Playwright Brian Friel has spent his entire life in one place, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, feeling that tradition forms the structure that supports human life. His plays depict the human condition in times of political and social upheaval. Philadelphia, Here I Come! set in the fictional town of Ballybeg, County Donegal depicts such conflict as the scenes occur in the home of S. B. O'Donnell, a shopkeeper who lives with his son Gareth--known as Gar--and Madge, the seventy-year-old housekeeper.
Local color is indicated in these ways:
- Master Boyle is the schoolteacher; he is a failure and has confrontations with the priests and the faculty. The frustrated Boyle becomes a drunk.
- Canon represents religion and its ineffectiveness. When he comes to the house for his nightly card game with S. B., Gar satirizes his incompetence as a religious leader, "Sure Canon what interest have you in money? Sure as long as you get to Tenerife for five weeks every winter, what interest have you in money?"
- Senator Doogan, father of Kate, represents the snobbery of the upper class as he insults Gar who comes to ask for Kate's hand.
- Female characters are limited in their opportunities: Madge has been a mere housekeeper all her life, O'Donell's sister Lizzie feels herself a failure because she has no children, no family with her in America, and Kate, who loves Gar and wants to marry him, is forced by her Senator father to marry someone of a higher class than Gar.
- Gar is the son of a shopkeeper who is treated no better than a mere employee. He feels trapped in his life and decides to go to America as all he can do is mock his father privately. Many of Gar's actions border on buffoonery; these actions, along with the bravado of the boys, who boast of their sexual exploits, point to their frustrations as Irishmen who cannot obtain a respectable identity.
Certain words are used that indicate that the people speaking them are Irish:
- bloody - this is a British swear word employed on the British Isles
- scullery - a small room next to the kitchen in which kitchen chores are performed and dishes washed
- Aran sweater - a heavy knit sweater with cables, originally made in the Aran islands which are on the west coast of Ireland
- yarning - the act of telling an interesting story
- the pub - the tavern that is more like a club as locals convene and speak their minds
- pound, quid - monetary words
- niggling - petty and especially annoying nagging or manners
- lorry - a truck
- scutched - having separated the valuable from the worthless
- tea time - a specific time in the afternoon set aside for one of the day's meals
- a background of political upheaval as the British have control of Northern Ireland.