Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Committee Chair

Jaffe, Aaron

Author's Keywords



Friel, Brian--Criticism and interpretation; Friel, Brian. Translations; Friel, Brian. Philadelphia, here I come; Friel, Brian. Aristocrats


This thesis is a literary examination of three plays from Irish playwright Brian Friel, Translations, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Aristocrats , all of which feature a family of the O'Donnell name and all set in the fictional Donegal village of Ballybeg. Written during the late twentieth century but set over the course of 150 years in rural Ireland, these plays have yet to be--and need to be--studied as a cycle series rather than strictly individual works. In examining the three plays as a testament to a single ancient Irish family name, one may see how Friel comments upon the later twentieth century's preoccupation with modernization, both in the forms of the local becoming globalized and through the characters' gradual emigration, but also the decline in education and communal ties. When studied in order of chronological setting, rather than initial performance, the O'Donnell families of these plays increase in social status and material wealth yet become increasingly distanced from the land and local identity. The first chapter of this thesis examines the 1980 play Translations, whose central nuclear family includes impoverished but highly intelligent O'Donnell men. As the play ends in eviction at the hands of British forces, the reader can quickly move to 1964's Philadelphia, Here I Come! Chapter two of the thesis discusses the growing mercantile pressures of this O'Donnell generation, as the protagonist Gar must decide between new opportunities in America or a return to his communal roots in his native hometown. Finally, Aristocrats is set in the late 1970's, as the O'Donnell family has achieved the social status it has sought but whose family members have scattered to foreign countries, unfulfilling professions, and deteriorating characters. In examining the O'Donnell cycle, one can see not only how a single Irish family in a singular setting react and adjust to the external forces but also how they react internally as a unit. The changes that ultimately demolish the O'Donnell family are, in essence, both uncontrollable and self-imposed.