Manus is lame and weak and has no real drive to go for another job or career. Jimmy Jack is unhygienic and lives in a fantasy world, which hinders him from holding normal conversation, let alone carving any sort of career out of his intellect. Hugh was probably the most intelligent of the three is his day but now he is constantly drunk and is unable to teach his class. In Baile Beag we can see that there is talent and intellect but that is wasted on the people who can’t or won’t do anything with it. And yet most the people are contented with this. In reference to a former pupil, Hugh says that now she can write her name she had completed her education.
We are then introduced to the English and Owen and we begin to see the community through their eyes. Hugh tells the class he was speaking to the head of the party Captain Lancey about his languages. “He then explained that he does not speak Irish. Latin I asked. None. Greek? Not a syllable”. From these standards we can say that the English are not as able in other languages and therefore not as intelligent. However we are now able to note that Greek and Latin are both old, dead languages that no one has any use for anymore.
They are not going to be used in the changing, progressing world and therefore can be of no use to those who learn it and want to succeed outside the rural life of Baile Beag. We are also made aware of how backward these people seem to the English- the people that are portrayed as members of the evolving world. Owen mentions that his job is to change the names of the places in Ireland with the help of Yolland. But the way he says it is very revealing. “My job is translate the quaint, archaic tongue you people persist in speaking into the King’s good English”. He belittles their language, saying it’s old fashioned and they still speak with it.
He also calls English good, another term that puts down Irish. Owen has gone away an Irishman and come back an Englishman and this helps us understand why these people seem so out of date. He has gone away and made a fortune but only with the help of the English. Without them , we have to ask, would he have become so successful? And if he hadn’t have moved away from Baile Beag would he have all the things he has?
Probably not, which undermines this quaint, perfect image we have of the community. Now the people are no longer cutely unaware of anything but their little existence, they are backward and their way of life isn’t just simple, but damaging to their prospects.
This is a community with several intellects and I think the point that Friel is making is that these people are intelligent but it’s an intelligence with boundaries, in this case the boundaries of the village. You go outside these boundaries and you find that their learning is no good for them and they can’t use anything they know. However, because they are a simple, rural, sort of people their intelligence is sufficient for them, despite our perception of what intellect should be.