Informers across the Atlantic: a NYT review of “The Informer”

As I was thinking about what to write for this weekend’s blog post, I stumbled across a review from the New York Times of John Ford’s adaptation of “The Informer.” Clearly, this story has transatlantic power—adapted by one of the most prominent American directors and glowingly praised by arguably the most prominent American newspaper. The review recommends the movie as “a striking psychological study of a gutter Judas and a rawly impressive picture of the Dublin underworld during the Black and Tan terror” and “one of the finest dramas of the year.” Victor McLagen, who plays Gypo, is described as “just a bit sinister” and “a character worthy the pen of a Dostoevsky.”

Despite the notable positivity of the review, though, one line specifically stuck out to me: “Although the photoplay makes you understand why informer is the ugliest word in an Irishman’s vocabulary, there is a tragic quality in this man’s bewildered terror.” I certainly agree with the identification of a tragic quality in Gypo’s terror, but the easy assertion that “informer” is the gravest insult known to an Irishman poses some questions about the Black and Green Atlantic. Most obviously, I wonder about the historical origins of this stereotype—what Atlantic exchanges made this impression on the reviewer? Clearly, Americans are aware of some degree of colonial oppression against Ireland such that betraying one’s country is understood as the greatest sin.

The phrase also implies a contrast with American culture. An American audience understands why informer is “the ugliest word in an Irishman’s vocabulary” only after watching the movie, because it is not the ugliest word in an American’s vocabulary. For me, this brings the Fugitive Slave Act and the slave posters strewn across the pages of Moon and the Mars to mind. The Fugitive Slave Act, much like the 20 pounds from the police in “The Informer,” rewarded informing. Though the historical context is wildly different, it strikes me as another node of comparison across the Black and Green Atlantic. Informing leads to dire consequences for both the Irish and Black Americans, but this (presumably white) reviewer only recognizes that reality for the Irish.

The Importance of Being a Criminal

Playboy of the Western World and The Informer display similar themes of defying law enforcement, and show its importance in the context of early 1900s Ireland.. Christy Mahon in Playboy of the Western World becomes a hero after his community learns that he killed his father. Pegeen even harbors him to protect him from the police, and falls in love with him throughout the play. She says “any girl would walk her heart out before she’d meet a young man was your like” (Synge), showing that men like him were highly admired in society. Additionally, Gypo Nolan in The Informer shares a similar fame that Christy experienced. Gypo is part of the Revolutionary Organization in Ireland, which gives him favor amongst his community as well. Christy and Gypo are reflections on how the Irish may have felt about law enforcement during the early 1900s. Both plays are set when Ireland is still under British rule, and law enforcement was an extension of the monarchy. Defying law enforcement was admirable in both works because it reinforced their push for independence and their national identity. As we’ve discussed throughout this class, defying laws and social norms was essential to keeping Irish and African American culture alive. Both marginalized communities saw this as a path to social and legal freedom, and those who pursued such paths were admired. Additionally, the consequences of not living up to such heroic images are similar in both works; demonstrating the importance of finding a hero in Irish society. When Christy’s supposedly dead father reappears, the community sees him as a fraud. When Gypo reveals that he informed the police on his comrade’s whereabouts, he is killed. Both works demonstrate the struggle for power and identity in Ireland, and its priority in society. They highlight the consistent search for a hero in the early 1900s as it was needed to establish their identity as a nation.

The Link Between Capitalism, Oppression, and Eviction

My paper topic for this class is the link between capitalist systems and racism and how each can be used to fuel the other. While writing my paper, I saw a connection between this topic and a book that I read for my Poverty Studies class. The book Evicted by Matthew Desmond follows the lives of several people in poverty who particularly struggle with finding housing and being evicted. Desmond points out in the book that these struggles disproportionately affect African-American women and children. One of the reasons so many people in America today struggle with getting affordable housing and are being evicted is because of how the housing system and market function in America. A report from 2021 calculates that Americans making approximately 54,336 dollars per year paid 41% of their salary in rent (“One Year After Eviction Moratorium Ends, Renters Face Affordability Crisis” – Natalie Campisi). Paying over 30% of your income in rent labels you as cost-burdened, which means a large majority of Americans, particularly African-American women, are cost-burdened. This is a flawed system because it is much more difficult to escape poverty when rent is so high, and the evictions that are common because of this make it even more challenging. As well, the jobs that people in poverty have, particularly the jobs of African-American women in poverty, do not supply them with enough income to pay for their rent on top of other expenses. These jobs also have a higher turnover rate and a greater risk of becoming automated, so the people who need reliable income the most are actually the ones most likely to lose their job. Another reason women struggle more than men with eviction is that more women than men have children to take care of. Landlords often associate children with disturbances such as noise complaints, raising the risk of them being evicted. As well, taking care of children means there is less income to spend on rent, increasing the likelihood of eviction. There are also particular laws in place that negatively affect people in poverty when it comes to housing and evictions. Nuisance Ordinances are laws that make it so that police will stop coming to houses if they call too many times. This makes it so that these people do not want to call the police, even though they face increased levels of domestic violence. Making their situation even worse, these laws make it so that the police being called too many times to a particular house can be grounds for eviction. This is an unfair law since these people are being incentivized to not use public resources to stop violence in their homes because they fear eviction. This means African-American women will end up getting less help with domestic violence simply because of certain laws. These laws together, in more areas than just housing, keep people of color in poverty. It’s important that more people are made aware of these laws and how they negatively affect certain groups of people. 

Works Cited

Campisi, Natalie. “One Year after Eviction Moratorium Ends, Renters Face Affordability Crisis.” 

Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Aug. 2022,,price%20growth%20and%20inflation%20cleave%20at%20already-low%20wages. 

Desmond, Matthew. Evicted. Crown/Archetype, 2016. 

Baldassari, Molly SolomonErin, et al. “Why Black Women Are More Likely to Face Eviction.” 

KQED, 21 Feb. 2022,

Final Thoughts on Presentations

While the presentations in class were all incredibly unique and pursued their own niche, there was one common theme that I found pervaded through most of the discussions: the notion of consumption. This term, “consumption,” is intentionally vague—it can reference consumption of culture, consumption in a performative sense, or physical consumption of land with the shifting of water and the Atlantic. In regards to my working thesis, aspects of the other culture within a binary are consumed to become a part of the “dominant” culture. On the other hand, prejudices from the “dominant” culture are consumed to affect the other culture’s perception of self. For example, in The Octoroon, or, Life in Louisiana: A Play in Four Acts, Zoe consumes negative prejudices against black people from the white people in her life until they permeate her identity. In Mules and Men, Hurston and the people she interviews consume stories that explain happenings in their world, and the consumption of these stories provide them with answers to life’s questions. This notion of consumption is not limited to only my thesis. 

In relation to performance, the audience members consume the persona that the performer displays for them. This form of consumption provides the performer with a sense of power; they get to control how they are perceived, they dictate the narrative to be consumed. 

Consumption of different languages leads to new words, slang, and phrases. When cultures encounter each other, the language of the “dominant” culture is consumed to the point that it becomes the prominent language of the shared land. Similar to performance, language can be used and consumed as a means of power: to speak in and consume native language is to create space for one’s native culture. 

Ultimately, this conference series was incredibly helpful because it provided me with another way of understanding the transatlantic experience: within the struggles of cultural exchange are battles of consumption, and these battles can be used as a method to reclaim power.

Gypo’s mental devolution in The Informer

In The Informer book and movie, Gypo Nolan betrays his friend Frankie McPhillip without much deliberation or consideration. In the book, he decides that his need for temporary shelter is worth more than his friend’s safety despite having an opportunity to secure shelter otherwise. In the movie, he decides the passage to America for him and his “girlfriend” Katie is worth more than his friend’s safety. This thinking was very short-sighted of him as he did not think of all the repercussions that could arise or perhaps he simply did not care. After informing on his friend, he becomes very paranoid, likely from overwhelming guilt, and views everyone as a threat and begins to dig his own grave. However, this paranoia does not last for long as he quickly descends into a drunken stupor where he acts utterly reckless and believes he is untouchable. When at the Court of Inquiry, he attempts to play the victim despite all evidence pointing to him, until he finally confesses and repeatedly claims that he “didn’t know why” he informed. After this, he still tries to escape his fate until he is eventually caught and killed by the Organization. It is only as he is dying that he apologizes to Frankie and his mother, who forgives him also claims that “ye didn’t know what ye were doin”(312).

My question lies in whether Gypo actually did not understand what he was doing and was going through some mental illness or knew exactly what he was doing and was just afraid to face the consequences. How could he so quickly betray a fellow comrade that did nothing to slight him? Gypo does initially state that Frankie was the more clever one who came up with all their plans but later becomes confident in his own plan of evading capture. It seems that he got in his own way because of his drunkenness. Although it is a common Irish stereotype, in this case I suspect it was because of his desire to quiet the lingering guilt about what he had done. There are many scenes of him sorrowfully remembering the bounty poster of Frankie even within his drunkenness which shows that he was conscious of his actions, despite the book stating that “he was not at all conscious of being an informer”(284). There was also no formal or informal medical diagnosis stating that he was mentally incapacitated. Gypo is given a small redemption arc at the end when at the church apologizing, but this is after karma struck. It seems that he is not genuinely sorry for what he did, just sorry that he got caught.

The Informer, The Social Climber

In the movie The Informer, around minute 53:00 after Gypo and Mulligan crash an upper-class party, the woman in charge says, “You’ll get no drink here you, social climber. Why don’t you go back to the gutter where you belong?” The fact that we are able to hear this line spoken aloud in the film allows the audience to pick up on the long pause between “you” and “social climber,” right where the comma is located. The woman thinks for a second about the best way to insult him, clearly believing that he belongs “in the gutter.” In this way, “social climber” is used as an intentionally offensive term, which was interesting to me because of how this is so drastically different from America, in which “the American dream” is all about making your own way in the world and successfully “rising to the top” in a capitalist society. Even American elites tend to recognize that trying to climb the social ladder is honorable, while in Ireland this is looked down upon.

In this way, the movie highlights a difference between the Black Atlantic and the Green Atlantic, and the way that Irish culture changed once making the journey to America. As we saw in stories like Moon and the Mars, the Irish who moved to America were very entrepreneurial and tried to climb the social ladder to survive, because this was culturally viewed as a good thing in the United States. As we saw in Daniel O’Connell’s address, the Irish also assimilated into American society by upholding slavery as well. O’Connell chastised these Irish in his letter, saying that they were ignoring their original Irish values. All of these instances of shifts in Irish culture call to mind my argument in my conference paper, in which the Black and Green Atlantic changes with each generation, and looks different with each new wave of children that are being raised in a completely different environment.

2 responses to “The Informer, The Social Climber”

  1. Lola

    This distinction in values indeed reflects the differing views on capitalism across the Atlantic. We learned from Lloyd that the Irish were staunchly anti-capitalist and content with their “low maintenance” lifestyle. However, what is interesting is that other characters in the film have no problem with Gypo flaunting his money, for example when he buys the whole town fish and chips. Everyone was super excited, some even sucking up to him, and not criticizing his newfound “status” then.

  2. motoole

    This is a really great point to make. I agree that Daniel O’Connell’s address to the Irish Repeal Association of Cincinnati is really applicable to the behavior we see in the novel and film. While social climbing was a way for the Irish to become white in America, it was not tolerated in Ireland to bring down others for your own social and economic gain. I think this film really represents the change in social values that occurred across the Green Atlantic.