Philadelphia, Here I Come! Characters

Brian Friel

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell (Public)

Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell (Public), who is in his early twenties and is the son of a small shopkeeper in the Ballybeg, a small village in County Donegal, Ireland. On the eve of his departure for Philadelphia, where he will live with his aunt and uncle, Gar is eager to escape the limitations of life in Ireland: the taciturn father who cannot show affection, the girl who married another man, the friends caught in a state of perpetual adolescence, and the job with little present and no future. America represents the proverbial land of opportunity for Gar, but to pursue that opportunity he will have to leave the father and the country that—however they madden him—he loves deeply. The play catches Gar at the moment of absolute and irreversible transition from one life to another, and he is intelligent enough to sense what that transition will mean.

Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell (Private)

Gareth (Gar) O’Donnell (Private), the unseen Gar, “the man within, the conscience, the alter ego, the secret thoughts, the id.” Only Gar Public can see or hear Gar Private, and Gar Public never looks at him, even when they converse, because “One cannot look at one’s alter ego.” The two Gars are played by different actors and are always together. Gar Public is polite, quiet, and ordinary (at least while he is with others). Gar Private is sardonic, flip, irreverent, and constantly ready to identify and laugh at the attitudes and foibles of both Irishmen and Americans.

S. B. O’Donnell

S. B. O’Donnell, Gar’s father, a dour shopkeeper, a creature of habit who finds it almost impossible to put his feelings into words and so cannot frame a farewell for the son whom he probably will never see again. His sleeplessness and inability to concentrate on the newspaper are the only signs of the deep emotion that he is feeling. Gar, driven to desperation by his failure to make contact with his father, thinks of him as “Skrewballs” or “Skinflint,” but Madge believes that Gar will end up just like his father.



(The entire section is 876 words.)