Nomination and National Identity in Brian Friel's Translations

By Al-Khalil, Raja | International Forum of Teaching and Studies, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Nomination and National Identity in Brian Friel's Translations


Al-Khalil, Raja, International Forum of Teaching and Studies


[Abstract]

Brian Friel's Translations (1980) demonstrates the role of language in combating British colonialism. The present study examines how the writer formulates a new sense of national identity in the audience who despise the replacement of the Gaelic names targeted by the English. The play's imaginary communities vary in their interpretation of the English campaign of nomination because there are differences among the Irish in their national sympathies. Thus, Foucault's panopticion can be relevant in analyzing the play's thematic use of names and what they culturally impart to the Irish audience at a historical juncture in the redefinition of Irish nationalism.

[Keywords] Friel; translations; Irish; drama; modern; British; cultural studies

In Irish literature of the twentieth century, the national and cultural struggles of Ireland influence both the literature and the criticism. Even though Irish national literature is similar to other national literatures, the intensity of the political themes is particularly noticeable in the dramatic work of Irish playwrights. The universality of using literature as a means of constructing a new taxonomy of nationalism based on a cultural definition can be found in anthologies tracing various national literatures. Margrit Sicherit (2003) in "Functionalizing Cultural Memory" traces all different compilations in the English anthologies and realizes the emphasis in literary history to use literature as an instrument for the construction of national identity because Benedict Anderson's (1983) view that nations are "imagined communities" and Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's(1983) idea on 'Tradition" as a key component of this collective imagining as being "invented" resonates with literary historians (qtd, p. 216).

Irish plays, in particular, engage spectators in a cultural and national discussion and tackle the matrix of social, political, and cultural issues of Ireland. The modern plays, especially, mirrored the views of the dominant Irish political parties of the early twentieth century. The first group of Irish nationalist sought to define nationalism based on the need for political rights to self-government, while, the other group sought a common culture as the alternative method for independence. Friel, in Translations, shows the commonality of the contrasting forms to the panoptic gaze of the characters and the spectators whose role in constructing national identity is crucial. Friel provokingly engages the audience in the national dialogue by using the renaming process of the British colonizers as a means of self-examination.

Translations produced in (1981) focuses on revealing the tensed relationship between the two major Irish factions. The first held by most Irish nationalists is the call for political rights, and the other viewpoint holds cultural unity as the main component for a new definition for nationalism. The setting of the play is at a distant time in the past in 1833. The time is significant enough because the events precede the famous Potato Famine of 1840, which historically occurs later and which the play foreshadows. The country folks smell the "sweetness" which they seem to know as the sign of damaged crop. However, the villagers of Ballybegg already realize that the reasons for their deplorable state are multifaceted. The signs of impeding dangers are greatly from within, and the British presence is to enlighten the villagers on the need for self-improvement and the necessity for a group effort to combat imperial tactics.

Clearly, the title, Translations, seeks to redefine nationalism based on making the audience more aware of the cultural significance of names in the construction of identity. The play falls under literature of resistance because the characters in the play and the audience realize that the imperial mission is for the purpose of claiming the Irish countryside as belonging to England. Friel is often compared to Chekhov because of the common theme found in both writers who emphasize denied expectations and focus on the frustrations of individual characters and social groups combating powerful forces (Krausse, 1999). …

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