How does Brian Friel establish the theme of language and its effects on communication, power and identity in Act one?

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How does Brian Friel establish the theme of language and its effects on communication, power and identity in Act one?

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 Hugh 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.

One of the ways Brain Friel establishes the theme of language is by using Sarah as a device to convey the bare minimum of language. Her limited knowledge of language limits her communication. However this could also be a benefit to her as she is able to have secrets without being expected to share them. Sarah is first introduced in the play by the stage directions which say “Sarah shakes her head vigorously and stubbornly” this is because Manus wants her to speak so she has an identity in the world. This could foreshadow that the Irish, who do not want to speak English will be forced too for there own good as it will help their country prosper. The character Sarah can be interpreted as the symbol of Ireland due to the play opening with her trying to claim her identity by saying “My name is Sarah”. This achievement of Sarah saying her name at the start of the play shows just how powerful language can be as just a few words can turn you from someone who is unknown to a person who has status in the world. Manus understands this and reacts by saying “nothing’ll stop us now”.  This can either be interpreted as nothing will stop Sarah from learning Gaelic now or that the “now” in the quote refers to all of Ireland and that as long as people are still learning Gaelic the British will not stamp out their language.

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The character Manus is Hugh’s eldest son and is a teacher at Hedge School. The relationship that Manus has with his father is made very clear by Brain Freil when Hugh first enters the play as he treats Manus like a slave by handing him his hat and coat “as, if to a footman”. Brain Friel shows that due to Manus’s lack of communication with his father and his willingness to do all the things his father asks of him, that he has become a servant. Out of all the characters in the play it is only Manus who ...

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