The Black and Green Atlantic: Similar, but Different, and Still Much Left to Discover

Going into this semester, I did not really know what to expect. As I had no experience with Irish or black texts, jumping into dense theoretical materials was a challenge. It is certainly not the easiest to think of things abstractly. Looking back at the blog posts from the first few weeks, I remember wondering when all of the texts that we were reading would make sense and come together to form “The Black and Green Atlantic.” 

In my midterm paper, I wrote about the shared sense of placelessness between the Irish and the blacks, as seen in Gulliver’s Travels and McCann’s TransAtlantic. In that part of the course, I was still asking whether or not the two groups should be allowed to make comparisons. We were dealing with a lot of Irish texts that were using problematic comparisons, such as “wage slavery.”  I thought that determining whether the groups would be allowed to gesture would be a definite yes or no, but I came to realize that it is not that simple a question. Our course objective was not to determine whether these texts were allowed to exist, but to grapple with the texts that do exist and ask “why?” This is when I began to rethink the whole way that I was looking at the course. Comparisons can, and have been made. I started thinking about the gestures found within the texts and asking whether they were appropriate or not and why. In order for them to be appropriate and to work, the comparison must be just that—a comparison, not a proclamation of being exactly the same. As we saw in The Commitments, it is possible for the Irish to make gestures towards black culture in a show of solidarity. These gestures, however, only work to a certain extent, and it is when you completely collapse the two identities that the gesture falls apart and becomes problematic. While the Irish and Black experiences contain general similarities, they are not the same and cannot be equated. The differences in their cultures and their travels work to create a divide between the two identities. 

This semester flew by, and I feel that we have learned and covered so much material on the Black and Green Atlantic. Yet, there is still material that we were just unable to fit into the course, and there is so much more to be discovered in the Atlantic. The flurry of questions and puzzling scenes in “An Octoroon” represented to me many of the questions that remain and how this topic has endless possibilities. For me, questions remain on the role of Irish Americans and where they fit into the mix. Joey gave us a taste of that in The Commitments, but I wish that we had been able to discuss where they fit into the greater scheme of this journey. Who claims the Irish Americans? Why do their gestures always seem to be problematic? Even in “An Octoroon,” Jacob-Jenkins erases Boucicault’s Irish identity and he is just left “white.” Could we consider Boucicault an Irish American? What does this say about Irish Americans today? Overall, I am grateful for the great discussions we were able to have this semester. I feel that we took our own journey across the Atlantic this semester—a journey that will certainly affect the way that I view and question gestures going forward.

4/27 Discussion Questions

What do the bees represent in the Prologue? How does the Prologue work to frame the play and how would the play be different without it? Does Jacob-Jenkin’s use of comedy add to the messages that he is putting forth in the play?

In the fourth act, BJJ and Playwright remark that the fourth act of the play is the most important and holds the most potential. Why did Branden Jacob-Jenkins choose to interrupt the play and derail it in the fourth act if it is supposedly the most important? What comes across in allowing BJJ and the playwright back onto the stage?

As the last text that we are reading, how does this compare to the others and what does it tell us about the Black and Green Atlantic? Where does it fit? What texts are the most similar to it and what are the least?

Irish vs. Irish American in The Commitments

Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments gave us an opportunity to explore and compare the different ways that Irish Americans and Irish gesture towards the black experience. As Prof. Kinyon mentioned in class, Joey could be taken to be an Irish American. After all, he has supposedly spent a good amount of time touring in America with different legendary soul singers. And, once one crosses the Atlantic, they are never the same again. 

While Joey’s gestures and connection seem to be the strongest at first, the initial illusion eventually fades and the audience realizes that his comparisons fall short in often very problematic ways. When he makes gestures toward the black experience and soul music, he is more concerned with giving himself power than making genuine connections and trying to establish a link between his Irish American identity and the black American identity. We are not sure whether Joey even put much time into trying to understand the music and black culture before he started playing soul music. He wants to be an authority and be in charge of the group and claiming to be the authority on the black experience allows him to do that.  His own privileged background is far from the suffering of African Americans, yet he still romanticizes the idea of being black. Joey hijacks black culture and tries to assimilate into the black identity, even stating that he wishes he was born black. In trying to make the line between Irish American and African American indistinguishable, Joey misunderstands the black experience. These inappropriate statements and connections between the two experiences lead to his inability to tap into the connection that the other band members have. 

The others in the band can be taken to represent the Irish. Unlike Joey, the band members seem to be gesturing to African Americans for a sense of camaraderie and solidarity. They hope to bring soul to Ireland and all work very hard and dedicate a lot of time and effort to trying to learn this type of music before they even start to play together. They immerse themselves in the culture of the music so that they can learn its intricacies and be better suited to play it. As a result, these members are able to make a connection with the music and the African American experience. They also do not merely collapse the African American and Irish experience. They seem to take soul music and also bring something uniquely Irish to it. This can perhaps be seen in the “Night Train” song, when they add Irish cities to the list of the American cities. They do not remove the cities, as they are not trying to erase or claim that their cities are the same as the others. Rather, they extend the city list and add theirs in an attempt to form a bond with the people across the Atlantic. While they seem to be able to access a deeper and more appropriate connection than Joey, their attempts still fall short in some places. As we mentioned, social class does not equal race and that is something that even Doyle failed to realize. No gesture by the Irish to the black experience is ever going to be completely perfect. They all will have their faults and fail in some way—and perhaps that is part of the reason why the band was destined to break apart. Nevertheless, the Irish gestures seem to be a closer and more respectful fit than those made by Irish Americans, such as Joey.

4/22 Discussion Questions

Concerning the differences between the movie and the story, is Joey really more credible in the movie? Or is he just discredited in different ways?

Why did the movie choose to show more of the aspects of Ireland and make less gestures towards African Americans? How would it have been different if the film was more like the book? If the book was more like the film? Would it change the audience’s reception of either?

Are gestures from the Irish destined to fall short or suffer some kind of problematic disconnect? In connecting themselves to the black experience, are they really trying to reject colonialism and failing to mimic the colonizers (Onkey 4)?




4/20 Discussion Questions

How do The Commitments and The Deportees compare to one another as groups? Would you call one more “authentic” than the other? Both bands seem to only play covers of songs, but do you think that they successfully adapt them and make them their own? Or is the attempt to borrow problematic or unsuccessful?

How does Jimmy change across these Doyle’s works? Why are his and other’s “influences” so important to him? Can his character be taken to represent the Irish people? Is he supposed to be a likable character?

Jimmy goes through a lot to subtly make his band “not Irish” in The Commitments and very outrightly makes it “not Irish” with The Deportees. Why is he so against the Irish image? Does he not think that the Irish could pave their own way in music? Or is it just easier to build upon the already established framework of others?




Walcott and the Sea

Walcott physically embodies the Caribbean’s hybridity and translates it into his work. This hybridity can be seen very clearly in his use of the sea in his works, which is responsible for the hybrid identity of the Caribbean people in the first place. The characters’ connections to the sea explore the ideas of hybridity, its connection to the sea, and how identities are connected to and are constantly being altered by the water. 

In The Sea at Dauphin, both the livelihood and identity of the people of St. Lucia are dependent upon the sea. On a basic level, Dauphin is a fishing village that is full of fishermen who work to catch food that helps to feed their families and the town. The sea, however, also was the source that helped to shape the mixed language and culture that make up their identity. The characters in the play speak a mixture of Creole and English, a language reflecting those of the real Caribbean inhabitants. This language is the result of the native islanders’ interactions with the French and English colonizers, who came to the island via the sea and forever changed their identity and that of the island. While older characters such as Hounakin are not as directly connected to the physical sea, the younger characters are all directly connected to the sea in some way. This suggests that the future of the islanders and their identities are even more inherently connected to the sea and the hybridized identity that it brings than the older generation had been. 

 In “The Schooner Flight,” Walcott explores what effects traveling the sea has on Shabine’s hybridized identity. Shabine leaves behind his home and ventures out to the unfamiliar sea. This is different from The Sea at Dauphin, where people venture to sea to fish but further travel is not mentioned. As a result of this, Walcott gives the reader a closer look into what happens to the already hybridized identity of a Caribbean person when they venture off of their island. Shabine’s experience depicts how one carries their identity with them, even when they leave, and how it comes to be affected and even further hybridized through travels. While Shabine is leaving behind the island physically, he carries the memories of it—most notably in his constant reminders of his lover, Maria. No matter what Shabine does or how far he travels, he is unable to shake the memory of her and his longing to return. His identity, as well as his remembrance of her shifts, however, as he gains a greater sense of the colonizer’s religion. Maria and this religion become intertwined and his travels on the sea work to alter and form a greater sense of hybridity within his identity. 

 As Heaney mentions, Walcott gives space in his works to explore the different facets of identity. In these works, we see examples of the Caribbean’s hybridized identities in both those who stay and those who choose to venture away from the islands. In both cases, the sea not only was the initial source of mixing in the Caribbean that brought about hybridized identities, but the place that continues to bring about further mixing. Walcott’s use of the sea and his clear connections to how it comes to mix the identity of the people has helped me not only to understand the hybridized identity of the Caribbean, but also to better realize the functions of sea on all identities—especially in relation to groups that we have looked at this semester.

Discussion Questions 4/8

“I imagine he has done for the Caribbean what Synge did for Ireland, found a language woven out of dialect and literature…” (Heaney 5). Is it fair to compare Walcott to Synge? Did Walcott “find” this language or was he a part of it because he actually grew up on the island speaking the language?

“From the beginning he has never simplified or sold short.
Africa and England are in him” (Heaney 6). Is this a fair statement? Is Heaney claiming that Walcott has never misstepped in his depiction of his hybridized identity? Would Heaney even know if Walcott was selling his identity short? Do you think that Walcott is selling Heaney’s hybridized identity short by claiming that only Africa and England are in him?

How does Caliban compare to Ariel? What do we get out of their relationship in this version that we do not in the original? Ariel has a non-violent approach to gaining her freedom, but Caliban seems to be centered on violent revenge. Does the play champion one over the other because of this?

What is Eshu’s purpose? What does he bring to the play? The Master of Ceremonies remarks that Eshu, a black devil-god, will “fit like a glove” (Cesaire 1). What does this say about the other gods, that they fit into the same category as this “devil-god?”


Derek Walcott Presentation and Discussion Questions 4/6

Derek Walcott Presentation Video (Updated link–might take a few minutes to load)

A link to the PowerPoint that I used in the video


What do you make of Walcott’s understanding of his own identity? Did you see the hybridity that so many have pointed out?  How does language factor into his identity and his works? How and what do you think Walcott’s identity translates to the poems? Are the main characters supposed to reflect his own identity?  

What does it mean for Shabine to leave Maria in “The Schooner Flight?” What did she symbolize and what effect did his constant recalling of her have? Did you see any similarities between her and Hounakin’s wife from The Sea at Dauphin?

The Sea at Dauphin is said to be influenced by Synge’s Riders to the Sea. How do the works compare? What are the similarities and differences in their treatment of religion and the way that they describe the sea? Do you see any connection between Synge’s and Walcott’s identities?

What do these works accomplish? How do they compare to the prior things we have been studying? What have they done to further your understanding of the Black and Green Atlantic?

I have a few more questions, but I will save them until Wednesday because they focus more heavily on Heaney’s piece.



A Response to the Critics Who Hated UpTight!

Who has the authority to determine what one is allowed to use to describe their experiences? In class this week, we looked at how film critics slammed UpTight! for its choice to adapt an Irish story to the African American context. I’d like to respond to these critics with the argument that The Informer is not an exclusively Irish story, as it lacks the foundation in Irish history. Since the movie is not specifically Irish, anyone is free to adapt it. UpTight!, on the other hand, takes The Informer’s frame and develops it into a specifically Black story.

While the book that it is based on is clearly founded in its Irish roots, The Informer does not carry an effective amount of Irish identity and could be about any culture. The director himself was actually Irish American, not Irish. There is a vagueness in identity present from the very beginning of the movie, as the Judas reference fails to place the reader within a specifically Irish context. Judas has a clear connection to Christianity and works as a parallel to Gypo, but the movie’s main focus is not on that of religion. While it depicted some of the culture and suffering of the Irish people, it sacrificed the opportunity to make a larger political statement and tie itself more firmly in the Irish identity in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. In failing to tackle the specific Irish history, The Informer allows a passive audience. Americans are not involved in Irish life so they may not know what is going on or make the connections. Being an Irish American, the director would also have been lacking in experience and understanding of the Irish people. The Informer truly could have been about any time period or any people; it did not seem specific to the Irish or educate the audience about them on more than a superficial and basic level. The movie and its structure actually reminded me much of old gangster movies, which I associate with a more Italian identity.   

If The Informer is not a specifically Irish film, then why isn’t it fair to adapt it to the African American experience? Through the African American’s use of this frame, they altered it in order to showcase their own specific identity. Unlike The Informer, it could not have been based anywhere. The audience’s first introduction to UpTight! is with real footage from MLK’s funeral and the African American response to it. MLK has a clear connection to the black political moment that is what the movie is focused on. By starting with MLK, the movie is committing to telling the story of a specifically and unmistakably African American experience founded in reality. As the movie continues, layers are added to more fully depict what life looks like for African Americans and their broader struggles. Those involved hoped to use this film as a way to educate and gain support for their cause.  It was produced by many people involved in the movements and you can really see their dedication to the project and drawing attention to the injustices and struggles. The film showcases a recognizable setting for Americans, as it takes place in the very real time and place that they are living. As a result of the layers and strong foundation in the history of African Americans, the viewers become more active and should have a response to what they see on screen and its relation to the world they are living in. Unfortunately, this film was never able to achieve the full glory and recognition that it deserved. 

The critics’ excuses for why the film should not have been made are cop-out responses. There are many examples of problematic comparisons that the Irish have made with the blacks that have been widely used and accepted, such as the phrase “wage slavery,” so adapting a film that’s arguably not even Irish should not be the thing that crosses the line. It’s not as if the makers of UpTight! were trying to ignore the fact that it was a remake, it was something they were upfront about. Even if one considers The Informer to be a strongly Irish film, the comparisons being made are not degrading to the Irish or their struggles. Therefore, the critics’ reasoning is faulty and seems to be more of an excuse to degrade the impact of UpTight!— a film that undeniably contributes to the African American story and it is a true shame that it has been mostly forgotten.

Discussion Questions 4/1

I hope to talk about the effect of the opening credit scene with the biblical reference to Judas in The Informer vs Uptight‘s opening reference to MLK’s assassination. Firstly, what are these openings attempting to do? Are they trying to accomplish the same thing?

Similarly, I think there is much to talk about in regards to the displays of the cultures in both films.  How did you see the black culture being portrayed vs. the Irish?

In both films, the informer was a character that was portrayed as drunk,  poor, and betraying their partners in order to gain the means necessary to escape from their current situations. Were their characters entirely unlikable though? Did one film seem to give more sympathy to the informer than the other?

Finally, I have a question about the reception of the films. What was the audience’s response to these films? Was one more popular than the other? Did the audience find the adaptations to be appropriate and well-done? What were the biggest criticisms surrounding them?