Brian Friel

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Nellie Ruadh’s baby Symbol Analysis

Nellie Ruadh’s baby Symbol Icon

Throughout Translations, Nellie Ruadh’s baby represents the Irish language and culture. The baby is born to a character who, like Gaelic, never actually appears on stage. The baby’s first reference comes early in Act One, when Sarah mimes rocking a baby to Manus to indicate that Hugh is late to class because he is at the baby’s christening. Shortly thereafter, Bridget asks her fellow students if they know what Nellie Ruadh has named her baby, reflecting the play’s repeated emphasis on the connection between names and the assertion of identity. Students joke that Nellie will name it after the baby’s father, who remains unknown—the baby is illegitimate, cut off from its paternal history. The baby’s christening, then, reflects the impending renaming of all of Baile Beag with names from an illegitimate fatherland—that is, Britain. However, the baby dies only a few days later. At the end of the play, Sarah repeats her baby-rocking gesture to Owen, but this time she does so to indicate that Hugh is at the baby’s wake. The message is clear: renaming the Irish landscape spells death for the Irish language. It is no coincidence that Yolland goes missing on the same evening that the baby dies, as the Lieutenant was the only British soldier who genuinely appreciated and wanted to preserve Irish language and culture. His disappearance the same night as Nellie’s baby’s death, then, further cements the impossibility of saving Gaelic in the face of the British colonial oppression.

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Nellie Ruadh’s baby Symbol Timeline in Translations

The timeline below shows where the symbol Nellie Ruadh’s baby 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
Everyone settles down for class, and Bridget asks if anyone knows the name of Nellie Ruadh’s baby , who was christened earlier that day. Manus asks where the Donnelly twins are, and... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...he does not appear drunk, and explains that he was celebrating following the christening of Nellie Ruadh’s baby . As Hugh speaks, he quizzes the room on the Latin and Greek etymological origins... (full context)
Act 3
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...she won’t have to work with hay in Brooklyn. She asks if everyone heard about Nellie Ruadh’s baby , who died in the middle of the night. She says she must go to... (full context)