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An American in Ireland: The Representation of the American in Brian Friel's Plays Maria Germanou Twentieth-century Irish theater has been traversed by recurrent binarisms pertinent to the country's specific political and historical condition such as those between Catholic and Protestant, Irish and English, North and South, Nationalist and Loyalist. Such conflicting contrasts, crucial to the understanding ofIrish identity during the colonial and early postcolonial period,fade gradually as Ireland moves out of its seclusion, in an effort to embrace a more intercultural perspective from which to perceive its own identity. Aware ofthe need to transcend absolute boundaries without losing a sense oforigin, identification, and belonging, Brian Friel seems to be moving in this direction, albeit cautiously.1 Deeply concerned with the impact that globalization enacted under the auspices of the United States can have,2 Friel uses the Irish/American relationship to investigate the intricacies ofidentity and culturejust at die time that Ireland has to become engaged with a global economy and the power relations that define it. This article will focus on the representation oftheAmerican in three plays by Friel, The Freedom ofthe City (1973), Aristocrats (1979), and GiveMe YourAnswer, Do!(1997).AU three plays dramatize the conflicts and exchanges between the American, always an intellectual, who tries to understand Ireland by constructing her as an object of investigation, and the Irish who define tiiemselves against the national other and its image ofthem. The analysis ofthisjuxtaposition has a twofold function: first, it reveals the relationship between power and knowledge as the American attempts to define and thus immobilize Ireland; second, the 259 260Comparative Drama principle ofpermanent and absolute cultural difference is dismantled as the American occasionally desires and ultimately finds in Irish culture what is missing from his own; in the process a split selfemerges. But the Irish, too, are occasionally involved in this gesture of the divided self; they too discover secret affinities with the other, and challenge the coherence of fixed identities against any sense of essentialism or cultural homogeneity. The action in TheFreedom ofthe Cityis set in Derry City,Northern Ireland, in 1970, and derives from the Bloody Sunday events in 1972. It was dien that thirteen unarmedcivilians,participating in a banned march for civil rights, were shot dead by the British army, which was subsequently relieved ofany responsibility for the shooting; the investigations that followed the events determined that the victims had been armed. Friel appropriates the events to demystifythe objectivity ofscientific discourses associated with those in power, primarily the English judge and an American sociologist, Dr. Dodds, who delivers three speeches about poverty as an economic, social, and psychological problem. To achieve this demystifying effect, Friel reverses the traditional function of documentary form—its promise of factual truth as a discourse that verifies reality. This reversal occurs when two levels of dramatic action—the realistic and the documentary—arejuxtaposed.The first level deals with the fictional action dramatized in die mayor's parlorin the city's guildhall, where three marchers from the poor Irish Catholic community, Skinner, Michael, and Lily, have taken refuge from the assault of rubber bullets. The second level enacts the investigation that follows the events and the responses of public voices representing larger social groups: the Priest, the Constable, the Judge, Dr. Dodds, the Balladeer,' an Army Press Officer, and the others. It is here that the playwright makes use ofdocumentarydevices such as reports,eyewitnesses, statistics, speeches, direct address to the audience, and scientific information. By blending the fictional with documentary rhetoric, the writer transgresses the conventional boundaries that separate these two categories. In doing so he challenges both the fictional nature ofdrama, which is no longer exclusively associated with the imaginative, and the factual nature of documentary information,which can nolongerbeunderstoodas avalue-free category.3 Permeated by conflicting positions, the documentary discourse and its construction of truth is found wanting, and the American's scientific Maria Germanou261 impartiality is exposed as a means by which existing power structures may be legitimated. InitiallyFriel builds forDodds a position ofneutralitythat he graduallydeconstructs . Hisprofession as a scientist,hisAmerican identity,and the absence in his speech ofany reference to the Troubles distance him from the Irish/English political conflict, and lend...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 259-276
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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