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The pen of the author, whether it is a playwright or a poet, plays with words to vividly paint a picture of the story they are trying to tell. Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney and John Mc Gahern are three of Ireland's greatest storytellers. Their works and communication paint a landscape of the beautiful Irish countryside and the culture that identified a population.
Many in Ireland seek a return to the Gaelic, rather than English. The Irish believe that since the period of colonialism that the British have attacked the Irish culture and attempted to replace it with their own. Irish nationalists seek a return to the period before colonialism and the usurpation of their culture by the English. It is in this atmosphere that Brian Friel prepares much of his work. His play "Translations" deals with the linguistic usurpation by the English and the colonial period. In this play, Friel reveals the English putting their stamp on the land of the Irish. Friel uses a group of English soldiers to show how the troops traveled the Irish lands renaming the cities and landmarks. The soldiers translated the Gaelic words into English, or found phonetic equivalents for the words. Friel does not portray the troops as unsympathetic, or the people as naÃ¯ve. Instead he asks his readers to reevaluate the characters and contemplate the issue of language (Baker, 2000).
The setting of "Translations" is at a hedge school in the town of Baile Beag (small town). F.C. McGrath said of "Translations," that Friel's preoccupation with language fused with serendipitous discoveries" bring the story to life (Baker, 2000). In the play, Manus, the eldest son of the schoolmaster is tutoring Sarah, a young girl reluctant to talk. Manus takes Sarah under his wing and works with her to get her to state her own name. Many researchers believe that the character of Sarah suffers from autism. F. C. McGrath quotes Seamus Heaney, who views Sarah from an allegorical perspective. "It is as if some symbol figure of Ireland from an 18th century vision-poem, the one who confidently called herself Cathleen in Houlihan, has been struck dumb by the shock of modernity" (Baker, 2000). In "Translations," language is a metaphor for one's identity. The child who struggles with her own name is congruent with those around her who struggle about who they are. Robert Smith said that Sarah of the Hebrews was the "mother of nations" (Baker, 2000). The Sarah of Friel's work stands for a group of people who have lost both the name and their native tongue (Baker, 2000).
So as the soldiers translate the Irish landmarks into English, Friel's characters try to deal with the change. They believed during this period that if the English did not already own the land, that they might as well, after they name the countryside. The soldiers are appropriating the land by changing the names of the places into a language that is not known by the natives. The people who speak Gaelic find themselves foreigners within their own lands (Baker, 2000). Such was the case of the Saxons who were driven into Wales years earlier by the Normans. Ironically, the name of Wales means foreigners (Baker, 2000).
Friel makes the argument that names do not mean anything to anyone to begin with. He then back tracks from this position, admitting that there are some names that should not be changed. He states that the way to one's own personal liberation is through the language. He states that with the appropriation of English by the Irish, one can see the problem is of communication and not language (Baker, 2000).
There are some scholars who accuse Friel of overt nationalism. These individual do not understand that Friel's main concern is the examination of the crisis of language as a method of communication as well as representation. He states that one's culture is not dependent upon language, but that language grows out of culture (Baker, 2000). Friel recommended that the Irish accept the English translation as their own. He said they should not take it as forced upon them, but as something they can control themselves. He said they can take the English and make it Irish with the creation of their own new form of Irish English. He said the infusion of the two languages would increase the people's vocabulary and liven up written texts. Friel said a language of the tongue can become a flexible written language that represents a cultural vision (Baker, 2000).
Friel takes this advice and translates each of his English words making them his very own. He overcomes the desire to return to the past by looking ahead offering a solution to the issue of language. The problem of language affects all nations that are made colonies of a mother country. He said the problem in England is not language, but what one associates with the words. Language represents a people's culture and history. In fact, Friel believes that it is hard to tell the difference between the two. Friel said that the writers in England are not accepting oppression. In fact, he believes the use of language can affectively bring one's own liberation. For instance, the English have lost control of their language taking it to one colony after another. The Irish, on the other hand, speak their own kind of English allowing them to maintain who they are as a people (Baker, 2000).
Friel was born Catholic in 1929 in the County Tyrone of Northern Ireland. His grandparents could not read or write. They spoke Irish (Emory, 1990). Friel began the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980 with the purpose of finding a middle ground between Northern Ireland and the British. He hoped to work with the Irish in their quest to develop a new national identity (Emory, 1990). "Translations" provides a sample of the work of cultural imperialism exhibited by cartographers and the closing of hedge-schools in preference of schools with English as primary language of instruction. "Translations" explains how names relate to identity and culture (Emory, 1990).
Friel presents a love story within the pages of "Translations" between an agrarian peasant and military surveyor. The peasant, Maire Chatach speaks no English. The soldier, Lieutenant George Yolland is in charge of mapping and naming the Irish lands with English words. The two fall in love in spite of no common language (Boltwood, 1998). Friel exhibits the conflict between language and culture as the English undercut Gaelic history. But Friel argues that many of the Irish had previously discarded the Gaelic. He shows an Irish culture that was indifferent as it was lost after the English came through the region. He said the Irish had discarded Gaelic in favor of Greek or Latin (Boltwood, 1998).
Friel, therefore, sees communication almost synonymous with culture and history. But he does not see the Irish losing when it comes to the issue of language. He celebrates the Gaelic but offers an approach of consolidation, or an opportunity for the Irish to make their own words. Friel's idea of communication is different from that of Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet.
Seamus Heaney wrote "Opened Ground" prior to the trouble in Northern Ireland. It is a volume of several poems that build upon each other to symbolize the condition of the Irish state. The first poem is "Digging" and compares the path of a poet to the path of violence seen within Northern Ireland. In this work, Heaney counters family and the cultural tradition of Ireland. By writing the poem, Heaney states that he is performing archeology (Tillinghast, 2000). So Heaney with pen in hand journeys into the vast array of language and communication. His work brings out questions and calls for answers. He takes a subject and turns it around and around (Greenlaw, 1998).
Heaney was born in Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1938. His poems are rooted in Irish culture. His goal is paint a picture through poetry using Ireland as his backdrop (Tillinghast, 2000). Therefore, Heaney looks at the pen between his thumb and fingers and tells the world that he "will dig with it," thus the archeologist is born (Mendelson, 2010). But Heaney is different from other writers in that he is not just telling a story. Heaney is serving as witness to the events of Ireland. He is telling readers what he sees without activism (Greenlaw, 1998).
Heaney's style is a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Irish in the names of locations and dialect of the characters. He creates life on the page stemming from respect for the world he paints with his pen. So the digger is not physically digging but digging into the Irish culture. His words are a method of uncovering identity for the characters and for the nation. Heaney claims that group or personal identities are in each individual's subconscious and only through literature, does one understand, unearth and find those lost identities (Pyers, 1998). Heaney's effort to dig up identity is also aimed at the identity of the Irish. Heaney's father was a laborer, who worked physically every day of his life. Heaney relates to that lineage and respects the laborers of today. He believes it is a part of who he is as a person. He has unearthed his own identity and lineage (Pyers, 1998).
Throughout "Opened Ground," Heaney digs using the metaphor. His poetry builds, works, and uncovers. Throughout this volume of work, Heaney writes of the bog. Through his archeology, he finds treasures buried. He uses metaphor to open up the collective experience of the Irish in both experience and in identity (Pyers, 1998). Through digging, Heaney paints a metaphor of a spade that opens up the pain of the Irish past.
John McGahern also uses the metaphor to make social commentary. Readers are immersed into copy through sound. But McGahern is not just trying to soothe the ears. He uses sound and rhythm to capture the hearts of those who read his work. Readers' understand his work as he engages their senses. He paints a landscape with an enchanting use of words that captures each moment perfectly. McGahern uses sound and weaves his way around readers. He tries to create an intimacy with the readers without getting too personal (Lund, 1999).
In his most famous work, "Amongst Women," McGahern features an aging army veteran who concentrates on the past and cannot focus on the future. He is extreme in thought and abuses the women around him. In the work, the protagonist, Moran, realizes that the women of his family rule him. Therefore, he engages in bullying and a desire to ritualize all of his actions. McGahern takes each moment and provides exquisite detail and scrutiny. He gives each moment the power it deserves (Toibin, 2010). The subversive idea that McGahern presents is that Ireland consists of isolated families and bitter relationships throughout. His idea comes about subtly. He hides the characters' true emotions within the rhythm of his soft pen. His writing, however, is plain, without the showy language used by Heaney. His novel gives the Irish a measuring of their words (Toibin, 2010).
What makes McGahern so different in his writing is his ability to reflect the characters' personality. He says that technique is something that can be learned, but unless the readers' see and feel the style, it is unimportant. For McGahern to communicate personality through his words he has to have deep feelings and be able to grasp the right words for the situation (McGahern, n.d.). Writing for McGahern is just an extension of reading. He says that each word has a physical presence with individual weight, relationship, color, and shape. The words, according to McGahern, extend into a world without end. McGahern states that if any one word is changed in a sentence, all the remaining words will also have to change positions. Therefore, to be an effective writer, McGahern says he wrote and rewrote sentences, and moved words to different spots to bring out the best in the language. As he did so, he notices that shapes and pictures began to fall into place. This picture that emerged, McGahern said, found its very first form of expression in reading (McGahern, n.d.).
McGahern presents social commentary on the world around him and taps into the rich feelings of his characters. In "Amongst Women," McGahern tells of the fable of the Moran family. The story takes place just after the battle for independence. Michael Moran is still fighting that war, only this time; he takes it out on friends and family (MacArthur, Moreno, 1998.). Moran speaks with a pastoral and archaic form and is distinctive in his speech. His voice rang true of the language spoken within the midlands of Ireland. His Gaelic patterns reflect a hybrid form of language (MacArthur, 1998).
The author paints the pictures within conversations with the use of metaphors. In the case of "Amongst Women," Moran uses considerable army metaphors. For example, rather than telling family to "change their attitude," he says, "change their tune" (MacArthur, 1998). The metaphor usage is a rapid way for McGahern to express his characters' thoughts in daily communication. McGahern's use of figurative language is "central to the tasks of accounting for our perspectives in the world" (MacArthur, 1998). This language is necessary to show how people think and make sense of the world around them. The use of the military metaphors is symptomatic of seeing differing frames from one experience or sequence to the next. Moran's family, however, does not understand or relate to his experiences. Yet, McGahern's figurative expressions, however, are not received equally by everybody as other language communities do not share the same perception making such expressions adequate (MacArthur, 1998).
McGahern was born in County Leitrim, and is just one of many Irish storytellers who tell of the troubles of Northern Ireland (MacArthur, 1998). Where McGahern presents his stories with an underlying social commentary, Friel takes a more ardent nationalistic stand concerning Ireland. Heaney, on the other hand, stands as a witness to the events of his stories and Northern Ireland. He does not stand as an advocate. Friel concentrates on the loss of Irish culture. However, he believes that the Irish should take the change in landmark names, and make them their own. He says that is the way to liberate themselves. Heaney, on the other hand, is attempting to uncover the Irish identity. He uses metaphors to make visible the Irish identity. McGahern, however, sees the land filled with bitter people. His metaphors and use of figurative language detail the personality of both his characters and the land.
Heaney wrote most of his work, including "Open Ground" prior to the conflict with Northern Ireland. Most of McGahern's and Friel's works are looking back at the history. Friel hoped to communicate in such as way that he could find some middle ground between the Irish and English in the conflict. McGahern uses sound to engage his readers' senses setting him apart from the other two writers.
McGahern uses conflict often between the verbal exchanges of his characters. He also makes noted choice of pauses and silence in an effort to show readers that his characters are having trouble communicating. His characters are unable to express their feelings: a common thread throughout McGahern's work. In fact, the closer the characters are to one another, the more trouble they have communicating (Dubois, 2000). Heaney, however, has communication skills that are exact. He knows the right word to use for a specific tone he wants to express. However, non-Irish readers may have trouble reading Heaney's work due to the Gaelic influences used. Heaney communicates more often than the other writers, with the world around him. He has a respect for the land, and world around him. Like Friel, Heaney ties language to heritage. He provides a story of not only a family but an entire land. His respect for his father and the laborers is unique to Heaney. However, Heaney tells readers that he is involved in "digging," only with a different set of tools.
Friel emphasizes the clash of cultures more than the other writers do. His "Translations" shows how a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of language occurs when new words are created from the old. He says that connotations of words are often more important than the words themselves. He explains how people need a common form of communication; yet, he shows how the emotions between two lovers speak for themselves
In conclusion, with the development of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland, writers from all socio-economic classes began to pick up their pens to write. These writers, such as Friel, McGahern and Heaney tended to portray the lives of the small farmers and the labors of the factory worker. Friel made his mark in the theatre, with communication that showed how culture and language could be misunderstood. Heaney wrote poetry and McGahern prepared the manuscript of a short story. All three men reflected the region of Ireland that they called their homeland. They communicated in a fashion representing the people they knew best.
After trouble broke out again in Northern Ireland in 1969, there were many revisionist thinkers who attacked writers, such as Friel, who communicated in his own nationalistic fashion. The revisionists wanted to strip nationalism out of the works of writers and wanted to orient the state to a European identity (Irish Local History, (2010). The revisionists were unhappy with what they saw as an unhealthy obsession with their past. Friel, McGahern and Heaney all reflected that Irish culture and found a way to communicate it clearly to their audiences. All three men understood the importance of language to communication. The phrase "lost in translation" exemplifies the vivid story portrayed in Friel's play as he considers a lost culture. In "Open Ground" Heaney searches for a lost identity. McGahern, on the other hand, shows how a lack of communication can cause conflict and pain. The three men all communicate a passion of Ireland that cannot be ignored.