The Significance of Sarah, Jimmy and Doalty
Doalty, Sarah and Jimmy Jack Cassie have three main roles in Translations. Firstly, they represent those Irish people who will be left behind during the development of the country by the English. Secondly, they all contribute to the concluding scene and its outcome. And thirdly, they all in some way represent Ireland as a whole.
Unlike Maire and Owen, none of these three characters has any desire to leave Baile Beag. When Jimmy Jack sets out on a spring morning in 1798 with Hugh to join the rebellion he, like Hugh, soon feels homesick and returns eagerly to where he feels he belongs "And it was there in Phelan's pub" reminisces Hugh "that we got homesick for Athens, just like Ulysses. "The desiderium nostrorum - the need for our own".
Jimmy Jack, the peasant scholar, is a personification of a past, idealised Ireland - when Ireland kept alive the light of learning during Europe's Dark Ages. His "filthy" clothes, and shabby exterior are compensated for by the inner richness of his cultivated mind. Again he is like Ireland, materially poor but possessed of cultural wealth. Yolland appreciates both Jimmy Jack's knowledge and the "different order" of experience presented by Irish culture.
For Jimmy Jack, the classics and everyday life are interwoven. For the lonely, ageing man, the gods of Greece and Rome move as easily around Baile Beag as they do around Ancient Rome and Athens. He even turns to the classics for practical tips on farming, telling Doalty that he should follow the advice given in Book Two of Virgil's Georgics and give his upper field over to corn rather than potatoes.
Although Jimmy Jack is obviously quite capable of learning English, as he has managed to learn the more complicated languages of Latin and Greek, he does not seem to want to learn English. His knowledge of English and England itself is minimal - to him they are unimportant and lack poetry. It is possible that when speaking English became essential, he would not be able to conform. As Hugh observes, Jimmy Jack sees himself as shaped by a mythological history, based in the classics, rather than real history that is affected by the here and now. The idea of fluency in English being necessary to progress, either as an individual or a country, is totally lost on him.
In the final act of the play he seems to lose touch with reality - informing Hugh of his engagement to the Greek goddess, the
"flashing-eyed" Athene. His confusion of reality with mythology has become complete. And yet in his conversation with Maire in the same scene, he provides an insightful commentary on the play's action - on marrying inside and "outside the tribe". Although he is in fact talking about his supposed engagement to Pallas Athene, it seems to Maire and the audience as if he is warning Maire about her
relationship with Yolland. Either marry "outside the tribe" and cause possible conflict, or be safe and marry inside the "tribe" i.e. Manus. "And the word exogamein means to marry outside the tribe. And you don't cross those borders casually - both sides get very angry".
These sentiments would have been recognised by the modern Irish 1980 audience, as mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland can be problematic even today. The idea of not marrying "outside the tribe" can apply to childhood friendships and schools also - you stick to your own kind.
By contrast with Jimmy Jack, the "Infant Prodigy", Doalty is quite a slow learner - he struggles with the Latin and Greek that Hugh throws at him and his arithmetic is similarly painful. More than any of the other characters, he speaks in Irish slang and with a more common type of vocabulary and phrasing. "Aul fella", "the wee get" "aul eejit" "too lazy be Jases". Again, unlike Jimmy Jack, he is a man of action whose knowledge is limited to farming. He alone seems to worry about the cows...
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