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Estudios Irlandeses , Number 2, 2007, pp. 93-106
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The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes: Hollywood Representations of Irish Emigration By Cornelis Martin Renes
Copyright (c) 2007 by Cornelis Martin Renes. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access. Abstract. This paper analyses Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes (1999) against John Ford’s seminal The
Quiet Man
(1952). Both Hollywood productions reflect on the Irish return myth, adapting the
homonymous memoir by Frank McCourt (1996) and short story by Maurice Walsh (1933)
respectively. Although Angela’s Ashes reverses The Quiet Man’s mythical depiction of early 20th c.
west of Ireland as rural paradise, the urban ‘inferno’ the former paints can be equally understood as the
product of a romantic mindset which combines Irish émigré nostalgia with male quest narrative. Both
views are the result of the objective each male protagonist pursues –a return to Ireland in The Quiet
and to the USA in Angela’s Ashes– and, thus, the divergence in their perception of Ireland may
be explained as instances of romance in which Ireland and its culture is reduced to opposing
caricatures in the service of wish-fulfilment. Not surprisingly, the criticism of capitalist, industrial
America embedded in Walsh’s story, masked as psychological conflict in Ford’s screenplay, and the
rags-to-riches American immigrant success story of McCourt’s memoir were adapted to the screen
with different degrees of independence from mainstream US film production. This gives additional
clues on each film’s use of traditional Irish imagery to the point that Ford’s The Quiet Man may be
understood to deliver a more emancipatory perspective on Irish identity than Parker’s Angela’s Ashes.
Key Words. Return myth, romance, nostalgia, masculinity, quest narrative, tradition, modernity, Irish
Resumen. Este estudio compara la película Angela’s Ashes/Las Cenizas de Ángela (Alan Parker 1999)
con la influyente The Quiet Man/El Hombre Tranquilo (John Ford 1952), dos producciones de
Hollywood que plasman el mito de regreso a Irlanda y adaptan la autobiografía homónima de Frank
McCourt (1996) y el relato corto de Maurice Walsh (1933) respectivamente. El infierno urbano que
propone Angela’s Ashes desmitifica el paraíso rural en que The Quiet Man convierte la Irlanda
occidental de principios del siglo XX, pero igualmente se le puede considerar el producto de una
voluntad romántica que combina la nostalgia del inmigrante irlandés con una narración de búsqueda
masculina. Ambas visiones son el resultado del objetivo que persigue cada protagonista masculino –el
retorno a Irlanda en The Quiet Man y a EEUU en Angela’s Ashes– y por ello, la divergencia en sus
percepciones de Irlanda se puede explicar como muestras de romance que estereotipan la identidad
irlandesa en cumplimiento de deseos opuestos. No es de extrañar que la crítica a la América industrial
y capitalista contenida en el relato de Walsh, encubierta como conflicto psicológico en la cinta de
Ford, y la historia sobre el pobre inmigrante que hace fortuna en América descrita en la autobiografía
de McCourt, hayan sido adaptadas a la pantalla con diversos grados de independencia respecto a la
cinematografía comercial americana. Lo cual proporciona pistas adicionales sobre el uso del
imaginario irlandés tradicional en cada película, de modo que a The Quiet Man se le puede atribuir un
enfoque más critico y emancipado hacia la identidad irlandesa que a Angela’s Ashes.
Palabras clave. Mito de regreso, romance, nostalgia, masculinidad, narración de búsqueda, tradición,
modernidad, identidad irlandesa.
ISSN 1699-311X
Ever since I was a kid living in a shack near the Tis the beginning for Frankie McCourt. He’ll come slag heaps, my mother’s told me about Innisfree back in a few years with a new suit and fat on his and White O’Morn. Innisfree has become another bones like any Yank and a lovely girl with eyes like word for Heaven to me (Ford 1952:13’). pearls hangin’ from his arm (Parker 1999: 120’). For over 50 years, The Quiet Man, directed success story, how can its recent productions in 1952 by Irish-American director John Ford centred on Ireland be read against The Quiet on location in the west of Ireland, has been a Man’s imagery, and how does it deal with Irish main referent in Irish cinema, and as such still identity? A curious case is offered by Angela’s arouses plenty of critical discussion. As Ashes, which was directed by the English recently as 2001, William Dowling argued that director Alan Parker, produced with US and the enduring popularity of this “romantic British funding in 1999, and adapted from the comedy” is rooted in its “power of cultural myth”, and draws attention to its use of festive “saturnalian release”, found in classical McCourt. Although neither book nor film were comedy (Dowling 220). Dowling’s radical meant as a direct response to Ford’s fantasy, claim for The Quiet Man’s universality by a the similarities and differences in plot and Shakespearean reinterpretation of the film’s temporal and geographical setting allow for an central scene of the ‘donnybrook’ (a mass interesting comparison with and contestation of brawl) aims to counter the common criticism The Quiet Man. More specifically, the latter that the film is merely a simplistic distortion of describes how, in the pre-Depression years of rural Ireland. He locates such unfavourable the 1920s, a first-generation Irish-American views in the postcolonial discourse prevalent in factory worker successfully accomplishes a contemporary Irish Studies, which denounces romantic escape from the capitalist pitfalls of industrial Pittsburgh to his native Connemara perpetuating various Irish stereotypes whose in the west of Ireland, whose rural wasteland origins lay in long centuries of English was, in fact, far from idyllic after the Within the contemporary critical panorama, famine. Angela’s Ashes, on the other hand, the prevailing academic notion is that The depicts how a first-generation Irish-American Quiet Man’s Ireland represents “a primitive boy and his family are forced to return to his Eden, a rural idyll free from the pressures and mother’s native Limerick, an industrial city on constraints of the modern world” (Gibbons the Irish west coast, just as heavily affected by 1987: 196), which would hide the bleak Irish the Depression of the 1930s as the New York social reality of the inter-war period it depicts. left behind. As both The Quiet Man and Luke Gibbons is careful to point out that Ford Angela’s Ashes essentially deal with émigré left self-interrogating clues in the film that visions of Ireland, their comparison is further question his reconstruction of Ireland as a justified bearing in mind that “emigration is at romantic fantasy (Gibbons 1987: 240-1), but the centre of the Irish experience of being this notwithstanding, Ford’s fairy tale has modern” and as such, constitutive of the Irish become of pivotal influence for Irish film definition of self (Pettitt 2000: 64). Inspired by culture. Jeffrey Richards calls it “the defining Erwin Panofski’s work on the French 17th c. Irish film” inasmuch it foregrounds the inscribes traditional film representations of (the communality” in the cinematic representation west of) Ireland in the strains of ‘soft and hard of Ireland (Richards 1997: 233). Subsequent films dealing with Ireland from the migrant’s perspective, mainly produced in traditional 1 Gibbons takes his cue on hard and soft destinations of Irish emigration such as Britain primitivism from Erwin Panofski’s essay ‘Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradion’, stereotypes Ford’s film pioneered in fore- published in Meaning in the Visual Arts, New Cork: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955. Gibbons also grounding, either perpetuating or contesting mentions that Panofski derived this distinction from A.O. Lovejoy and G. Boas’s Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity, Baltimore, 1935. romanticism of John Ford’s The Quiet Man environment. The fact that Frank McCourt’s represents ‘soft primitivism’, which, as book bears the subtitle “A Memoir” does not Panofski says, “conceives of primitive life as a golden age of plenty, innocence and happiness biographical truth of its content, which, on the – in other words as civilised life purged of its other hand, is adapted with great fidelity in vices”. On the other hand, Gibbons places the Alan Parker’s film as Frank McCourt himself pastoral realism of Robert Flaherty’s 1934 documentary Man of Aran within ‘hard primitivism’, which, according to Panofski, protagonists of The Quiet Man and Angela’s “conceives of primitive life as an almost Ashes go through the process of pursuing and subhuman existence full of terrible hardships achieving opposed objectives: the former and devoid of all comforts – in other words, as escapes from the USA to Ireland, which leads civilised life stripped of its virtues” (Gibbons to a distorted, flattering vision of the bleak 1987: 198-200). Importantly, Gibbons claims rural reality of Connemara; the latter aims for both representations of Ireland to be products the reverse, which colours the protagonist’s vision of Limerick in a kind of depressing romantic impulse as “the urge to embellish and urban realism. I will argue that in Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes and John Ford’s The intolerable aspects of reality”, which in the Quiet Man a romanticising process of myth- case of “soft” and “hard primitivism” is the making of Ireland is at work with opposing end elimination of “the experience of work and results, responding to the divergent objectives exploitation, the social reality of [rural] labour in the face not only of material scarcity but implementation of their escape fantasy to the countries of their dreams, the USA and Ireland divisions” (Gibbons 1987: 197-8). As such it creates idealisations in which “a rural world” is shown “divested of material cares and the The Quiet Man –An enabling return myth
struggle for survival” in the former strain; and The Quiet Man was filmed on location in the “the everyday grind of work and production is small village of Cong in County Mayo, the desocialised and transformed into a heroic struggle between humanity and nature” in the associated with the Romantic invention of the latter (Gibbons 1987: 199, 201). Gibbons states Celtic homeland3. The plot of the film is based that “due to both its colonial history and its on a rather bleak short story by the Irish writer position on the Celtic periphery of Europe, Maurice Walsh from County Kerry (boardering representations of Ireland over the centuries have been enclosed within a circuit of myth and romanticism” (Gibbons 1987: 194). As the 2 See for instance Roger Ebert’s review of Alan object of such romantic myth-making is to Parker’s adaptation on faithfulness and Craig Sones Cornell and Anna-Maria Petricelli’s review on consumption”, he warns against “a tendency to look towards Hollywood … as the solution to cultural differences, not least those between Ireland and England” (Gibbons 1987: 241, Terence Brown points out that the “main writers and thinkers [of the Irish Literary Revival] believed that a general awareness of the splendours and Angela’s Ashes, set in the town of Limerick riches of Gaelic literary antiquity and of the residual in the Depression years, does not fit into the fires of the Celtic way of life (still burning in rural pastoralism of ‘soft’ or ‘hard primitivism’ – districts, particularly in the West) would generate a after all, while also located in the west of sense of national self-worth and organic unity… Ireland, it is a very different place from (Brown 1991: 516-7). For instance, “Yeats, influenced by Romantic pastoralism, believed that stereotypes of communality, violence and the ‘Celtic’ ethos existed among Irish peasants and was the enduring basis for unity of Irish culture. wonder whether this Hollywood production Folk belief of the west of Ireland held a mystic appeal for Yeats… (Fleming 1995: 58). brings the viewer closer to Ireland and its Whereas the issue of the protagonist’s February 1933 in the US Saturday Evening Post. John Ford and his screenwriter Dudley Walsh’s original, Ford’s film shows Sean a Nichols adapted it including some significant wealthy man from his American adventure, so changes to suit the director’s objective: a the cottage is easily achieved by simply festive comedy which, through a healing return outbidding Red Will. However, despite mutual of the suppressed, allows the protagonist to attraction he takes longer to conquer Mary come to terms with the traumatic journey into Kate5, as he is unable to mediate between the the capitalist American underworld. Thus, it notion of love as a question of free choice, tells how Sean Thornton arrives in the small imbued by his Irish-American upbringing, and rural village of his parents on the Irish west the marriage traditions of the green paradise to coast to find some peace after dehumanizing be recovered: Mary Kate considers receiving toil in the steel mills of industrial Pittsburgh her dowry more than the “empty” tradition that Sean rejects. For her, it is a question of experience of having killed a man in a prize fight4. The process of settling back into this whereas Sean has a well-nourished aversion of rural community in the short period leading up to the foundation of the independent Irish Free experience. The matter is aggravated by the fact that ‘Trooper Thorn’ (Sean’s boxing surprisingly quick but not without problems: name) has abdicated violence and initially he will have to fight for the family cottage and refuses to fight Red Will, for which the his bride, in both cases having to confront Red Innisfree community seriously question his Will Danaher, the local leader and richest masculinity and right to marry/integrate. After farmer around. Two romantic symbols stand a series of amusing conflicts, the issue is out in this bucolic Eden straight from the finally resolved in the cathartic donnybrook, a beginning: the idyllic vision of the white drunken village brawl through which Sean and family cottage White O’Morn, shrouded in Red Will eventually make their peace. The green trees and fields, and of Red Will’s sister heroic element –or ‘Homeric’ as the shaugraun Mary Kate, the attractive red-headed Irish girl (matchmaker) Michaeleen repeatedly calls who first appears as a shepherdess. Both Sean’s actions– is played out in a comic way, images are instances of the escape fantasy Sean thus teaching Sean that fighting and drinking is seeking to implement in the locality: “Ever with one’s peers is what makes the Irishman an since I was a kid living in a shack near the slag Irish man. In Ford’s film, living up to the heaps, my mother’s told me about Innisfree precepts of humour, violence and drink bridges and White O’Morn. Innisfree has become the cultural gap between the US and Ireland another word for Heaven to me” (Ford 1952: and allows integration into the community. 13’). In order to counter the social failures of In The Quiet Man violence and drink are the US capitalist economy, which is tellingly depicted in a light-hearted humorous way: they blurred by Sean’s personal boxing tragedy, it is allow the release of underlying social tensions the repossession of the ancestral Ireland that Sean pursues, to be reinstated as a (hu)man. Thus, Sean’s return journey to Innisfree is 5 In Walsh’s story, the matter of Shawn’s love inspired by an escape which turns into a heroic affair is imbued with materialistic, unromantic quest for integration into Irish society and a undertones. Whereas Shawn is truly in love, Ellen recovery of his manhood, crippled in the O’Grady is not, and only agrees to marry him because she is in her early thirties and already considered rather old on the marriage market. Furthermore, the marriage is the result of scheming by her brother Big Liam, who aims to marry the 4 The killing in the prize fight is perhaps the most wealthy widow Kathy Carey and needs the home to significant way in which Ford’s adapts Walsh’s be empty. This plan, however, falls through and original, which never mentions such an event as the leads to Big Liam’s lasting enmity towards his new reason for Shawn’s return to Ireland. In doing so, brother-in-law, who he unjustly blames for the lost Ford draws Sean’s motivation for his journey to opportunity to acquire more money and property as Innisfree into the psychological, turning it into an well as replace his sister’s hand at the home. and underpin the notion of harmony that Whereas The Quiet Man tells the story of an permeates the village community. Thus, during Irishman’s rebirth in his home country, the title and after the fight all village factions mingle Angela’s Ashes suggests precisely the contrary: and unite in a vast array of comic situations that end up questioning the reality presented. country if we follow the common stereotype of First there is the Old-IRA man who dryly the colony7. Furthermore, “[i]f the casting of comments that if the IRA were involved in his tradition in terms of maternal attachment conflict with Sean, not a single stone of Red presides over The Quiet Man, then the obverse Will’s house would be left standing – also holds and the sacrificial death of the mother is required for progress … This gives eliminating the issue of political tension. Next there is the dying man who revives to join the Woman8’” (Gibbons 2002: 97). In 1935, when donnybrook, showing the re-energising rather young Frankie is only 4 years old, the McCourt than degenerating effect of violence and drink. family also makes the return journey from New Then there is the large Catholic community pretending to be Protestant so that the vicar, Thornton, who a decade earlier followed his followers, may stay in the village, which mother’s luring voice to the imaginary effectively denies the religious strife in Irish Innisfree, Frankie ends up in his mother society. And lastly there is the courting scene Angela’s native Limerick, halfway the village between Red Will and the affluent Old-English of Cong, where The Quiet Man was shot, and widow Tillane6 , doing away with class and the village of Listowel, where Maurice Walsh racial strife. Thus, Ford creates a fantasy of a set his story9. It shows the other side of the harmonious, rather timeless, rural and pre- mythical pastoral West: the dire slum reality of industrial Ireland, in which the economic a city deeply sunk into the misery generated by difficulties and differences of class, race, the Free State’s stifling class, religious and politics and religion in Irish interwar society political divides and the economic hardships are effectively blurred. The return-emigrant caused by the Depression and Second World finds the ideal ground to lick his wounds from War, which The Quiet Man’s Innisfree the corrupting, emasculating struggle of dissociates itself from. Whereas Innisfree survival in the host country, America, and reaches us as a problem-free, solidary, bucolic, ever-sunny, lush and green paradise, nothing (re)integration into Irish society: violence, could be less Edenic than Limerick: problem- drink and humour. In short, he becomes a(n ridden, dehumanised, poor, bleak, grim, cold Irish)man again, symbolically assimilating the and rainy, it is the Irish version of an urban ‘inferno’. Thus, when Angela’s husband Angela’s Ashes – A disabling return reality?
Angela’s Ashes creates another vision, also 7 In this sense, Lance Pettitt paraphrases the poet Eavan Boland, who “recognises that Ireland in the perspective, but in opposition to the pastoral past has been figured as an essentialised female idyll Ford proposed some 50 years earlier. 8 Luke Gibbons coins this epithet when discussing Jim Sheridan’s film The Field (1990); it aptly 6 In Walsh’s original, Kathy Carey’s origins are not mediates between the terms of my comparison: specified, whereas Ford introduces a colonial, class Angela’s Ashes and The Quiet Man. and racial theme here: Old English is a term applied 9 Maurice Walsh set The Quiet Man in his home to descendants of settlers from Wales, England and county, Kerry, in a rural area close to Listowel, 70 Normandy who arrived after the 12th c. conquest of Ireland and slowly assimilated into Irish society, significantly relocates the action to Cong, some 40 relinquishing their original power to later Protestant km north from his parents’ native village Spiddal, in Connemara, and about 100 km north of Limerick. observes she could go to Hell for making Oh, Garryowen may be more gay Than this quiet man from beside Lough Neagh And I know that the sun shines softly down rhetorically: “Isn’t that where I am, Malachy?” On the river that runs through my native town. (Parker 1999: 56’). In consequence, Frankie only seems to survive through sheer luck, But there’s not – and I say it with joy and with being streetwise and, above all, a wry but When I look back on my childhood I wonder Than mine has been with my man from the North. how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood (Parker 1999: 1’, my Here irony is served from a much grimmer Thus, Angela’s Ashes wish-fulfilment and painful perspective, which explains the reverses The Quiet Man’s; it is the story of hysterics Frank’s mother goes into when she Frankie’s confrontation with a crippling, recites its final stanzas. Although a great story- nightmarish Ireland and his quest to return to teller –a talent Frankie inherits– Malachy is, of his land of dreams, America, in search of course, a hopeless failure as a father and man, wealth and material comfort, which closely partly due to a serious drinking habit which intertwines with his wish to become a man. does not allow him to hold a job for long. Therefore, as the title suggests, Frank’s mother However, where the plot of Ford’s film remains a “Quiet Woman” –a background pivots on a notion of individual failure and figure passively suffering the life meted out to touches upon the industrial misery of Pittsburg her– and, perhaps contrary to expectations, it is only subliminally, Angela’s Ashes clarifies that male development that the film is concerned Malachy’s alcoholism is not only caused by the economic hardships of the working class (here Masculinity, integration and the communal
years) but also worsened by the religious and political divides in the Irish Free State (1922- Frankie’s model in life is his father Malachy 37, later Éire and as of 1949 the Republic of McCourt, who attempts but never manages to Ireland). These are issues that The Quiet Man be an urban equivalent of the “nice, quiet, glosses over. Although Malachy desperately peace-loving man come to Ireland to forget his tries to undo his outcast status by respecting a problems”, as Michaeleen ironically describes minimum decorum in dress, he is the constant Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man (Ford 1952: victim of rejection and bigotry, which belie the 21’). ‘Trooper Thorn’ can eventually live up to idyllic lines of the poem above. When he Michaeleen’s words after confronting past violence through the donnybrook, in which he achieves little or none on account of being confirms his manhood to and integration into Northern Irish and hence suspect of being a the Innisfree community. Malachy, however, Presbyterian and Orange supporter. Nothing is never manages to integrate into Limerick more beside the truth as he fought for the Old IRA (active in the period 1919-23) and was Michaeleen’s words acquire a bitter echo in the poem “The Man from the North”, which involvement (precisely when Sean settles back Angela dedicates to her husband in Frank into Innisfree), but prejudice is repeatedly and insistently used against him and crushes any future prospects. Tellingly, his Republican past is most clearly revealed whenever he is drunk, 10 The film lifts this quote verbatim from the singing songs of resistance against English beginning of McCourt’s memoir (1997: 9). domination, such as ‘Roddy McCorley’ and significantly set in America and deals with ‘Kevin Barry’, and exhorting his children to Sean’s fatal blow to his opponent in the prize die for a free, Catholic Ireland. In these less fight (Ford 1952: 71’). Violence is also quiet, loquacious moments of drinking, a inextricably linked to drinking, which is used serious reason for his alcohol abuse may be to “seal bargains, to cement friendships, to detected: the tragic condition of being a welcome visitors and friends” (Richards 1997: 235-6). None of this holds true in Angela’s Prejudice did not play an important role in Ashes: in Malachy’s pub fights violence forms a destructive binary with alcohol, leading to population was equally affected by the misery of the Great Depression of the 1930s; however, Furthermore, violence affects Frankie directly Angela’s family and the Limerick community to highlight his difference, being blamed for insistently blame her troubles on marrying a being poor, Irish-American or Northern-Irish. man from the North and so elude helping her. Whereas the living conditions in Innisfree This is in stark contrast with The Quiet Man’s are problem-free and bucolic, the McCourt harmonious communal spirit, which –as Scott family is crushed by the harsh, oppressive Eyman points out– seeks to support ‘the Yank’ environment of Limerick’s Depression and in his quest for integration throughout the film WWII years. Tellingly, the film opens with a bleak and rainy image of Barrack Hill street in are generally with Sean and even result in the Limerick slums, where Frankie spends different village factions plotting to his favour most of his youth in a smelly derelict terraced against Red Will, the local strong man and house. Its wet, inhospitable ground floor is bully. However, in lack of community support aptly nicknamed ‘Ireland’ and its dry top floor is coined ‘Italy’, the latter a paradisiacal escape befitting the eternal outcast: he disappears fantasy from the urban ‘inferno’ the McCourts from Limerick to work in the factories of are confined to. In this dehumanising situation poverty is stifling (charity is less than making leaving the family destitute. The sense of up for unemployment), death and disease are individual and collective failure is acutely omnipresent (while his twin brothers die of reflected in Frankie’s observation that “If I starvation, Frankie ends up in hospital with lived in America I could say to my father, ‘I typhus), and class, religion and politics are the love you, Dad’, like in the movies, but in markers of the underprivileged (Frankie is Limerick I can’t … Here it means being a rudely refused as an altar boy on class grounds, sissy” (Parker 1999: 88’). It is evident that, due and the IRA representative refuses to help Malachy financially). Rather than offering a difference, in Eire “quiet”/silenced Malachy release from tension, solving conflict and can never accomplish what a man is supposed reinstating a sense of community, violence and to do: provide for his family. As the oldest boy it is Frankie’s obligation to try at his dad’s emasculating, crippling and insolidary ways, as failing. From the moment of his father’s is ultimately shown in Malachy’s disappear- disappearance, Frankie entertains the wish to become the pillar of the family economy, Masculinity, integration and humour.
taking up all sorts of menial jobs to help his family, which barely subsists on the benefits of If in The Quiet Man humour obscures its tragic undertones11 and highly favours a ________________ Masculinity, integration, violence and drink.
11 Luke Gibbons states in this respect that “[f]or all Violence is the cathartic catalyst allowing its romanticism, death is never far from the surface, giving even comedy itself a macabre touch. The the Innisfree community to release tension and sudden intrusion of death into the levity of the establish peace, and therefore depicted as a wedding celebrations in The Quiet Man –the healthy force of integration. This is what Sean frightening flashback follows as a stark contrast to a learns and it contrasts to the only scene of rollicking performance of ‘The Humour Is On Me harmful violence in The Quiet Man, which is Now’– shatters Sean’s idyll of home…” (2002: 67). comic plot structure, in Angela’s Ashes it also seen to demythologise its defining elements of takes the dramatic edge off Frank’s “miserable communality, violence and humour. However, Irish Catholic childhood” up to the point of Angela’s Ashes only does so by inscribing questioning the qualification as such –“the itself into an opposing myth: “the miserable happy childhood”, after all, “is hardly worth Irish Catholic childhood”, which eventually you while” (Parker 1999: 1’). Much of it is forces Frank to leave the country. Sean reaches created through Frank’s child’s perspective on the bucolic paradise of Innisfree after a his dire living circumstances. His streetwise dehumanizing journey through the industrial attitude adds to the humorous situations and ‘hell’ of the American capitalist economy, in interpretations, which allow him to survive and which the old family home, the donnybrook get on. Humour also serves to criticise and make this ‘Misery Memoir’ palatable to the themselves to the shack near the slagheaps of audience (National Review, 26 Oct. 1998) and the Pittsburgh steel mills, the killing of his takes issue with religion, class and poverty. opponent in a prize fight and his solitariness. Frankie explains, for instance, that people in Similarly, Frankie’s return to Limerick is Limerick, “the holiest place in Ireland”, go to marked by the suffering effigy of his patron church not because they are devout, but rather Saint Francis, protector of the poor, and the so as to find some warmth and comfort against image of the well-to-do but terminally-ill the cold and rain of the city (Parker 1999: 68’), Theresa Carmody. Yet, these symbols do not and he also makes sure to confess to a deaf signify Frankie’s final destination but rather ninety-year-old priest who sleeps in the mark the path of his quest through an Irish confession box, so that he may be easily ‘underworld’: a townscape stricken by poverty, absolved for the sin of masturbation (Parker unemployment, hunger, alcoholism, violence, 1999: 97’). Moreover, humour is vital to ready insolidarity, the political strife caused by long the viewer for the presentation of a grimmer and tougher side of Frankie. When he starts working for the local money-lender who has half of Limerick in her grip, Frankie shows a Whereas Sean soon manages to inhabit the willingness to go against his own kind in order Irish land, represented by the idyllic family to enable his return to America. Initially he is shown to follow the harsh, insolidary precepts Innisfree community and the nubile, attractive of market-economy individualism (ironically possession of Ireland is forever denied to subliminal issue of The Quiet Man), but his young Frankie. The Barrack Hill dwelling is phrasing of letters to the poor makes for a nothing more than a derelict uninhabitable benevolent smile. His collaboration in usury is shed as the name of the street itself indicates, solidarity is inexistent, and his one and only Finucane’s accounting books at her death. girlfriend, the middle-class-born Theresa Humour equally underpins Angela’s Ashes’ Carmody, dies of tuberculosis in adolescence, plot, but in contrast to The Quiet Man it serves all of which signals the impossibility of to debunk an idyllic view of Irish (inter)war Frank’s integration on Irish soil. The hapless society, to make drama palatable through Depression years in Limerick (extended into comic inscription, and last but not least, to the economic hardships of the Second World underpin young Frankie’s manhood; thus, War) and the Irish political and religious humour becomes an expression of his strength situation force Frankie to project salvation of survival, toughness and resilience in the face elsewhere. It takes him 13 long, troubled years of adversity, and, as such, of vital importance to exchange the Barrack Hill dwelling for his in the development of his quest for integration. Land of Opportunities, the USA, symbolised in the film by the Statue of Liberty, which Masculinity and integration in pastoral and
beckons at the end of a road full of trials and urban quest narratives.
tribulations. Significantly, the Statue of Liberty If Dowling describes The Quiet Man as a is shown to merge with Frankie’s patron saint’s image, the sexual connotations of which are explanatory and symbolic resonances for Irish rife: only Frank’s arrival in America fulfils his (film) culture, then Angela’s Ashe s may be strong wish of integration, in which the leaving behind of economic, political and religious problems aligns with his becoming a man. masculinity has an oral component, as behoves This rejection by Irish society matches the story-telling; Malachy is effectively turned into development of the theme of masculinity and a ‘quiet man’ and silenced in the mother integration in The Quiet Man to the extent that country, whereas Frankie only finds his voice ‘Trooper Thorn’ is initially unwilling to fight, on reaching America, as his memoir and its a reluctance the Innisfree community has sequels so successfully testify. But obviously, difficulties understanding and interprets as their articulation is also physically transcribed Similarly, in Frank McCourt’s memoir a doctor Frankie discovers his sexuality, but feelings of exhorts Frankie, who is hospitalised with guilt induced by religious precepts prevent its typhus, to “be a man, be a good trooper”12. exploration – at least, in an urban environment. (McCourt 1997: 284, my italics). The illness Precisely one of the rare instances of rural that ails Frankie metaphorically, prevents him Ireland in the film shows Frankie with a certain from being “a good trooper” and his father also amount of sexual freedom: he and three friends suffered, is the impossibility of integration, of masturbate while watching a flock of sheep becoming a(n Irish)man on native soil, a (Parker 1999: 100’). This stark yet humorous problem which Sean Thornton also struggles scene contrasts with Sean’s enabling vision of Mary Kate amongst her sheep, which reroutes desire from the animals to the woman, whose successfully negotiates the economic, political availability and interest is highlighted in and religious pitfalls of Irish society. However, greenery and soft romantic light (Ford 1952: Frankie only undertakes the full passage to 8’). McCourt’s memoir underscores this manhood upon his arrival in America: by then contrast in a scene that the film suppresses: he is of a mature age (18), successful with Frankie climbs an old watchtower in the fields women, studies and work, and establishes a near Limerick, entertains a fantasy of himself family. Sean, on the other hand, recovers his as the object of desire of staring milkmaids, manhood in the cathartic donnybrook, thus and: “in full view of Ireland I interfere with being allowed to take his place in Irish society. myself and spurt all over Carrigogunnell14 and Not surprisingly then, each film develops the return myth to Ireland in opposing quests: Sean 13 Interestingly, Maurice Walsh’s original sees leaves Ireland as a young boy and, come into Shawn Kelvin leave for America at the age of 20, fortune but emotionally emasculated by the more or less Frankie’s, and return to Ireland 15 years later, more or less Sean’s age when he arrives motherland in order to recover his manhood in Innisfree. Simply fed up with the hard toil in and a place in society, whereas these terms are industrial USA, Shawn’s perception of Ireland must reversed in Frankie’s quest. Due to his family’s have been a bit more realistic than Sean’s upon his return, which is shown in his unwillingness to childhood and teenage years are set in Ireland, antagonise Big Liam, the richest farmer around and the miseries of which can only be undone by recovering an idyllic America, synonym of his 14 The ruins of Clarigogunnell castle are about 8 km west from Limerick, just outside the village of Clarina. The original stronghold belonged to pre- Norman, Celtic lords, as one Irish translation of its name, Carraig Ó gConaing or ‘The Rock of the O Conaings’, indicates but a castle was raised on the location by the Norman invaders. It passed back to Originally restricted to soldiers of the cavalry, the Irish hands but was finally blown up in 1691 by qualification ‘trooper’ has become a general, William of Orange’s supporters to prevent it from colloquial reference to any kind of soldier serving as a fortress for Irish attacks against English regardless of rank. It is also used as a common domination ever again (Tobin and O’Connor 1991- reference to any man displaying strength of 2005). The history of the castle’s destruction caused character and purpose in the face of adversity, by the British domination of the Irish draws the under influence of a misspelling of the expression masculinity issue depicted in the film scene into the ‘real trouper’ (cf. The Oxford Dictionary of the fields beyond. That’s a sin I could never premonitory end of Mother Ireland for tell a priest” (McCourt 1997: 376). The tower Frankie, it fastens hope and strength onto the in ruins, the ‘seeding’ of the land, the physical Irish male. The film version delivers the absence of women and the religious guilt penetration scene as a (perhaps prudish) metaphor: the bow of the ship – a rather phallic symbolism that underscores how his wish to Irish Oak– cleaves the waters of the river possess the female body and integrate into Hudson towards the Statue of Liberty. This Ireland unsuccessfully merge. What is more, principle was already foreshadowed in the merging of Saint Francis’ and the Statue’s integration still remain out of reach. Both book image, which imbued Frankie’s suffering with and film depict his first sexual intercourse, but hope back in Ireland (Parker 1999: 68’). significantly, his loss of virginity is linked to death and therefore crippling: the relationship McCourt’s story shows that Angela’s Ashes’ cannot prosper due to Theresa’s terminal vision of Ireland and America is yet another illness. In contrast to the pastoral Mary Kate, who signifies the invigorating Ireland Sean opposing The Quiet Man’s (cf. Gibbons 2002: manages to inhabit, Theresa’s untimely demise 103). The former reverses the latter’s nostalgic of tuberculosis evokes a doomed, hostile and portrayal of a Romantic, enabling rural Ireland emasculating Irish society that offers no to a Realist, disabling urban one, and counters “the miserable Irish Catholic childhood” with If Frank’s arrival in the USA in 1949 is the post-war American Dream, obscuring the symbolised by the sunlit image of the Statue of earlier problems of survival for Frankie’s Liberty and contrasts with the lunar eclipse on family in the Brooklyn of the Depression the eve of his departure from Ireland (Parker years. Angela’s Ashes offers yet another way 1999: 130-4’), the memoir depicts this event as of representing Ireland: feelings of nostalgia sexual conquest. After his ship has moored in embellish past misery to recreate Ireland as the New York, Frank has sexual intercourse with bumpy road in a male quest narrative whose an American girl. As the 18-year-old enters the destination lies elsewhere. This tale of male woman, his mind is forced back to his dead wish-fulfilment cleverly readies Irishness for girlfriend, crying out to her in his thoughts, “oh God oh Theresa, do you see what is happening stereotypical message of Irish misery and to me at long last?” This time, the sexual union resilience softened by humour and blarney, is not desperate but enabling and invigorating, narrating why the Irish left their homeland and thus denoting the final reckoning with his Irish how they survived in the face of adversities, past and the confirmation of America as “a and in doing so it reconfirms the myth of Irish great country” (McCourt 1997: 457-60). Frank’s entering the Hudson, gateway to the Angelas Ashes’ many positive appraisals in States, matches his penetration of the female the US press runs significantly as follows: “But body, and, thus, his (re)integration into as many Irish seem to thrive on their misery, America is first and foremost shown as a rite of McCourt manages to deliver an irreverent, humorous tale of his daily struggle to survive completion of this ritual foreshadows the and to get back to his birthplace, America” fulfilment of Uncle Pa’s prediction on beholding the lunar eclipse. At Aunt Aggie’s It should therefore come as no surprise that claim that the eclipse is a bad omen, a sign of McCourt’s memoir was a bestseller in the USA “the end of the world”, her husband replies that as it reproduced the American rags-to-richess “Tis the beginning for Frankie McCourt. He’ll story of immigrant success. While it was come back in a few years with a new suit and awarded the 1996 National Book Critics Circle fat on his bones like any Yank and a lovely girl Award and the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, both in the with eyes like pearls hangin’ from his arm” category biography, critical reception in (Parker 1999: 120’). Whereas the latter scene Ireland was less favourable, pointing out the links the Irish female again to a notion of book’s novelistic distortions. The late doom, signifying the book and film title’s instance, takes issue with McCourt’s “bitter achieve his object of desire. Rather than attack on his native city”, (Phelan 2000) and a obviating actual socio-economic conditions, newspaper article suggests that Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes’ urban realism highlights them to test and toughen up the young hero on his road to manhood/a new home/a better life. It is, Accusations that Frank McCourt had exaggerated the poverty he had suffered during logically, the Old Mother Ireland Frankie has his Catholic Irish upbringing were further to write off –hence the title– and the Promised fuelled by Parker’s adaptation of Angela’s Land of America he has to inscribe himself Ashes in 1999. According to journalist Fergal into so as to develop as an Irish-(A)m(eric)an Keane15, ‘Parker went so far over the top that I and take his place in a society that allows him ended up feeling cheated. The film led us on a to overcome the troubles encountered back in rainy dance through every Irish cliché’. Ireland. Angela’s Ashes and The Quiet Man have sold so well to the American audience –a Significantly, Richard Harris criticizes Alan nation of immigrants– because both migrant Parker for having “dated [the city] back to the stories conjoin nostalgia and humour in a late 19th Century. It is more Dickensian in its marked capacity for survival. However, The squalor than it is accurately Limerick” (Phelan Quiet Man barely touches upon the crippling 2000). Therefore, considering Angela’s Ashes a capitalism of industrial Pittsburgh in order to facilitate the resolution of Sean’s search for qualifications ‘memoir’ and ‘biography’ might recovery and integration in a ‘soft-primitivist’ suggest, is at odds with a delivery of Ireland vision of the west of Ireland, while Angela’s that, like The Quiet Man’s, responds more to Ashes paints an elaborate ‘hard-urbanist’ the internal requirements of romance than an picture of the Irish West so as to project the accurate description of reality. One might, fulfilment of Frank’s quest into the American therefore, elaborate on the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft primitivism16’and propose a Hollywood and the Irish emigration
strain of romantic portrayal for Angelas Ashes experience.
that could be denominated ‘hard urbanism’. Adapting Panofski’s definition, this would The difference in the voicing of the emigrant conceive of urban life as almost subhuman experience in The Quiet Man and Angela’s existence full of terrible hardships and devoid Ashes bears obvious links to the personal of all comforts –in other words, as civilised life biographies of John Ford and Frank McCourt. stripped of its virtues– while beautifying the The former was the son of immigrants to the suffering it causes. This interpretation would USA, and although his upbringing was imbued see Angela’s Ashes as a realist quest plot with love for the old mother country and its against a stark industrial townscape rather than culture, and probably further enhanced by the natural landscape, a formidable ‘Dickensian’ excesses and disorders of the American market economy that lead to the hardships of the Great circumstances which lays out a series of tests – Depression, he would never live there. Thus, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, deficient fictional Sean (not surprisingly his name is Irish for John) implements a return journey which parallels John Ford’s ‘homecoming to economic, religious and political divides17 – Ireland’ to recreate his Irish Dream (Dowling the protagonist has to over-come in order to 2001: 196) –a sweet, enabling picture of Connemara as passed on by his parents18 and 15 Fergal Keane is a Special Correspondent for BBC Lance Pettitt speaks of the “the considerable News. He was born in London in 1961, brought up economic, social and cultural difficulties that beset in Ireland, and educated in Dublin and Cork. He the southern state: limited economic power, high began his career in journalism in 1979 as a reporter unemployment, poor social welfare provisions, on the Limerick Leader and Chronicle, and was a social conservatism and, above all, cultural insularity” in the period between 1932 and 1959 (Pettitt 2000: 7). 16 See the second and third page of this paper and, enhanced by his imagination into what has irony play on the gap between fantasy and been termed “a product of [his] émigré reality, undermining the exclusive terms of the west of Ireland as ‘Rural Paradise’ or ‘Urban Hell’, and foregrounding a nostalgic vein in but, unlike John Ford, spent most of his both films that feeds on traditional, pre-modern childhood in Ireland. Its harsh living conditions images of Old Europe, seen through the prism in the Depression years and the Second World of America and projected onto Ireland. If the War fuelled his desire to settle back in the emigration phenomenon is indeed central to United States, where he would successfully re- Irish modernity, then Hollywood productions establish himself. The latter he had only known such as The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes in dire circumstances at a very early age, but seem to share a rather reductive definition of its image was embellished by schoolmasters’ Irishness, at odds with Fintan O’Toole’s tales, a child’s optimism and (not surprisingly) expansive, postmodern view in which physical adaptability and mental mutability is the Irish cinema. Through the distorting lens of time, answer to the “permanent impermanence” of memory and physical distance, Frank recreates emigration (quoted in Pettitt 2000: 22). Thus it a tough, disabling Ireland19 that feeds back into would appear that, in mediating cultural the safe American H(e)aven and makes for an difference between Ireland and the USA, both equally nostalgic vision or beautification of The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes re-affirm past hardships: “McCourt may have had a romantic visions of Ireland and mythologize miserable childhood, but he would not trade it the emigration experience into self-affirming in for another – or at least would not have male quests for integration so as to suit an missed the parts he retails in his memories” audience both American and abroad, in line (Ebert 2000). An analysis of the immense with the prevailing demands of the Hollywood popularity of McCourt’s novel in the USA canon. Not surprisingly, Ford’s The Quiet Man ironically states that in this “cynical” age: has been described as “a Western made in Ireland” (Pettitt 2000: 66) and Parker’s Our infatuation with all things Irish is a Angela’s Ashes as a “testimony to the fortitude hopeful sign in post-modern America. Rumors of the human spirit under even the worst changing its name to ‘Frank McCourt’ are Yet, while the Hollywood film industry’s without foundation. Yet in the present craze for everything Irish, not least Mr. McCourt's financing, marketing and powerful demand for profit do condition cinematic end result, their Ashes, something odd is going on. … As we effects are not uniform, depending on a film’s picture them, the Irish are a pre-civilized, or integration in its production structures. And rather a pre-modern, people. And nowadays, this calls attention to the particular embedding of traditional representations of Irishness modern can be crystallized in a word: passion within the discourse of both films. Or, to put the issue in a different way, the problem with the use of stereotypes “is not that they are Hollywood has cashed in on the phenomenon”, untrue, but that they are portrayed as the norm” it articulates the reasons for the book’s rapid and faithful reproduction onto the screen, encountered tremendous, long-lasting obstacles financed by the English-born director Alan when trying to raise Hollywood funds for his Parker and the Hollywood-based producers film as it “was seen as having no commercial Scott Rudin and David Brown for Paramount potential” (Dowling 2001: 192), whereas the opposite was true for Angela’s Ashes, no doubt In the light of the above, the imagery of The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes comes forward as essentially compatible. Their humour and American homecoming in the latter. Or, as RKO distribution head Ned Depinet told Ford upon reading The Quiet Man’s screenplay: “You’re in Ireland and we’re in America, and 19 See Jim Saah’s interview with Frank McCourt for I’m not going to pay for that” (quoted in comments on this fictionalising process. Eyman 1999: 327), so that Ford had to find survive in it. Sean Thornton’s engagement ways of making his project palatable for the film industry. Thus, what Lance Pettitt calls “astute critics of popular culture” nowadays unfettered American individualism, according to which all value is subordinated to private agree that Ford’s play with stereotypical comic and idyllic exaggerations and socio-economic competition whose ultimate logic is violence. omissions in The Quiet Man was meant, more Though Sean Thornton stays in Innisfree with than to please the studio system, to include “a Mary Kate, Ford seemed to bring this deeply reflexive critique of Irish film representation” critical stance towards American values back (Pettitt 2000: 65-6). Whereas William Dowling with him to the United States … Ford’s life Hollywood representations of Ireland and retrieve the American dream by transferring Irishness within a sophisticated discussion of its sympathies from White, European legacies artistic independence –Ford’s struggle for of colonial expansion to the rights of other cultures and indigenous peoples considered to “artistic integrity” against “Hollywood greed” (2001: 195)– Luke Gibbons sees it as the direct Irishness was central to this task (Gibbons result of Ford’s social criticism of the dark side of “the American way of life”, that is, “the ruthless pursuit of profit and money at the we would now call postcolonial commitment considerations” (Gibbons 2002: 70). However, with modernity, Ford’s The Quiet Man goes the same cannot be said for Alan Parker’s beyond “an introverted ethnicity” (Gibbons Angela’s Ashes, which does not maintain such 2002: 15) that merely confirms a stereotypical a critical distance towards the projection of return to tradition to remedy America’s ills. Sean’s American trauma –his unintended Hollywood prism. This is not surprising as killing of a man in return for some prize fight Angela’s Ashes’ homecoming is precisely materialized in America and therefore confirms the American Dream, which paved the way for shortcomings of American society, as argued a quick Hollywood adaptation to the screen. above, but also of Irish tradition, “especially as it affects the subjugation of women” (Gibbons 2002: 18). On the one hand, Sean eventually reflexive counterpoint to its description of a decides to accept Mary Kate’s dowry in respect “miserable” Ireland, but is given less of her honour and economic independence, but prominence in the film, in which imagery and he and his wife later challenge Irish custom by voice-in-off only partially manage to replace destroying this “dirty money”, which leads to the novel’s ironic narrative voice (Ebert 2000). the cathartic, communal re-inscription of the Thus, the critical reception of Parker’s Angela’s Ashes was less favourable in Ireland, (Gibbons 2002: 55). On the other hand, the while it received more positive reviews in the couple express their engagement with female empowerment when Mary Kate, with Sean’s approval, casts away the stick rebellious Irish Ireland, The Quiet Man’s myth-making has also been contested in Ireland, but Angela’s (Gibbons 2002: 18). Seen from this perspective Ashes commits the additional ‘sin’ of creating of transformative potential in which gender is an escape fantasy that, according to Luke the focus of attention, Ford’s version of male Gibbons, “simply reverses The Quiet Man by quest narrative has therefore retained a greater looking to America as the answer to Ireland’s independence of spirit and offers a more ills”. However, in The Quiet Man: dynamic engagement with Irish modernity than Parker’s Angela’s Ashes, which surely lies at … Ford is intent on questioning not only an the basis of the interest The Quiet Man still unthinking adherence to one’s own diasporic inheritance, but to the dominant values of the host American culture, and what is required to Works Cited:
Berardinelli, James. 1999. “Angela’s Ashes” (film review). Access: November 2006. movies/a/angelas.html Access: 9 Apr. 2004. Brown, Terence (ed.). 1991. “Cultural Nationalism 1880-1920”. Seamus Deane (ed.). The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Derry: Field Day Publs. Vol II. Cornell, Craig Sones & Anna-Maria Petricelli. 1999. “Angela’s Ashes” (film review). CinemaSense.Com. Access: 5 November 2006. Dowling, William C. 2001 (Fall-Winter). “John Ford’s festive comedy: Ireland imagined in The Quiet Man”. Eire-Ireland: Journal of Irish Studies. 190-211. Access: November 2006 Ebert, Roger. 2000 “Angela’s Ashes” (film review). Chicago Sun-Times. 21 January. Access: November 2006 Eyman, Scott. 1999. Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford. New York: Simon & Schuster. Fleming, Deborah. 1995. The Irish Peasant in the Work of W. B. Yeats and J. M. Synge. Michigan: U. of Ford, John. 1952. The Quiet Man. Producer Herbert J. Yates. Hollywood USA: Republic film studios. Gibbons, Luke. 1987. “Romanticism, Realism and Irish Cinema”. Cinema and Ireland. Eds. Kevin Rocket, Luke Gibbons and John Hill. New York: Syracuse University Press. 194-257. _______. 2002. The Quiet Man. Cork: Cork University Press. McCourt, Frank. 1997 (1996). Angela’s Ashes. New York: Touchstone. McGlone, Jackie. 2003. ‘Kiss and tell with a sucker punch.’ Scotsman on Sunday, 26 October. Access: November 2006 National Review magazine. 1998. “Fighting Irish (Author Frank McCourt's memoir has helped spur an increase in the popularity of all things Irish)”. New York, 26 October. Access: November 2006 Parker, Alan. 1999. Angela’s Ashes. Producers Scott Rudin, David Brown and Alan Parker. Hollywood USA: Pettitt, Lance. 2000. Screening Ireland: Film and television representation. Manchester: Manchester University Phelan, Eugene. 2000. “Richard Harris stands up for his native city in local radio interview”. RLO. Limerick, 20 January. Access: November 2006 Richards, Jeffrey. 1997. Films and British National Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Saah, Jim. 1990-2000. “There once was a man from interview with author Frank McCourt.’ UNo MAS Magazine. Access: 15 Mar. 2004. Tobin, Matthew and Lisa O’Connor. 1991-2005. ‘Patrickswell-Ballybrown History.’ The Heritage Project Diocese of Limerick. Access: February 2007. ‘trooper’ The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. Bryan A. Garner. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. February 2007. Walsh, Maurice. 1933. The Quiet Man. Saturday Evening Post, 11 February. Access: November 2006


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