Exploration of Identity, Belonging and Place in 'Translations' by Brian Friel

Topics: Irish language, British Isles, Brian Friel Pages: 6 (2271 words) Published: September 1, 2012
Explore the connections between identity, belonging and place in the play translations. You may extend your discussion to other works if you wish.

“As the present now
will later be past
And the first one now
will later be last
for the times they are a-changin'.” -Bob Dylan
The dictionary definition of identity is as follows- “the state or fact of being the same as one described.” Identity is often an idea that is more or less defined by one’s own understanding, and for that reason, is open to interpretation. The play Translations helps to explain and make clear the idea of cultural identity, and in particular, the Irish cultural identity. The Irish culture itself has been shaped over many hundreds of years, and history has seen itself repeated in many senses, in particular in the form of the many troubles in Ireland during both the 16th and 20th century. The play Translations, written by Brian Friel, not only establishes the Irish culture as that of one equal to the Ancient Roman and Greek civilisations, but is also a running commentary on not so much the decline of one culture, but the blossoming of another. Although the play is set in the 1800’s, the mentalities and attitudes from both sides are coincidently relevant to the time of its publication, 1981. Friel denies the idea that the play was intended to be seen as a political statement, but in reality it is hard in the present times to not envisage the play as a statement, let alone when the play was first performed, during a time of high political tension between North and South Ireland. In helping us to understand more contextually the connections between identity, belonging and place in Translations, there are some ideas which can be considered which are addressed in the play, including: the significance of a name and how it relates to identity, the idea of language, and also the recurring theme of maps and mapping in the play. The primary function of a name is that of identification. People are given names; places are given names, in order to achieve recognition. However names are not only a label in many cases, but can have personal meanings or relevance to individuals, or collective groups. So, as well as identification, names have a connection to an owner. In some ways it is even a form of ownership and belonging to have a name put on something. For example, with a person, the name tells us not only the name of their family, but also can hint to whereabouts they are from. For example, names with the prefix of “Mc”, or “Mac” often have a Scottish Ancestry. Much like this idea, in the play Translations where Yolland and Owen are re-naming the places in Ireland, they are often presented with certain names where anglicising proves itself a more dubious task. For example the place “Tra Bhan” can easily be anglicised to “White Beach”, whereas the place “Tobair Vree”, instead of being named after the geographical landform present at that place, is named after an old folk tale. This is not remembered by anyone but Owen, so Yolland and he are then put in a spot of indeterminate decision making. “Do we scrap Tobair Vree altogether... Or do we keep piety with a man long dead, long forgotten, his name ‘eroded’ beyond recognition, whose trivial little story nobody in the parish remembers? What we can see happening in the play here is the identity of the place trying to be determined. Owen even suggests calling the place “The Cross” because in his eyes, that is physically what it is. In some ways Owen comes across as even more sympathetic and cooperative with the British than Yolland. His pragmatic character can see the decline in his culture, and he accepts this, so he then sympathises with the British. What he doesn’t realise he is doing however, is destroying his own culture. By making all the Irish names English, the British are effectively severing the connection and sense of belonging between the Irish locals and their Irish country. By...
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