Explore the presentation of identity in Friel’s ‘Making History’ and Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’

Identity is the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known. These characteristics can be expressed through many factors, such as a person’s image, their personality, where they were brought up or their accent. All the characters in the play, ‘Making History’, are identified through where they come from and their accent. Friel is attempting to illustrate the differences between class and social status in Ireland during this time. In a way this is equivalent to the characters in ‘Vernon God Little’ where the characters are identified by the items they own, even if Pierre is trying to lampoon the American society.

In ‘Making History’; Harry, O’Donnell and Lombard all have strong Irish accents which reflect the strong Irish culture they live by. Mary and Mabel are English and have ‘Staffordshire accents’, Mabel’s accent is weaker, symbolising that she is slowly losing her identity as an English Protestant as she is married to a prominent figure in Irish monarchy and is an English settler living in Ireland. She is married to O’Neill who lives in Ireland, but ‘always speaks in an upper-class English accent’ as this is where he was brought up. This reflects his reluctance to forget his English childhood. This may also suggest that he is still uncertain of his true identity. This can be seen as similar to Vernon in Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’; throughout the novel, there is many plays on Vernon Little’s middle name ‘Gregory’: ‘Vernon Gone-To-Hell Little’; ‘Vernon Gonzalez Little’; ‘Vernon Gucci Little’; ‘Vernon Godzilla Little’. The ‘God’ however, comes from the final words spoken to him by Lasalle; the axe murderer who Vernon mistakenly thought was a preacher: ‘You’re the God. Take responsibility. Exercise your power.’

Vernon’s thoughts repeatedly go back to these final words of Lasalle’s, and Pierre cements their significance in the book’s title. In Mexico, Vernon claims he could change his name, ‘but it’s still me, without any trace of the slime around.’ Mexico allows Vernon to be himself, without being corrupted – this can be seen in his observation about what the Mexican-born Lally has been transformed into upon crossing the border to the US. Not too dissimilar to O’Neill who feels he is able to be himself around Mabel. He does not have to put up a false fa�ade where he must choose between his English roots or Irish commitments.

The theme of identity is mainly portrayed through Mabel and O’Neill. There traditional religions and their opposing countries is a sign that their love will not last as long as they hoped and that something will end their relationship. Mary tries to show Mabel this when she visits. She hands her sister some seeds; ‘Don’t plant the fennel near the dill or the two will cross-fertilize.’ Mary uses the seeds as a reference to O’Neill and Mabel, portraying her views on their relationship. The audience see here that Mary is a very strong character with her own personal opinions, very much like Mabel, and this is why she and O’Donnell oppose each other so much.

Mabel is one of the main characters in which identity is shown. She becomes a neutral character trying to settle disputes between the two opposing countries, England and Ireland. This is shown through pauses and awkward silences in the discussion with her sister Mary. ‘Mary: That’s a promise. (Pause)… Mabel: Thank you. (Pause).’ When Mabel is discussing her new life in Ireland with Mary, she refers to herself as ‘we’ whereas Mary says ‘them”, ‘Mary: They have no bees…? Mabel: No, we haven’t.’ This shows she is distancing herself form her English upbringing and proud Protestant family. Mabel is also shown as an outspoken and astute woman, which shows she is outside of her time. Also at the time the play is set, gender plays a large part in identity, women were meant to be seen but not heard and it was seen as controversial if they married a man who was neither chosen by there family or accepted by them.

O’Neill is first and foremost identified as the “earl of Tyrone”, this label is attached to him everywhere he goes and puts an extra strain on his relationship with Mabel. O’Neill is a man born into his position, he is therefore identified as a man living an easy life, taking all the luxuries of what his position brings, but not putting the hard sweat into his work. In fact, O’Neill is presented far from this stereotype, getting obsessed by the upcoming war- battle of Kinsale.

The ability of O’Neill to change his personality is both a strength and a weakness for it shows his double-sided political identity. He is a “private, sharp minded man”, who one minute is sarcastic and hurtful, for example when he tells Mabel that the baby will make it “maybe thirty bastards”, the next minute he is regretful and tender- ‘(showing instant remorse)’. O’Neill is also identified as a womaniser. His personal life is seen as having many “mistresses”, and having legitimate children. The non-verbal cues in the play shows he is a sexual man, “thrusting the flowers”. This links to the fact that his powerful status allows him to have mistresses as well as being married to Mabel. This may be seen as unacceptable to the audience; however it seems perfectly normal for the Earl of Tyrone to have such a thing in Ireland.

Identity can also be portrayed through Lombard writing a book on O’Neill. However, this is far from the drunken O’Neill we see. Lombard wishes to portray O’Neill as a religious, Irish-man and does not wish to include Mabel in the book. He believes that this will upset the Irish citizens as prominent figures in Irish monarchy are not allowed to lead double lives. Therefore Lombard must not allow Ireland to see his second identity in which he shares with Mabel.

Vernon is also hiding a second identity in ‘Vernon God Little’. He shows a false fa�ade in front of people he wishes to manipulate, such as Taylor and Lally. In private he is a very unsure young boy yet he portrays an outer shell of confidence and aggression. Identity is used as a main theme in various novels and plays as it allows the author to portray characters in certain ways. In ‘Making History’ identity is portrayed through a characters upbringing and religion. Hence O’Neill’s split identity. He is unable to choose between his English upbringing and Irish religion. In Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ the characters are identified through the items and clothing they own. This shows a very materialistic way of thinking and shows the readers the discomfort and embarrassment Vernon goes through, due to the items he owns. Adding to the uncertainty he has in his identity.

Identity is presented in many different ways; however in ‘Making History’ and ‘Vernon God Little’ it is portrayed through personal appearance, upbringing and accents. Each of these can depict someone in a certain way; Vernon and his shoes, Mabel and her accent and O’Neill being brought up in England.