The Significance of Sarah
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.
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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 ble 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 going mad in the heat. In a way he almost a stereotype of the slow, thick Irish peasant. His name is pronounced Dolt-y, as Maire points out. He is also a mischief maker (taking the Sappers’ poles) and potentially confrontational (in the face of Lancey’s threats of eviction, he declares he would put up a fight for his property, for what little he has).Although Doalty is shown as basically good-natured throughout the play, despite his boisterous behaviour, he has links with the Donnelly twins who may be associated with more serious acts against the English soldiers (the horses found at the bottom of the cliff, the disappearance of Yolland and the fire at the camp). Under certain circumstances we could imagine Doalty becoming less pleasant. In Act 3, Doalty clearly has knowledge of Yolland’s disappearance.
He confesses to Owen that the Donnelly twins are most likely responsible, but he still acts suspiciously himself, whistling through his teeth and ignoring further questions. He tells Owen that Manus should never have left, implying that Manus has implicated himself in the crime by doing so, but plainly Doalty knows the truth. By his persistent concealment of what he knows about Yolland’s disappearance, Doalty is siding with the possibly murderous Donnelly twins and exposing Baile Beag to the soldiers’ retaliation.All that follows beyond the span of the play in terms of the destruction of the animals and the village is a consequence in part of Doalty’s silence. Sarah is the least able to learn English – and by implication therefore the least capable of moving on and embracing new ways – as she has an obvious speech defect that is so bad that all her life she has been considered dumb. Her communication has been confined to grunts and nasal sounds, according to Friel’s opening description of her.At the beginning of the play she is learning to speak with Manus’s assistance and can say her own name, opening up a whole new world of possibilities: “Now we’re really started! ” Manus says to her.
“Nothing’ll stop us now! Nothing in the wide world! “. But by the end, under Lancey’s intimidation, she loses her newfound ability and the wider horizons and again becomes mute, despite Owen’s encouragement to speak, and is forced once again to communicate in a sign language that is not always understood.Even though Owen tries to kindly reassure her “He frightened you. That’s all’s wrong. ” Sarah herself knows to the contrary. Without Manus to support and guide her, she cannot hold on to her new ability to communicate. However, while she could speak we must assume that she gave vital information to Manus: the embrace she witnessed between Yolland and Maire.
This leads to the implication of Manus in Yolland’s disappearance “I had a stone in my hand when I went out looking for him – I was going to fell him. The lame scholar turned violent”.Her presumed part in the plot is pivotal: if she had not told Manus of the kiss, Yolland might never have “disappeared”, Manus would not have had to leave Baile Beag, the village would not have been threatened with destruction and Sarah herself would not have been abandoned by her mentor. It has been suggested that in the scene with Lancey in which she loses her power of speech, Sarah represents Ireland. As she closes her mouth and lowers her head, according to the stage directions, the parallel is drawn with Ireland losing both her language and her power.Although Sarah, Jimmy and Doalty are all minor characters in terms of lines spoken and appearances in the play, they all make an essential contribution to the play, either in contributing to or commenting on the plot. By Act Three in contrast to the cheerful optimism of Act One, they and the play have become much darker.
Sarah has lost the power of speech as well as the man who helped her discover it; Jimmy Jack has crossed the boundary between reality and fantasy, and Doalty through his concealment of the truth, has put the village and its people in danger.