I think that over the course of this past semester, it would be easy to say that our attempts to define the Black and Green Atlantic could be seen as a journey in and of itself. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea that African American experience could be compared to Irish experience, at first. My first thoughts were that, at best, the comparison would end up being surface-value only; and at worst, that the comparison would be wrong entirely. However, over the past weeks it has been gradually made clear by our examinations of different texts and theory that there is much more in common between the Black and Green than I had ever imagined before.
Beginning with the theory of a Transatlantic identity was essential. The connection of the sea and movement between different cultures acted as a foundation for the beginning of our comparison. The idea that the sea could be basis for a broad identity was confusing at first; but eventually, it began to make sense. Almost every text we have read has had to do with movement or the sea, whether explicitly or implicitly. After we got through this theory, we began with Gulliver’s Travels – a text filled with both identity crises and movement across the sea. I thought that our movement back and forth across the Atlantic (with regard to the texts we read in the order we read them) was a key factor in our eventual understanding of the comparisons between the Black and Green. It allowed us to never linger too long in one spot, in one view. Rather, we were constantly shifting between cultures, which forced us to search for comparisons closer than we might have had there been two separate units of texts. As our list of texts grew, so too did our understanding. The comparisons we were making started moving beyond the obvious, surface-level comparisons between texts; they moved on to the cultures behind the texts, as well. And when we had reached this depthness, we went farther still: from focusing solely on race and oppression, to factoring in economy, the history of each people as “not yet ready”, and the connections that could be made between these concepts. And finally, we ended our semester with An Octoroon. I think it was right to end with this text for many reasons. For one, it gives us a very modern text for us to compare the rest of the texts with (as we had moved through history with those texts, as well). For another, it serves almost as a counterpoint to the first literature we began with, Gulliver’s Travels. But most importantly, it brought together all the concepts and complexities about the Black and Green that we had been examining over the last few weeks, after we reached our understanding of what it could mean. Without the history of the texts we had read, and the meanings that each of those texts gave us, An Octoroon would have been a very strange and confusing play to read.
I think what I most appreciate about having gone through this journey is that I can understand the complexities of a transatlantic world that I never even considered could exist, much less one that does. In our discussions, we’ve made it clear that there are several valid ways in which the Black and Green can be connected to one another. We’ve also seen ways in which it is invalid to compare the Black and the Green, which helped to enlarge our understanding of just where the comparisons can be before they go too far.
One main question I had was, how in the world is this play staged? Reading it makes it sound very confusing, but I can’t picture how it could have actually been staged at all.
What is the reason for the odd stage directions? BJJ is giving a sort of commentary in them – is this commentary meant for the audience at all?
What was the reason for Brer Rabbit? He doesn’t really interact onstage, other than wandering in occasionally to observe what is going on, or to look at the audience. What does the addition of Brer Rabbit do for this play?
I think that our discussion of “The Commitments” this week has been a rather revealing one for the way that I tend to analyze the texts we have been reading this semester. I’ve found that just due to the nature of the course’s objectives, that I come to every piece of literature with the lens of race, and the history of oppression. When I examined “The Commitments” this week, I was not able to see the economic impact in the novel at all. I was immediately drawn to the race aspect of Rabbitte’s comparison of the Irish and African Americans – and everything followed suit from there. Consequently, my examination of how the movie focused so much on the economic standpoint of Ireland was also based on race (though to a lesser extent). I’ve learned this week that I should try to broaden my lens, rather than focusing solely on race and oppression when drawing comparisons between these two cultures.
What does the lack of gesturing present in the movie do for the meaning of the original novel? Does it change the meaning? Or could this be exactly what Doyle meant with his book?
Where is the line between what is okay for Irish Americans to identify with (when it comes to African American culture), and where is too far? What about vice versa?
Hey guys! I’ve attached a link to my presentation recording, and my discussion questions are below!
◦Why were the discussions about African American culture mostly removed from the movie adaptation? How does this change the novel?
◦Similarly, what did the addition of “traditionally Irish” problems (unemployment, living “on the dole”) change about the novel’s original message? What about the other changes?
◦Are there lines that Doyle crosses in “The Commitments” that are inappropriate to cross while gesturing? What are they? Does the film adaptation cross those same lines (if any)?
◦Considering how we’ve discussed the Black and Green Atlantic to mean thus far in the course, how would “The Deportees” measure up to our definition?
One of the things I appreciated about Cesaire’s version of “A Tempest” was his interpretation of Gonzalo. Gonzalo, in the original “Tempest”, was a kind-hearted old man who made sure to do his duty to his king and the princess. He was written as a charming optimist, meant to be lovable by all those who are not active evil-doers. In Cesaire’s “A Tempest”, this view about Gonzalo doesn’t change much – excepting one major point. Gonzalo is still a kind-hearted old man. And yet, in this play, he is explicitly made a white kind-hearted old man, who believes that white skin inherently means superiority. The first sign we see of this is when he’s discussing with the others he is ship-wrecked with about the possibility of the island having inhabitants. He wants to be careful to “civilize” them “properly”; he literally uses the term colonization. And again we see at the end of the play, Gonzalo makes an attempt to “save” Caliban with religion; but Caliban’s rejection of this action “forces” Gonzalo to leave him to the secular arm. This redefining of Gonzalo was, I believe, one of the most poignant parts of the play. It showcases the very dilemma that Ariel and Caliban are trying to force Prospero to face, but for the audience’s perspective. Gonzalo’s “kind actions” are not kind at all; they are a way of controlling those who he considers inferior to himself, under the guise of kindness and “civility.” He represents the white savior complex.
Some questions I had about Cesaire’s “A Tempest” were, why in the end did Prospero remain on the island? He was about to return to his home with his daughter, and to regain his kingdom. And yet, he didn’t. He stayed on the island in order to make sure that Caliban was not free. Why? What is the point of this change in the play?
I also wondered, why didn’t Ariel return to Caliban in order to help him escape as well? He bore only good-will toward Caliban, as evidenced by his warning earlier. So why did he not return to help Caliban also become free?
One question I had was, is Maria Concepcion actually Shabine’s wife, or is she a personification of something more? It seemed as though she may have been an abstract idea at times, but also more solid at other times. I wasn’t sure what to make of this idea.
Another question I had was concerning Sea at Dauphin. I see quite a few similarities to Synge’s Riders to the Sea, and as we saw in Alexis’s presentation Synge was one author who influenced Walcott’s writings. My question is, is this play supposed to be serving the same function that UpTight! did when compared to The Informer? Or does it only happen to have similar themes?
I think that this past week, by looking at the different ways that both the African American community and the Irish community use the same coping techniques and how they gesture towards each other over history, I’ve gained an even deeper understanding of how they seem to be connected. When I went back over my previous discussion questions for Monday and Wednesday, I was struck again by how the questions I asked were so similar: is there something wrong when one side takes a coping/protesting method from the other side, and uses it for their own struggles?
I was rather conflicted about this question. When I was looking at Seamus Heaney’s poem “Strange Fruit”, and how it was directly borrowing from the song “Strange Fruit”, I thought that the answer was yes. There is something wrong with this instance of borrowing, though it was hard to place at first. And then when I asked the same question about UpTight as a remake of The Informer, I came up with the opposite answer. There was nothing wrong with this borrowing. Again, I couldn’t tell at first just what made this appropriate, and the previous instance inappropriate. After our class discussion, however, I think I may have figured it out. There seems to be a kind of “but…” statement attached to every similar circumstance that we can see between the two cultures.
The Irish were oppressed in their home country, but… they had a means of escape in America.
The Irish were not considered white, but… they were able to transition into whiteness over time.
The Irish were maltreated, abused, and considered inferior, but… they were never slaves.
There is no “but” statement on the African American side of the transatlantic. This lack of a “but” makes it far easier for African Americans to gesture toward the Irish as an example, but harder for the Irish to gesture toward African Americans without taking this somewhat out of proportion.
I find I have a similar question about these two movies as I did about the comparison of the song Strange Fruit and Heaney’s poem Strange Fruit. In this instance, however, what started out as an Irish tale was adapted in similar circumstances to mean the same thing for an African American tale. I think the question still stands – is this an acceptable comparison to make? Is it more acceptable than the use by Heaney of Strange Fruit’s meaning? If so, what makes it this way?
Another question I have is what does it suggest to make a homosexual black man the “root” of the evil action that Tank takes? Instead of coming to the action himself, Tank is coerced into doing it by a gay man. There is also the added incentive to get his own police record erased. Why was this change made? What does this say about the difference between the Irish and black communities, and about the gay community as well?