Americanisms in Ireland

I was interested in the different worldviews in Toibin’s Love in a Dark Time, especially after we discussed how Toibin’s Irish upbringing might limit him to the nuances of American societal issues which Baldwin writes about. Not to say that Toibin’s essays on American writers are flawed, I quite appreciated his thoughts on Baldwin. But I do think he lacks some emotional context of how deeply rooted racism, violence, and sexuality are in every facet of American society. 

To start, Ireland as Toibin describes it was and is dominated by the Catholic church. He references Ingles’ work that the church was “a fundamental force that shaped Irish society, dominated the way we dealt with our families, [and] the way we gathered as a group” (253). The power and influence of the Catholic church served as a main opposition, through direct and indirect means, to homosexuality. In this sense, I think there is a line of connection between Baldwin and Toibin. Baldwin describes how the pentecostal church shaped his family in Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell It on the Mountain, particularly via his father. I recently read a similar story called Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan that represents the church’s power similarly as a well-meaning man wrestles with intervening in the infamous Magdalene Laundries, in which women were practically incarcerated and coerced into forced labor by the church. Toibin brings a deeply emotional and close account of the struggles with homosexuality in Ireland. I have no intention of diminishing those experiences and stories.  I do however wish to point out that while Toibin deeply connects with Baldwin’s work, he does not acknowledge how inevitably tied race and sexuality are in America. This much is shown by his interpretation of Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. The short story is shocking, gruesome, and very heavy-handed, but it is also a very personal account of violence and hatred mixed in with sexuality. I think that without a full understanding of race in America, Toibin fails to fully grasp the mixture of race and sexuality despite his meticulous readings. I do not mean to fault Toibin for this, I simply think that it is indicative of how “American” the problem of race is as it is baked into every social structure, system, and identity.

2 thoughts on “Americanisms in Ireland”

  1. I found your analysis of Toibin’s Irish upbringings in relation to how he writes about American societal issues very insightful. I had not really noticed the differences that you mention before but I agree that Toibin’s essay does lack some context of how deeply rooted racism, violence, and sexuality are in American life and society. You would think that especially given the history of Irish connections with the Black race and how at one point Blacks and Irish people were viewed the same, Toibin would acknowledge race more, but I agree that because he fails to do this, his work lacks a full understanding of American societal issues.

  2. I appreciated your analysis of Toibin’s Love in a Dark Time. I found the connections you make between Toibin’s analysis of Irish history, specifically the dominance of the Catholic Church and religious “values,” and the similar role of the Black Pentecostal church in America to be quite useful in understanding what drew Toibin to the biography and work of Baldwin in particular. Furthermore, I agree with you that Toibin, likely because of his being located in Ireland, fails to fully grasp the undeniable importance of race in Baldwin’s writing and assessment of America, in addition to his focus on religion and sexuality. The interconnected nature of racism, religion, sexuality, and violence is a uniquely (and unfortunately) American problem. It begs the question- does ending racial oppression require a complete overhaul of how we understand religion, sexuality, and violence? Is it possible to view these matters in isolation?

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