Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: A Teaching Perspective


Examination Thesis, 2002

84 Pages, Grade: 2.3


Excerpt

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays
by Brian Friel: A Teaching Perspective
Schriftliche Hausarbeit im Rahmen der Ersten
Staatsprüfung für das Lehramt für die
Sekundarstufe I und II,
dem Staatlichen Prüfungsamt für Erste
Staatsprüfungen für Lehrämter an Schulen Essen,
vorgelegt von:
David Christoph Cichowicz,
Bergische Universität Gesamthochschule
Wuppertal, Juli, 2002
Anglistik, Fachbereich 4, Sprach- und
Literaturwissenschaften

TABLE OF CONTENT
I. Introduction
1
II. Literary Analysis: Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel
1.
Politics
and
language
2
1.1.
Language
as
a
matter
of
identity
3
1.1.1. Colonisation by naming: Cultural and
national
identity
4
1.1.2. The relevance of the characters' identities
5
1.1.3. Friel's innovative use of dramatic devices:
Philadelphia, here I come and Translations
7
1.2. Language as a basis for communication
8
1.2.1.
Inter-cultural
communication:
Irish-British
9
1.2.2. Intra-cultural communication:
Irish-Irish
11
1.2.3.
Inter-personal
communication:
Father-son
12
1.2.4. Communication between the author
and
the
reader
14
2.
Friel's
presentation
of
history
17
2.1.
Historical
events
in
Friel's
plays
17
2.1.1.
The
Ordnance
Survey
18
2.1.2. Penal laws: national schools
and
hedge
schools
19
2.1.3.
Emigration
and
the
Great
Famine
21
2.1.4. Historical texts and their influence on Friel: Intertextuality
22
2.2. Making History
as
a
metahistoric
play
24
2.2.1. Hugh O'Neill and the Battle of Kinsale
25
2.2.2. Historical inaccuracies in Friel's presentation of
Hugh O'Neill and the Battle of Kinsale
26
2.2.3. History and fiction: objective or subjective
historiography?
27
3. Summary
30
III. Didactical Analysis of Brian Friel's Plays: a Teaching Perspective
1. Literature in the classroom: Why read literature?
31
1.1.
The cultural model
31
1.2.
The
language
model
32
1.3.
The
personal
growth
model
32
1.4.
Why
read
drama
in
the
classroom?
33

2.
Approaching
the
play
34
2.1.
Planning
the
course
of
the
lessons
34
2.2. Coming to grips with the content
35
2.2.1.
Clusters
35
2.2.2.
Index
cards
36
2.2.3.
Tabular
synopsis 36
2.2.4.
Writing
a
blurb
/
review 37
3.
Working
with
the
play
38
3.1.
Formal
analysis:
Stage
directions 38
3.1.1.
Stage
39
3.1.2.
Setting
40
3.1.3.
Characters
/
Costumes
42
3.2. Analysing the characters with the help of parallel-, inter- and contrary texts
43
3.2.1.
Warrants
of
apprehension
44
3.2.2.
Obituaries
44
3.2.3.
Writing
a
character's
diary
45
3.2.4. Rewriting the text from different perspectives
45
4. Performing the play: scenic interpretation
46
4.1.
Freeze-images
47
4.2.
Role-playing
an
interview 48
4.3.
Creating
a
radio
play
49
4.4.
Performing
the
play
itself 50
5. Using the internet
52
5.1.
Internet
research
52
5.1.1. Enquiring about Brian Friel and his plays
53
5.1.2.
Enquiring
about
Ireland 54
5.2.
Creating
a
website 55
6. Summary
56
IV. Conclusion
57
V. Bibliography
58
VI. Appendix
61

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 1
I. Introduction
Brian Friel is considered one of the most successful contemporary Irish
dramatists. His works have achieved international reputation and are staged
throughout the world. Even in schools, especially in Ireland, his plays are dealt
with. For language and literature teachers, who work with Friel's plays in
school, this paper shall serve as a kind of handbook. It is divided into two parts.
The first is a theoretical analysis of Friel's plays Philadelphia, here I come,
Translations and Making History. It provides the basic theoretical knowledge
about the plays that teachers need for professional teaching. The analysis
examines Friel's plays on political and historical topics. The plays mentioned
all show many similarities concerning these topics and therefore seem very
suitable for a detailed literary analysis.
The second part of this paper is more practically orientated. It provides
classroom teaching ideas for Friel's plays, including many exercises and
teaching material. Although a lot has been written on Friel, only a few have
looked at his work from a didactical point of view. A journal article by Philip
Brady The Scholar in the Hayfield: Brian Friel and the Post-Colonial
Classroom (1998) reports about the staging experiences of Translations by a
university teacher for Irish literature. Brady mentions the international validity
of the political topics in Translations that can be applied to many countries
and cultures. Unfortunately the article does not provide teaching ideas and
materials. A few teaching materials can be taken from the internet (see II.5., p.
52), but not much has been done here either. This seems to be surprising
because the German syllabus as well the Irish syllabus both state that in order
to live in this world one needs knowledge about historical, political social and
economical coherences. (cf. Richtlinien, 1999, p. XIV) "Language [...] is
embedded in history, culture, society, and ultimately personal subjectivity."
(English Syllabus Higher Level, 1999, p. 2). The selected plays match the
demand of both syllabi because they mainly deal with historical and political
topics and illustrate how they affect a whole culture and its individuals. These
circumstances show the necessity of a work such as this and it may prove to be
something that fills an important gap in Friel studies.

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 2
II. Literary Analysis: Political and Historical Topics in Selected
Plays by Brian Friel
In his plays Philadelphia, here I come, Translations and Making History
Friel shows how political and historical forces affect the cultural and individual
life in Ireland. His plays are largely based on historical events from Irish
history and show the political influences of these events. Furthermore Friel
himself has a political message which is conveyed through his plays. In the
following chapters the relation between politics and language and Friel's
presentation of history will be discussed. When possible and necessary,
autobiographical elements and comments by Friel are mentioned with
reference to the plays.
1. Politics and language
Politics and language are closely related. Politics are made through language,
and especially in Ireland, language is of great political relevance. Its origin can
be found in Irish history. The British colonized the country and introduced the
English language by means such as the Ordnance Survey. Of course other
historical factors , for example emigration, led to the Anglisation of Ireland,
but the effects of Irish colonial history still have political influence today. This
may be observed in bilingual street signs and in the fact that Gaelic is taught to
pupils at a very early age.
In Ireland, language was used as a political and social weapon by the British
when the Irish language was abandoned. Since the late nineteenth century,
however, tables have turned. Irish has become an offensive political weapon
for the nationalist movement, which Friel and his Field Day Company
1
are a
part of (cf. McGrath, 1999, p. 204).
In his sporadic diary (1979) Friel writes about the connection of language and
politics when talking about his play Translations:
1
The Field Day Company was founded in 1980 by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea in Derry.
Supported by the Arts Councils of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, they
produced a new and challenging play every year (cf. Huber, 1990, p.171)

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 3
I don't want to write a play about Irish peasants being suppressed by English sappers.
I don't want to write a threnody on the death of the Irish language.
I don't want to write a play about land-surveying.
Indeed I don't want to write a play about naming places.
And yet portions of all these are relevant. Each is part of the atmosphere in which the
real play lurks. (Murray, 1999, p. 75)
Although there was no intention to write about Irish politics, these elements
automatically come into the play when writing about language.
Language is also closely related to a person's identity, since a change of
language also entails a change of expression and perception. It is thus the basis
for communication which is essential to politics. In the following chapters
these aspects of language in relation to politics will be examined with reference
to Translations, Philadelphia, here I come and Making History.
1.1. Language as a matter of identity
Pine (1990) suggests that one's identity can be changed by language.
Language expresses what is perceived by a community of speakers. It is
therefore a way of expressing the world. Changing the language also means
changing identity. This concerns national and cultural identities as well as
personal identities. Essential parts of our identities can be taken away when
names are changed or withdrawn (cf. Pine, 1990, p. 163-164). The same
applies to place names that are referred to by a community of speakers.
Changing these names means losing part of a cultural identity. In a political
sense, this can be taken advantage of by re-naming the places as a part of
colonising. The connection between language and identity is mainly a topic in
Translations, but it is also referred to in Making History and Philadelphia, here
I come.

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 4
1.1.1. Colonisation by naming: Cultural and national identity
The Ordnance Survey (see I.2.1.1., p. 18), which occurred in the years 1824-
1846, aimed not just at mapping the whole of Ireland, but also at Anglicising
place names throughout the country. It is the major topic in Friel's play
Translations. The naming of places is a way of identifying and marking. It is
also a way of knowing and understanding. Accordingly the naming of place
names is a means of making a place known and understood and therefore a
means of securing and possessing it (cf. Bullock, 2000, p. 98-100).
Cultural and national identity manifest themselves in place names. The names
offer information about the history of a place as shown in the dialogue between
Yolland and Owen when they speak of a crossroads called "Tobair Vree"
(Friel, 1981, p. 420). Owen explains:
And why do we call it Tobair Vree? I'll tell you why. Tobair means a well. But what
does Vree mean? It's a corruption of Brian - (Gaelic pronunciation) Brian - an erosion
of Tobair Bhriain. Because a hundred-and-fifty years ago there used to be a well there,
not at the crossroads, mind you ­ that would be too simple ­ but in a field close to the
crossroads. And an old man called Brian, whose face was disfigured by an enormous
growth, got it into his head that the water in that well was blessed; and every day for
seven months he went there and bathed his face in it. But the growth didn't go away;
and one morning Brian was found drowned in that well. And ever since that
crossroads is known as Tobair Vree ­ even though that well has long since dried up.
(ibid., p. 420)
The places have their own ontology that would be lost by translating them into
English, as would be the case with "Tobair Vree" and" The crossroads" (ibid.,
p. 420) and with "Bun na hAbhann" and "Burnfoot" (ibid., p. 410). In losing
the name Tobair Vree, Owen would lose a part of his own identity since the
knowledge of the place has been passed on to him by his grandfather. In a more
general sense this scene represents the loss of the over-all Irish tradition and
culture. The place names have become a historical, cultural and social
storehouse through the various associations that single persons have with these
places (cf. Bullock, 2000, p. 112-113).

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 5
Pilkington (1990) suggests an irony in the re-naming of Tobair Vree, as it is an
Anglisation already. Tradionally the letter "v" is not part of the Irish alphabet.
Moreover phonetically obscurities arise since the Irish language would not lose
a final nasal consonant as in Tobair Vree / Tobair Bhriain (cf. Pilkington, 1990,
p. 228).
Whether this irony is intended by the author or not remains unclear, but Friel
makes one of the characters in Translations explicitly talk about the relevance
of the Irish language and Irish identity:
HUGH: Indeed, Lieutenant. A rich language. A rich language. You'll find, sir, that
certain cultures expend on their vocabularies and syntax acquisitive energies and
ostentations entirely lacking in their material live. [...] It is our response to mud
cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to ... inevitablies (Friel,
1981, p. 418-419).
Irish culture and identity is coined by many negative historical events such as
the Great Famine, emigration, the Ordnance survey etc., which will be
explored later (see I.2.1., p. 17). As a consequence of these "inevitabilities"
(ibid., p. 419) the Irish compensated this lack of material goods in their
language by creating a rich and ornate language that manifests itself in the
identity of the people. By substituting Irish by English, a part of this cultural
identity would irrevocably be lost.
The question of identity is not just shown in a cultural and a national dimension
but also within the character's individual identities.
1.1.2. The relevance of the characters' identities
The matter of identity is also shown in the naming of the characters. In
Translations Friel gives all Irish characters a typical and traditional Irish name.
In his sporadic diary (1979) he notes: "I believe that I am reluctant even to
name the characters, maybe because the naming-taming process is what the
play is about." (Murray, 1999, p. 76). Therefore Maire, Manus, Doalty,
Bridget, Hugh and Owen are all common Irish names. Sahra, James and Jimmy
are rather universal names. The Irish characters are only referred to by their

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 6
first names, whereas the English characters Captain Lancey and Lieutenant
Yolland receive a military title and are addressed by their surnames. Yolland
who sympathises with the Irish, has a name that indicates a relation to the Old-
Irish settlers who gave up their own language and adopted to the habits and
customs of the Irish people. This becomes obvious not just through his
behaviour but also through his name; "Yola" was the name given to the form of
English spoken by the first English settlers, the Old-Irish (cf. Jones, 2000, p.
69).
Name and identity are used synonymously throughout the play: Owen who is
always called Roland by the British, insists on his original name and begins to
recall his Irish identity. Towards the beginning of the play, Hugh mentions the
"ritual of naming" (Friel, 1981, p. 397). One character in particular, Sahra,
represents the process of finding identity. Her first words "My name is Sahra"
(ibid., p. 384) are an act of identification. Having been betrayed by Manus, she
loses her identity and is unable to articulate her name anymore (cf. Jones, 2000,
p. 79).
Sahra is a personification of Ireland. As in Yeats' Cathleen ni Houlihan,
Ireland is represented by an old or retarded woman. Being betrayed by her own
people, Sahra, and therefore Ireland, loses her identity.
One character, Jimmy, has found his identity in the classical languages and
mythothodly. "He is fluent in Latin and Greek [...] ­ to him it is perfectly
normal to speak these languages." (Friel, 1980, p. 383). Jimmy lives his life
mainly through these languages and thinks only in the past. By living in his
fantasy world he can exercise power over someone else, namely Athena and
Ulysses. This is an analogy of the British colonisers, who like Jimmy have
power over the Irish through language.
Changing identity with language is also a topic in Making History. According
to the circumstances and affiliations Hugh O'Neill speaks in an "upper-class
English accent" (Friel, 1989, p. 247) that sometimes "fades until at the end his
accent is pure Tyrone" (ibid., p. 338). Making History shows the possible
inflections that can occur with different names: O'Neill's circumstances
change when he is referred to as Hugh, The O'Neill or Earl of Tyrone. This
also influences the spectator's reactions and perceptions

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 7
(cf. Pine, 1990, p. 164).
In Philadelphia, here I come the matter of identity is central to the complete
play. It depicts Gar's own struggle shortly before he emigrates to America. In
order to illustrate this internal struggle Friel has chosen a new and innovative
dramatic device which will be looked at in the next chapter.
1.1.3. Friel's innovative use of dramatic devices: Philadelphia, here I come
and Translations
In Philadelphia, here I come Friel splits the main character Gar into a public
and a private Gar. In the stage directions he notes:
The two Gars, PUBLIC GAR and PRIVATE GAR, are two views of the one man.
PUBLIC GAR is the Gar that people see, talk to, talk about. PRIVATE GAR is the
unseen man, the man within, the conscience, the alter ego, the secret thoughts, the id.
PRIVATE GAR, the spirit, is invisible to everybody, always. Nobody except PUBLIC
GAR hears him talk. But even PUBLIC GAR, although he talks to PRIVATE GAR
occasionally, never sees him and never looks at him. One cannot look at one's alter
ego (Friel, 1965, p. 27).
With his dramatic device he opens an insight for the spectator into Gar's
psyche and identity. Private Gar is the one who acts out the unspoken words of
Public Gar. He shows the social isolation of Public Gar who is unable to
communicate with his environment, especially with his father. Private Gar
utters the anxieties and hopes, happiness and frustration of Public Gar. By
realising the concept of a split character, Friel creates a new dramatic device
that expands an interior monologue into a dialogue between two characters (cf.
Emmert, 1996, p. 38-39).
In the case of Philadelphia, here I come the identity and personality of the
character has become accessible for the spectator through the splitting of the
protagonist. In this way, the audience is presented with a commentary on the
whole's character's attitude and behaviour. This helps the spectator to
sympathise and identify himself with the character (cf. Jones. 2000, p. 21).

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 8
As with Hugh O'Neill in Making History, the characters in Philadelphia, here I
come employ their own idiosyncratic accents. This, too, helps the spectator to
identify with the different characters (cf. ibid., p. 29).
Friel makes use of an innovative dramatic device not only in Philadelphia,
here I come, bit also in Translations. The play is performed in English but the
characters actually speak Irish. In his sporadic diary (1979) Friel states: "[...] a
theatrical conceit will have to be devised by which ­ even though the actors
speak English ­ the audience will assume or accept that are speaking Irish."
(Murray, 1999, p. 74). The new English language communicates the old and
traditional Irish language. By that an outside audience is allowed to understand
an inside situation which is usually incomprehensible to others (cf. Grene,
1999, p.45).
The audience is permanently reminded that the characters actually speak Irish
in scenes where translations have to take place in order to communicate. An
example for that is the scene in Act I where Lancey informs the people of
Ballybeg about the plans for the Survey and where Owen translates him. In the
beginning Lancey asks: "Don't they speak English, Roland? OWEN: Don't
worry. I'll translate." (Friel, 1965, p. 405). In this scene as in many others the
audience is reminded that the Irish characters indeed speak Irish only.
Communication with the English can only be provided through translation.
Therefore language serves as a basis for communication.
1.2. Language as a basis for communication
Communication is enabled through the use of language. It ensures that people
understand each other. A lack of communication leads to misunderstandings,
tensions, conflicts and sometimes even to wars. In his plays, Friel makes
communication and language a subject of discussion. Translations deals with
inter-cultural as well as intra-cultural communication. A central topic of
Philadelphia, here I come is the communication between father and son. But
Friel himself also communicates through his characters with the reader, as in
Making History. We shall examine these topics in the following chapters.

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 9
1.2.1. Inter-cultural communication: Irish-British
As mentioned earlier, the Irish characters in Translations actually speak
Irish although the language of the play is English. Thus translation has to take
place to enable communication. But not in all cases, like the dialogue between
Maire and Yolland, who would like to settle down in Ireland. Having listed the
Irish place names, both come closer to each other. The sound of the Irish
language seems to have enabled them to express the privacy of the their
individual identity (cf. Pilkington, 1990, p.295).
They manage to communicate their love by uttering words (place names) in the
other's language. Although they have a language barrier they insist on going on
talking. Both say: "Don't stop ­ I know what you're saying" (Friel, 1981, p.
428). This love-scene ends with both focusing in their mother-tongue on the
word "always" (ibid., p 428):
MAIRE: Don't stop ­ I know what you're saying.
YOLLAND: I would tell you how I want to be here ­ to live here ­ always ­ with you
- always, always.
MAIRE: `Always'? What is that word ­ `always'?
YOLLAND: Yes-yes; always.
[...]
YOLLAND: Don't stop ­ I know what you're saying.
MAIRE: I want to live with you ­ anywhere ­ anywhere at all ­ always ­ always.
YOLLAND: `Always'? What is that word ­ `always'?
(ibid.,
p.
428)
The parallelisms and frequent repetitions of the word "always" indicate
Maire's and Yolland's orientation towards the future. Yolland wants to live
with Maire "here" in Ireland and Maire wants to live with him "anywhere".
This already indicates her intention to emigrate to America which she makes
come true after the mysterious disappearing of Yolland. This scene represents
the ideal of the British and Irish reaching out to each other and understanding
each other (cf. McGrath, 1999, p. 186).
Here Friel draws a very romantic picture of relations between the Irish and the
British. History has shown that in most cases relations and communication

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 10
between the Irish and the British are rather difficult. This is indicated by the
statement of the native Irish Jimmy Jack who says that when you "marry
outside the tribe [...] both sides get very angry" (Friel, 1981, p. 446). Friel
takes up this topic of the incompability of the Irish and the English in his later
play Making History. Hugh O'Neill's English wife Mabel Bagenal gets advice
from her sister Mary:
MARY: [...] Don't plant the fennel near the dill or the two will cross-fertilize.
MABEL: Is that bad?
MARY: You'll end up with a seed that's neither one thing or the other. [...]
(ibid.,
p.
275)
This metaphor stands for the hybridisation of Irish and English. It is a warning
by Mary against the union of two different cultures, races and religions (cf.
Jones, 2000, p. 135). The intermingling of the Irish and the English leads to a
loss of identity, since you not the one "thing or the other" (Friel, 1989, p. 275).
Against her sister's warning, Mabel marries Hugh and as a result they have a
baby. The baby as a product of the love between two different races is doomed
to die and thus becomes a symbol of the incompability of the Irish and the
English. The problematic relationship between the Irish and the English is also
characterised by Hugh's statement about the use of the English language in
Translations:
HUGH: [...] and then usually for the purposes of commerce, a use to which his tongue
seemed particularly suited [...] and I went on to propose that our own culture and the
classical tongues made a happier conjugation. [...] Indeed ­ English, I suggested,
couldn't really express us (Friel, 1981, p. 399).
Hugh accuses the British of being interested in commerce only, which is of no
interest to the Irish. He excludes a "conjugation", a joining together, with the
English because the Irish better fit with classical languages such as Greek and
Latin. His statement ends in a climax that shows that English is not the right
language to express the Irish identity, because of the richness of the Irish
language. Friel explains the relationship between the classical languages and

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 11
Irish in a self-portrait (1972): "[We were] translating, scanning, conjugating
[the classical texts], never once suspecting that these texts were the testimony
of sad, happy, assured, confused people like ourselves." (Murray, 1999, p. 40).
Friel's and Hugh's statement refers to the many similarities the Greek and
Roman and the Irish have in common. Therefore the statements deny a
valuable communication with the English since their culture and their interests
differ strongly from the Irish.
The usage of English is also important for communication in other English-
speaking countries. As many Irish people emigrated to the USA or to Australia,
monolingualism was an obstacle to freedom. This economical factor of the
English language was also a reason for the Anglisation of Ireland since people
saw a need in being able to speak English. Maire states:
MAIRE: [...] He said the sooner we all learn to speak English the better. [...] I want
to be able to speak English because I'm going to American as soon as the harvest's all
saved (Friel, 1981, p. 399-400).
The repetition of the word "soon" shows the urgency of acquiring English.
Being able to speak English enables emigration to America and Australia. The
urgency arises from the economic circumstances in Ireland which are coined
by poverty and hunger. Therefore English is required for commercial reasons,
just as Hugh stated earlier. The whole matter of emigration is a central topic in
Philadelphia, here I come, but before that the communication between the Irish
and Irish shall be discussed.
1.2.2. Intra-cultural communication: Irish-Irish
Intra-cultural communication among the Irish is only a random topic in
Friel's plays. Whereas Irish Maire and English Yolland in Translations can
communicate without knowing the other's language, Sahra and Manus, both
Irish, have problems in their communication. Manus, who with great care,
taught Sahra to speak, does not realize what she feels for him. In Act III he
"addresses her [...] without warmth or concern for her." (ibid., p. 433).

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 12
Sahra is trying her best to stop Manus from leaving. Although she is "crying
quietly" (ibid., p. 433), Manus leaves her and "kisses the top of her head ­ as if
in absolution" (ibid., p. 434). He does not reciprocate her feelings and does not
even seem to notice the love Sahra feels for him.
Having said that Sahra is a personification of Ireland, this lack of
communication can be applied in a broader sense. Manus, standing for an
average young Irishman who is about to leave the country, does not realize that
his mother country needs him, especially in hard times. Manus kisses Sahra
goodbye in "absolution". This word indicates that he forgives Sahra and thus
Ireland for her sins, meaning the bad economic and political situation that does
not offer perspectives for young people.
Manus does not reply the love of his homeland, just like Gar in Philadelphia,
here I come, who is going to emigrate to America. About his home he says: "I
hate the place, and every stone, and every rock, and every piece of heather
around it. [...] all this sentimental rubbish about `homeland' and `birthplace'."
(Friel, 1965, p. 79). Gar becomes more and more alienated from his birthplace
Ballybeg. Before his departure to America, he feels hatred for his birthplace.
Gar, just like Manus, does not value what his mother country has to offer him
and thus turns his back on Ireland. In doing so, Gar not only alienated from his
homeland, but also from his father. The defective communication between Gar
and his father is dealt with in the next chapter.
1.2.3. Inter-personal communication: Father-son
Although Philadelphia, here I come obviously deals with emigration, Friel
states in an interview (1972) that: "Philadelphia was an analysis of a kind of
love: the love between a father and a son and his birthplace." (Hickey and
Smith, 1972, p. 222).
The relationship between father and son is coined by a defective
communication. Father and son have no longer anything to say to each other.
Friel indicates this by the use of silence: "It's the silence that's the enemy"
(Friel, 1965, p. 93) or "To hell with all strong silent man. "(ibid., p. 89).
"Screwballs, say something! Say something, Father" (ibid., p. 80).

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 13
Gar longs to communicate with his father like he used to in earlier times. He
want to restore the relationship urgently, which is indicated by the repetition of
"Say something father". When they talk to each other they "embarrass one
another" (ibid., p. 49). Gar has a memory of his father in which the relationship
was still intact. He wants to restore this relationship before his departure to
America.
Both father and son have happy memories of Gar's childhood. But they differ
highly from each other. Gar recalls this scene:
It says that once upon a time a boy and his father sat in a blue boat on a lake on an
afternoon in May, and on that afternoon a great beauty happened, a beauty that has
haunted the boy ever since, because he wonders now did it really take place or did he
imagine it (ibid., p. 89).
Gar wonders if this happy recollection really took place or if it was just
imagined. That is why he confronts his father with this memory, but he cannot
remember. As S.B. tells Madge he has a different memory of Gar's childhood,
namely him going to school, wearing a sailor suit:
I can see him, with his shoulders back, and the wee head up straight, and the mouth,
aw, man, as set, and says he this morning, I can hear him saying it, says he, `I'm not
going to school. I'm going into my daddy's business'[...]" (ibid., p. 96-97).
S.B. also has happy memories of the past with his son. He is emotionally
touched by the scene which is indicated by his use of language like in "aw,
man". The relationship between him and Gar was intact, as Gar still called him
"daddy" and not "Screwballs" (ibid., p. 49).
Emmert (1996) interprets the different memories as a sign of the a lack of
comprehension for the prevailing similarities between father and son. This
manifests itself in their inability to express emotions and to communicate with
each other (cf. Emmert, 1996, p. 44). This is an contradiction with what Friel
says about the memories in a self-portrait (1972):
Have I imagined the scene then? Or is it a composite of two or three different
episodes? The point is [...] I don't think it matters. What matters is that for some

Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: a Teaching Perspective
page 14
reason [...] this vivid memory is there in the storehouse of the mind. For some reason
the mind has shuffled the pieces of verifiable truth and composed a truth of its own.
For me it is a truth (Murray, 1999, p. 39).
It does not matter if S.B. and Gar share the same memories, since the mind can
falsify memories sometimes. For both of them the remembered scene took
place the way they remember it. It has become their subjective truth. What
matters is that S.B. and Gar both do have a happy memory at all, which shows
that they do have a relationship and that they do feel love for each other. Even
though the communication between father and son is defective, they have
happy memories of the past. Not being able to utter this to each other makes
the play very tragic.
The memory scene also has autobiographical aspects: Friel states in his self-
portrait (1972):
My father and I used to go fishing on the lakes near the village. [...] And there we are,
the two of us, soaking wet, splashing along a muddy road that comes in at right angles
to Glenties' main street, singing about how my boat can safely float through the teeth
of wind and weather (ibid., p. 38-39).
Friel's memory strongly reminds one of Gar's remembered scene. It also deals
with a boat and it depicts a happy day with his father. Friel's recollections are
therefore obviously the basis for the memory scene in Philadelphia, here I
come.
The communication does not just take part between the characters, but they
also serve as Friel's spokesmen. This will be the topic of the following chapter.
1.2.4. Communication between the author and the reader
One also has to take into consideration that not just the characters within the
play communicate with each other, but also that the author communicates with
the reader through his characters. In Translations it is the character Hugh and
in Making History it is the historiographer Lombard who serve as Friel's
spokesmen. In Translations, Hugh represents the point of view that the English
language must be accepted and that the Irish have to accommodate to changes.
Excerpt out of 84 pages

Details

Title
Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: A Teaching Perspective
College
University of Wuppertal
Grade
2.3
Author
Year
2002
Pages
84
Catalog Number
V185793
ISBN (eBook)
9783656982357
ISBN (Book)
9783867466769
File size
1694 KB
Language
English
Tags
political, historical, topics, selected, plays, brian, friel, teaching, perspective
Quote paper
David Cichowicz (Author), 2002, Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: A Teaching Perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/185793

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Title: Political and Historical Topics in Selected Plays by Brian Friel: A Teaching Perspective



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