Translations

by

Brian Friel

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Hugh’s younger son and Manus’ brother is in his twenties, handsome, and charming. Having left Baile Beag six years earlier, the bilingual Owen found great success as a businessman in Dublin. At the beginning of the play, he has returned to Baile Beag to serve as an interpreter for Captain Lacey and Lieutenant Yolland. When Lancey addresses the Irish locals, Owen simplifies his speech and makes the British Ordnance Survey seem more benevolent than it really is. At first, he also refuses to correct the British soldiers when they mistakenly call him “Roland,” insisting to Manus that he is the same man regardless of his name. He works with Yolland to anglicize Gaelic place names by approximating English sounds or translating the Irish to English. Initially enthusiastic about this work, Owen resents Yolland’s repeated romanticizing of the Irish language and refuses to believe that the Ordnance Survey is eroding Irish culture. Eventually, however, he comes to view his participation in the mapping project as a mistake. He reclaims his name—in a sense reclaiming his Irish identity—and by the end of the play refers to Irish place names in the original Gaelic in front of Lancey.

Owen Quotes in Translations

The Translations quotes below are all either spoken by Owen or refer to Owen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Translations published in 1995.
Act 1 Quotes

Lancey: His Majesty's government has ordered the first ever comprehensive survey of this entire country — a general triangulation which will embrace detailed hydrographic and topographic information and which will be executed to a scale of six inches to the English mile.

Hugh: (pouring a drink) Excellent - excellent.

Lancey looks at Owen.

Owen: A new map is being made of the whole country.

Lancey looks to Owen: Is that all? Owen smiles reassuringly and indicates to proceed.

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker), Captain Lancey (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Manus: And they call you Roland! They both call you Roland!

Owen: Shhhhh. Isn't it ridiculous? They seem to get it wrong from the very beginning — or else they can't pronounce Owen. I was afraid some of you bastards would laugh.

Manus: Aren't you going to tell them?

Owen: Yes - yes - soon - soon.

Manus: But they...

Owen: Easy, man, easy. Owen - Roland - what the hell. It's only a name. It's the same me, isn't it? Well, isn't it?

Related Characters: Manus (speaker), Owen (speaker), Captain Lancey, Lieutenant Yolland
Page Number: 36-37
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Owen: Bun is the Irish word for bottom. And Abha means river. So it's literally the mouth of the river.

Yolland: Let’s leave it alone. There's no English equivalent for a sound like that.

Owen: What is it called in the church registry?

Only now does Yolland open his eyes.

Yolland: Let's see ... Banowen.

Owen: That's wrong. (Consults text.) The list of freeholders calls it Owenmore — that's completely wrong: Owenmore’s the big river at the west end of the parish. […] (at map) Back to first principles. What are we trying to do?

Yolland: Good question.

Owen: We are trying to denominate and at the same time describe that tiny area of soggy, rocky, sandy ground where that little stream enters the sea, an area known locally as Bun na hAbhann… Burnfoot! What about Burnfoot?

Related Characters: Owen (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Owen: Can't you speak English before your man?

Manus: Why?

Owen: Out of courtesy.

Manus: Doesn't he want to learn Irish? (to Yolland) Don't you want to learn lrish?

Yolland: Sorry - sorry? I - I –

Manus: I understand the Lanceys perfectly but people like you puzzle me.

Related Characters: Manus (speaker), Owen (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Even if I did speak Irish I'd always be an outsider here, wouldn't I? I may learn the password but the language of the tribe will always elude me, won't it? The private core will always be ... hermetic, won't it?

Related Characters: Lieutenant Yolland (speaker), Owen
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Owen: Do you know where the priest lives?

Hugh: At Lis na Muc, over near...

Owen: No, he doesn't. Lis na Muc, the Fort of the Pigs, has become Swinefort. (Now turning the pages of the Name-Book - a page per name.) And to get to Swinefort you pass through Greencastle and Fair Head and Strandhill and Gort and Vhiteplains. And the new school isn't at Poll na gCaorach - it's at Sheepsrock. Will you be able to find your way?

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker)
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

Owen: What is happening?

Yolland: I'm not sure. But I'm concerned about my part in it. It's an eviction of sorts.

Owen: We're making a six-inch map of the country. Is there something sinister in that?

Yolland: Not in ...

Owen: And we're taking place-names that are riddled with confusion and ...

Yolland: Who's confused? Are the people confused?

Owen: … and we're standardising those names as accurately and as sensitively as we can.

Yolland: Something is being eroded.

Related Characters: Owen (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland (speaker)
Page Number: 52-53
Explanation and Analysis:

And ever since that crossroads is known as Tobair Vree — even though that well has long since dried up. I know the story because my grandfather told it to me. But ask Doalty — or Maire — or Bridget — even my father — even Manus — why it's called Tobair Vree; and do you think they'll know? I know they don't know. So the question I put to you, Lieutenant, is this: what do we do with a name like that? Do we scrap Tobair Vree altogether and call it — what? — The Cross? Crossroads? Or do we keep piety with a man long dead, long forgotten, his name ‘eroded’ beyond recognition, whose trivial little story nobody in the parish remembers?

Related Characters: Owen (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Owen: (explodes) George! For God's sake! My name is not Roland!
Yolland: What?

Owen: (softly) My name is Owen.

Pause.

Yolland: Not Roland?

Owen: Owen.

Related Characters: Owen (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

Owen: How are you? Are you all right?

Sarah nods: Yes.

Don't worry. It will come back to you again.

Sarah shakes her head.

It will. You're upset now. He frightened you. That's all's wrong.

Again Sarah shakes her head, slowly, emphatically, and smiles at Owen. Then she leaves.

Related Characters: Sarah (speaker), Owen (speaker), Captain Lancey
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Hugh: (indicating Name-Book) We must learn those new names.

Owen: (searching around) Did you see a sack lying about?

Hugh: We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home.

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker)
Explanation and Analysis:
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Translations PDF

Owen Character Timeline in Translations

The timeline below shows where the character Owen appears in Translations. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh’s younger son, Owen, enters. He is in his twenties, handsome, charming, and dressed like a city man. He... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Before bringing the men in, Owen remarks to Sarah that she is a new face in the classroom. After a brief... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen returns with the two British soldiers: Captain Lancey, a middle-aged man who seems uneasy around... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...complete with topographic details, to provide the military with better information and for taxation purposes. Owen translates the gist of everything Lancey says, though he simplifies Lancey’s grandiose language and makes... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
As the others mingle, Manus confronts Owen about mistranslating the soldiers’ words. Manus says that the undertaking sounds like a “military operation”... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...a few days later, and the “sappers” have proceeded with mapping much of the area. Owen is primarily doing Yolland’s job, which is to anglicize the names of everything from rocks... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Owen points to a tiny beach and tries to get Yolland to pronounce the Irish properly... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Yolland again mistakenly calls Owen “Roland” before revealing that Lancey thinks they are not working fast enough, since the sappers... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...Manus says no, but he responds in Irish (spoken on stage as English), much to Owen’s annoyance. Owen and Yolland discuss the name of a beach, and Yolland excitedly reveals he... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
After Manus leaves, Yolland asks Owen if his brother has been crippled since birth. Owen reveals that Hugh fell across Manus’... (full context)
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...to their work, Yolland reveals that a little girl spat at him yesterday. He asks Owen about the Donnelly twins, whom he says Lancey wants for questioning. Owen nonchalantly responds that... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen is working on “Druim Dubh,” which means “Black Ridge.” Thus far, they have renamed every... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
...to tell Manus two men are asking for him, and they rush off. Yolland tells Owen that he was attempting to thank Doalty for cutting a pathway through the long grass... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...his father’s energy. He tries to describe the feeling of arriving in Baile Beag to Owen, saying it was like entering into a “consciousness” that is “at its ease and with... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Yolland tells Hugh how “Roland” (i.e. Owen) is teaching him Irish. He says again how remarkable Baile Beag is for conversing in... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Hugh ignores Owen and continues telling Yolland how rich the Irish language is, positing it as a response... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
After Hugh exits, Owen remarks that his father is pompous. Yolland, however, thinks he has a point: in creating... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen explodes at Yolland, shouting that his name is Owen, not Roland. Yolland is shocked, and... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
...need the can she brought it in back. Manus goes upstairs to empty the can. Owen then reintroduces Maire and Yolland, acting as their translator as Maire speaks “Irish” (though the... (full context)
Act 3
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
The following evening, it is raining outside as Sarah and Owen sit in the schoolroom—Sarah with a book in her lap and Owen with his map.... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Manus asks if Owen will be around a while longer, and he instructs Owen to tell those in Inis... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Manus again asks Owen to give his message to Inis Meadhon; Owen repeats that it will be suspicious if... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen asks Sarah if there is class tonight and where Hugh is. She mimes rocking a... (full context)
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen asks Bridget and Doalty if they saw Yolland and Maire leave the dance together. They... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Maire enters carrying her milk can, clearly in distress. She asks if Owen has heard anything. She says that Yolland dropped her at home and mistakenly said in... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Doalty agrees with Owen that Manus was a fool to leave and that the army will be after him.... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...and shouts at her to tell him her name. She tries frantically but cannot, so Owen answers for her. Doalty looks out the window and calmly says that Lancey’s camp is... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...tents with the “sweet smell” of potato blight, then runs off to hide her animals. Owen tends to Sarah, insisting she was only frightened and her speech will come back. Sarah... (full context)
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Doalty says “they” did the same thing when his grandfather was young, and laments how Owen is being treated after all the work he has done. Doalty declares that if they... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen puts the Name-Book on top of a pile. It falls to the floor, and he... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...drunkenly falls asleep. Hugh picks up the Name-Book that had fallen to the floor as Owen enters with two bowls of tea. Hugh reads the English names aloud, but Owen snatches... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
...embodied in language.” They must continue to renew those image or risk becoming fossilized. As Owen leaves to look for Doalty, Hugh tells him that it is “a form of madness”... (full context)