Brian Friel explores colonization by addressing the physical, institutional, and mental processes that such domination encompasses. While the British forces are expanding throughout Ireland, they are changing the landscape by renaming all the places. Each location in the country will be transformed—not only on maps, but in street signs and other physical markers that will indicate the tangible reality of each place.
The school as an institution is a crucial marker of all three aspects of colonization. Building a new building, staffing it with new teachers, providing a national curriculum, and making English the language of instruction are all related components of building "hegemony"—social and political control that is so total that people do not even notice it.
The character of Owen embodies the contradictions of physical and mental colonization. He submits his entire body and mind to the British by becoming a soldier. Learning new behaviors and comportment, wearing a uniform, and positioning himself in opposition to his countrymen requires him to think of himself primarily as a soldier and only secondarily as an Irishman. Realizing the trap in which he is caught, Owen responds by providing false information through inaccurate translations, in effect becoming a double agent for the Irish cause.
Owen had previously “escaped” to England and returns now in service to the British, who need him to help remap Ireland because they do not speak Irish. The British never get his name right and call him Roland. Initially pleased to have avoided his brother’s fate and to be earning a good salary, he is finally appalled by the consequences of the process of which he has been a part.