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He realizes that Magnus' rage is not simply conservative, but has a nationalist and liberal ethos behind it, however misguided the man's anger may occasionally seem to Owen.
But even at the beginning of Act III, as Owen is beginning to soften, his strategies of going back to the original names of places, before local shortening and slang, suggest to the viewer or reader that such a strategy may be no more effective than keeping things as they are -- the play suggests that there is no perfect translation, no way to perfectly preserve a pristine Irish past, as Magnus wishes to do, nor to create an Irish future in English, without some sacrifice of power to the linguistic tyranny of England. Owen begins his translation project seeing the initial resistance he experiences as part of the Irish people's almost instinctive fear of change, rather than an exhibition of true regional alliances towards local culture, but one cannot keep things 'pure' as even the current state of purity reflects changes over time, even in a purely Irish context.
Thus, at first, Owen sees tradition as simply a romantic excuse to hide from progress out of fear. But Owen comes to a gradual, greater cognizance of one of the dominant themes of Friel's play, namely that no translation occurs perfectly outside of culture. In translation, there is always something lost -- even when something is gained, in terms of understanding -- and in terms of the freedom Maire desires to achieve and attain in America.
When Owen believes in the perfect translation of cultural appellations, words, and manners, the false nature of this idea comes fully 'home' to him, no pun intended, when he is forced to introduce the inhabitants of the town to the British army. He must, as the only man who can speak both Irish and English, and provide the translation for both audiences. Soon the reader or playgoer realizes that Owen is omitting some crucial details and altering others to make the concepts more palatable and less controversial to the ears of the maligned Irish.
Owen feels that he must soften his translation, against his inclination to strive for perfection, to protect his native people and to serve his employer, the British. In translating, he changes the wording of the British outsiders so that the town's residents will not be immediately cognizant of the fact that they will have to pay more taxes, simply stating that from now on the town will know exactly what is its own "by law'." Also, he softens the language and tone of the Irish, translating Maire's blunt sneer towards the tax man, "has he anything to say?' To 'she is dying to hear you.'
But while Owen protects his native Irish kinsfolk from any knowledge that may lead them into an immediately dangerous and losing battle with the occupying English, he knows that he is also engaging in a kind of lie that is partly detrimental to his fellow Irish, a lie that will cost the Irish town money. As he blunts the town's curt replies for the more decorous English expectations of manners and deference from an occupied people, he realizes that he cannot translate one language into another, without losing a great deal.
Thus, although he grows sadder but wiser throughout the play, Owen, as an Irishman employed by the British army is perpetually in an uncomfortable position. Even at the end, he still wishes to preserve his own skin and his own comfort. He comes to realize that he is a kind of imperfect translation himself of Irish and British cultures and languages, neither a part of one, and alien to both. The play does not cast Owen in a 'bad' role. Clearly, the immersion of the Irish natives in the past languages of the hedge school is untenable, and the English are quite literally beating at the door, demanding that the Irish either change or meet the challenge they pose head-on. Owen experiences his fundamental change of character through the act of cultural as well as linguistic translation, through his first immersion in a real conflict of identity and politics. Although not a perfect translation, his experiences change Owen, as well as the town, its residents, its schools, and its names forever.[continue]
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