Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Brian Friel, Freedom of the City (1974)

Brian Friel’s play Freedom of the City (1974) is a fictionalised critical analysis of the British army’s use of armed force that resulted in the deaths of fourteen Irish-Catholic demonstrators in the famous Bloody Sunday incident of 30 January 1972, as well as of the Lord Widgery Inquiry that exonerated Major-General Ford and the British troops and was perceived by aggrieved Irish-Catholics, like Friel, to have been a whitewash that compounded the original injustice. 

Friel’s critical analysis is largely based on Marxist concepts of colonialism and the exploitation of colonial peoples by advanced capitalist societies.  This is a paradigm that Friel believed could successfully accommodate his Irish-Catholic nationalist grievances and his appreciation of the Marxist socio-economic theory of exploitation that ultimately leads to class-consciousness and resistance by the proletariat and the underclass.  In this play, Friel’s concept of Irish-Catholic nationalism overlays congruently with his understanding of Marxist theories of colonialism and economic domination and exploitation. 

In the spirit of the seminal Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht, most of the characters are constructed to reflect or represent socio-economic classes, or categories within these classes, and they interact in terms of Marxist concepts of the dynamics of class struggle, for example by expressing proletarian alienation or by displaying a ruling-class indifference to the plight of the subjugated peoples in preference to protecting their own interests. 

The Irish-Catholics of Northern Ireland are conceptualised as the proletarian poor and underclass that are oppressed by the colonial power, Great Britain, which, with its local Protestant henchmen, monopolised the Northern-Irish political system. 

The solution to the problem, according to Friel, is not reconciliation but revolution, the creation of an egalitarian society through militant political action.  He regarded this as exemplified by the civil rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  This civil rights movement is celebrated as an expression of legitimate grievances and as a way forward to greater liberty, social justice and, hopefully, to a more equal society. 

Friel sees the problems of Northern Ireland as part of a world problem of inequality and the exploitation of the poor by the rich and privileged (a perspective that is made evident in his references to political issues in South America).  He therefore sees the solution in global terms as involving the creation of a more equal global society. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Freedom of the City meaning, Freedom of the City themes, Freedom of the City analysis, Freedom of the City notes