Lily, Michael, and Skinner, the three characters around whom Brian Friel’s The Freedom of the City revolves, all live in varying degrees of poverty. Lily has been providing for eleven children and a disabled husband, all of whom live in a two-room house without running water. Michael is an unemployed, humorless, twenty-two-year-old man who seeks to better himself by taking business courses four nights a week. Skinner has no job, no home, and an arrest record.
The play reveals how, for Friel, the characters personify three distinct ways in which the poverty brought on by oppressive colonial rule can form an individual’s perceptions. The quotes also emphasize the playwright’s belief that, above all, an awareness that their resentment and rage are shared by countless others underpins their protestations.
Lily has no political beliefs or awareness. She claims that she marches for the rights of everyone to fair representation, but Skinner lays her actual motivation bare when he tells her,
for the first time in your life you grumbled and someone else grumbled... and you heard each other, and became aware that there were hundreds, thousands, millions of us all over the world, and in a vague groping way you were outraged.
Friel thus presents Lily as a model of how the oppressed can be forced to rise up against their oppressors without even really grasping, or being able to articulate, their reasons for doing so.
Michael, on the other hand, has an unswerving faith to the very end in the rule of law and its ultimate sway over the British. Wielding a powerful dramatic device, Friel summons Michael and the others from the dead to recount the instant of their death. Michael experiences a complete shattering of his naiveté:
I knew they weren't going to shoot. Shooting belonged to a totally different order of things. And then the Guildhall Square exploded and I knew a terrible mistake had been made... My mouth kept trying to form the word mistake—mistake—mistake. And that is how I died—in disbelief, in astonishment, in shock.
Friel portrays Michael’s obfuscations with some disdain, but the outrage he expresses at his murder is no less than that elicited in him by the murders of his two companions.
Despite his dire...
(The entire section is 580 words.)