, Research Paper
Why do we hear so much about family these days? Perhaps it is because
relationships between family members are assumed to be the prototype for all other
social relations. In the novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van, Roddy
Doyle shows his support of the family as an institution. Each character demonstrates
strength and direction within the family unit. However, when the stability of the family
is threatened, each character breaks down along with the family itself.
When we think of family life we associate happiness, a life of sharing memories
and developing unbreakable friendships. It is easy to create a family that is make believe,
we just tend to leave the ugly side of the relationship out. It may be true that there is a
family that lives like the “Cleavers” in our society today, but speaking realistically every
family will breakdown eventually. In an interview about his novels the author said, “I
didn’t set out to capture the good in every family, or bad for that matter, I just wanted to
show a typical Irish family.”1 Doyle’s writing is real–he deals with issues that might not
hit home with every reader however, they are events that confront many people every
day. The Rabbitte family is used in all three novels that make up the “Barrytown
Trilogy.” While the times are both good and bad for the eight members of this Irish
family, in some way they find a way overcome every problem that faces them.
One of Doyle’s strengths is his feel for personality: his characters are neither
devils nor clowns, dolts nor wits, but wobble between the extremes. “They’re fish gutters
and mechanics, young knockabouts and unemployed workers who spend a lot of time
watching T.V. drinking Guinness and jawing at the pub, trying to stave off the feelings
that they are nondescript people in a nondescript world.”2
The Commitments is Doyle’s first full-length novel. The main character Jimmy
Rabbitte, the eldest son, puts together a band. It is almost every teenager’s dream, at
some point, to be famous playing music in front of large groups of people. In fact, this is
how this book started off. In the end, however, it turns out to be the complete opposite.
Doyle captures the emotions of his characters when they are weak and leaves an impact
on the reader with his humorous wit. He describes his writing as “a challenge that’s the
enjoyable part. To an extent, that’s what happened with all my books because I’ve never
experienced any of the subjects I write about. I used to be a ten-year old boy, but I
certainly didn’t watch my parents marriage disintegrate. I was never in a band, I’ve never
been pregnant and I’ve never been unemployed for a day in my life.”3 It is shown that
Doyle has strong family values. In his writing he clearly demonstrates that if one family
member falls, it effects the rest of the family. In The Commitments, throughout the entire
novel, the band acts like a family. As the manager, Jimmy plays the role of the father
figure and trys to keep the band reaching higher levels, together. But, as members begin
to fight Jimmy finds it more difficult to keep the group together.
“Now, said Jimmy-tell your Uncle Jimmy all about it.
-Jimmy could see Billy thinking
It’s just- I hate him, Jimmy. I hate him — I can’t even sleep at nigh’”4
The drummer, Billy’s leaving was because of Deco, the lead singer of the band
who he couldn’t face. Because they never talked, working out their problems was never
accomplished. The Commitments worked as a team to reach its success but when the
group was on the brink of acheiving stardom individual motives began to cause
problems. When the band stopped acting like a family unit the fights broke out.
“Somewhere in the quarter of an hour Jimmy had been negotiating with Dave from Eejit
Records, The Commitments had broken up.” Jimmy came to the conclusion that it was
over. He moved on and kept his mind off the band. Success had in fact destroyed the
once harmonious group.
In The Snapper Doyle uses a interesting topic: pregnancy. Sharon, the eldest
Rabitte daughter accidentally gets pregnant. In the end, the father turns out to be her own
father’s best friend. The beginning stage of her family breaking down is when she finally
confronts them about her being pregnant. While the family accepts the fact that she is
unmarried and pregnant, they have several fights over the identity of the child’s father.
Sharon is stubborn and won’t reveal any names and the rest of the family is hurt and
angry because it feels that it deserves to know who the father is.
“Jimmy Sr got down to buisness
-who was it
-wha?- Oh I don’t know
-Ah now, jaysis
-No, I do know
-well , then
-I’m not telling
-Jimmy Sr could feel himself getting angry now”.5
Whether the problem is little or big the Rabbitte family always muddles through
and deals with it. Sharon had put herself in the middle of the biggest problem yet. She
feels hurt and while she never wanted to put her family through pain or suffering, that
that is what she was doing. At the same time, she was trying to deal with the changing of
her own body and working on making herself come to terms about what she had done. In
effect everybody was suffering.
-Wha’ kind of a house is this at all? he asked the table.
-He looked at Veronica. She was deciding if she’d throw the marmalade at the twins.
-A man get’s up in the mornin’, said Jimmy Sr.-an’-an’
-Oh shut up, said Veronica.6
It is now clear that as a result of tension in the house the two parents in the family
were developing a negativity against each other. It was Sharon’s decision to hide the
truth, but it was also up to her to become realistic and tell the truth before it tore the
family apart anymore.
The final novel in the trilogy is The Van. It focuses on the dad, Jimmy Sr. The
fun-loving father of the Rabbitte family had been recently laid off work. So, Jimmy Sr.
and his best friend, Bimbo open a portable fast-food restaurant called Bimbo’s Burgers. It
is located in a greasy old van that would never pass an inspection. The father’s role can’t
be left unmentioned. Jimmy Sr. has a lot of control over his family. Throughout the
series he is viewed as the descision maker, a role model and as a source of family
strength. As soon as the father shows a little bit of unhappiness the rest of the family
start to lose hope. Doyle once said “Friendship is something that is understood the world
over, and unfortunately, so is unemployment.” Doyle makes his belief clear in The Van
by showing the pain that is put on the family when one bread-winner loses his job.
Coming from a family whose income is not very high, unemployment could possibly be
one of the worst thing to ever happen. There is no money for Christmas presents, so the
kids are upset. Darren the youngest boy in the family has learned all about
unemployment and welfare. One night when the family is eating Darren says something
to upset his father whose reply is:
“Darren, don’t you forget who paid for tha’ dinner in front of you, son, righ’
-I know who paid for it, said Darren. -The state did.”7
This reaction not only made Jimmy Sr. upset but, he came to terms with the fact
that he was going nowhere and if he wanted things to get better he had better get a job
The Rabittes may have gone through times when they wanted to kill each other,
but other times they cared. Doyle is a down-to-earth writer, he shows the way of life for
many families with the use of slang in his writing and his abillity to capture humour
when the times are hard. The Rabbitte family shared many bonds, they had many
memories and of course many fights, but they are a family. They may be fictional but
they represent a modern family. It is true that when the stability of the family is
threatened, each character breaks down along with the family itself.