjures up images of conflict between the local men fighting the English soldiers, a theme Friel knows his audience of the 1980’s Ireland will know all too well.
Finally the differences in the characters various use of language highlights the underlying friction. For example, Maire uses colloquial languages, through short sentences which are repetitive and fairly simple, she also tends to ask a lot of questions whereas Jimmy Jack quotes from the myths and legends of ancient Greek and Celtic folklore, “ ‘Autar o ek limenos prosebe-‘ But Ulysses went forth from the harbour and through the woodland… .” Here Friel creates conflict in very simplistic terms, through the use of language and the contrasting characters means of expressing themselves.
Friel has created a dramatic world, but only to us the modern reader or viewer, depending on your viewpoint. We forget that this was a reality for a whole country of rural Irish; the small community of Baile Beg could represent any rural community of the time. The whole tale has conflict running throughout, from the obvious English Irish opposition to a whole array of undercurrent conflict. We are left at the entrance of Hugh anticipating a lot more confliction as the play unfolds.