The Commitments

by Roddy Doyle

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Power of Music

The reasons that the band members are drawn to make music and perform are as varied as the characters themselves. While Derek and Outspan seem to be swept up in the 60s's pop craze, Jimmy insists that music must be both emotionally meaningful and political. As the band starts to find its footing, the music itself provides the glue that holds this diverse group together. However briefly, through the cross-cultural power of soul music, the band offers a meaningful experience for their audience.

Dispossession and Community

Jimmy Rabbitte identifies with African Americans because he believes he understands the pain and suffering of discrimination. He longs to make a place for himself by creating something genuine—even if it is borrowed—that can express his deepest feelings about the place that he comes from.

However proud he may be as a working-class Irishman, he is definitely not "black." Doyle does not draw a simplistic parallel between the Irish exploitation by the English with the African American experience. Rather, he explores the irony of the young Irish musicians' appropriation of black music based on their imagined shared "soul," even as they neglect to consider how their European whiteness sets them apart.

Participation in the band brings the young men a unique opportunity to forge bonds with each other but at the same time emphasizes their disconnection from traditional Ireland.

Individualism and Fame

In contrast to the theme of sharing experiences and forming community, Doyle also highlights the individual experiences of the band members as each tries to maximize his own benefit. The aspects they value include playing music, putting on shows, becoming known around town, and getting girls. The band's rise and fall, predictably, parallels the singular ascent of one member who strikes out on his own for America to follow his dreams of fame.

Irish Nationalism

Jimmy describes Irish people as the blacks of Europe. He feels that the Irish have been oppressed the way black people have in America, and that is why he relates so intimately to black music and musicians. He tells some of his fellow band members that they should feel proud just as James Brown was proud. The book is written in the Dublin vernacular, emphasizing the pride of the characters in their local Anglo-Irish dialect.

Interpersonal Relationships

The band comes together for only a short time. Though they successfully win over local fans and play good music, they are driven apart by interpersonal difficulties. The lead singer, Deco, is talented, but he is also arrogant, making the others dislike working with him. In addition, the relationship between two members of the band, Imelda and Joey, causes a rift the other members. The band is a short-lived phenomenon, as interpersonal difficulties drive the members apart.

Class Conflict

The members of the band are from working-class Dublin. At the beginning of the book, the band's manager, Jimmy, speaks about how they should be proud of who they are. They play soul music because they relate to the ideas of being oppressed and alienated from mainstream middle-class culture. The characters enjoy their time in the band in part because they are seeking relief from the limited opportunities in their lives.

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