Roddy Doyle World Literature Analysis
Some Irish critics have complained that Doyle’s literary corpus perpetuates negative stereotypes about Ireland, with his narratives of boozing and sometimes promiscuous and often foolhardy characters. His defenders—and there are many of them, on all continents—justify the characters’ profanity and addictive behavior as accurate slices of life in an island country that has experienced periods of industrial and commercial decline. Perhaps one of the best examples of Doyle as not only a masterful novelist but also a social critic comes early in The Commitments, when Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., is creating a locus of understanding for the wayward young Dubliners whom he is forming into his vision of a Motown-cover band. As the musicians and singers express skepticism about white kids in Dublin in the 1980’s covering the music of black kids in Detroit in the 1960’s, Rabbitte waxes eloquent:Your music should be abou’ where you’re from an’ the sort o’ people yeh come from. . . . Say it once, say it loud. I’m black an’ I’m proud. . . . The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads. . . . An’ Dubliners are the niggers of Ireland. . . . An’ the northsider Dubliners are the niggers o’ Dublin. Say it loud, I’m black an’ I’m proud.
Rabbitte understands a basic concept of social justice, as well as a leveling feature of music: differences of race, culture, religion, and continent fade away as dispossessed peoples understand their similar plight. Once that level of understanding and awareness has occurred, then music that describes the anguish of the human heart in conflict will resonate not only within but across cultures.
Doyle could have remained within the fictional architecture of Barrytown, just as William Faulkner created and articulated his fictional world of Yoknapatawpha County in the majority of his novels. As Doyle approached his third decade as a professional writer, however, he moved beyond Barrytown in one direction to write children’s literature and in a radically different direction to write two novels focused on pathologic spousal abuse. Given his talents as a writer and his commitment to social justice in Ireland, it is likely that his future works will continue to be valued in both literary and social circles.
First published: 1987
Type of work: Novel
A young Irish music devotee conceives of and manages a Motown-cover band in 1980’s Dublin that shows promise but then self-destructs, a casualty of mismanaged egos and libidos.
The picaresque character of James “Jimmy” Rabbitte, Jr., manages both the group The Commitments and the novel The Commitments. Rabbitte is the mastermind of the concept of “Dublin soul” after the first wave of punk rock in the 1980’s. He takes out a classified ad in the Hot Press, the alternative newspaper in Dublin, which attracts a truly motley crew of mostly young north-side Dubliners to play honest, straightforward rhythm and blues in the tradition of Motown Records, down to the white shirts and black suits for the men and simple black dinner dresses for the three Commitmentettes.
Doyle exquisitely shows the partially planned, partially haphazard manner in which most local bands form. At the same time, Doyle’s descriptions of the characters’ situations and their disarmingly unique and poetic Irish-English diction and syntax provide insights into what seems to be an exceptionally authentic rendering of working-class Irish urban culture. Critics have both praised and reviled Doyle for his willingness to use not only the colloquialisms and slang of regional dialect but also a good deal of profanity, including repeated usages of what are generally thought to be the crudest swear words. While Doyle generally declines comment on his work, his defenders usually praise his ability to render the local idiom of Dublin’s north side, and the profane diction seems consistent with the young adults who populate his fiction.
Other critics find limitations in this novel’s scant character development beyond that of Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr. However, the novel is only 165 pages long, and much of it contains either epigrammatic dialogue or the lyrics of dozens of 1950’s and 1960’s rhythm and blues hits. Other members of Jimmy’s immediate family, relegated perhaps to supporting status in this novel, essentially have their own novels later in the Barrytown trilogy. The Snapper is primarily Sharon Rabbitte’s novel and concerns her metamorphosing relationship with her family, especially her father, James Rabbitte, Sr.; The Van is primarily about the relationship of James, Sr., with his best friend, Bimbo.
As The Commitments begins to develop a regional following in the neighborhood, drummer Billy Mooney drops out because he cannot stomach...
(The entire section is 1995 words.)