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The Informer ()

One of the most objectionable memes in popular culture is the pejorative reference to being a "snitch" or a "stoolie." Pretty nearly the only organizations and situations require a code of silence are criminal enterprises. The misstatement of terms gave us the odd world in which Whittaker Chambers was a villain, but Lillian Hellman a hero and in which movie characters who uphold the Mafia code of omerta are imagined to have acted honorably. One of the few exceptions to this presentation back in the day was Serpico. Though nowadays, when we have created special legal protections for those who inform on corporate and government wrongdoing--and even given those who expose it the cool nickname of "whistleblowers," reminiscent of impartial referees--perhaps we are reclaiming the rightful view of those with the courage to uncover evil. Of course, this in not to say that all such folk have pure motives or unmixed, just that the act of revelation itself ought not to be seen as blameworthy in itself.

Liam O'Flaherty's classic novel, The Informer, and the film adaptation by his cousin, John Ford, present the archetypal vision of a member of a criminal enterprise who is plagued by guilt over his "betrayal." Gypo Nolan is the brutish title character, a former enforcer for the Revolutionary Organization in the Irish Civil War. He and fellow thug Francis McPhillip were sent to scare the secretary of the Farmers’ Union but shot him to death instead. For this they were expelled by the Organization and are being hunted by the police. But Gypo--"left without friends or money or employment"--sees a way out for himself, now that he owes no loyalty, and a chance to claim the desperately needed reward, so he informs on McPhillip's whereabouts, leading to the latter's death. Unfortunately, McPhillip had always done the thinking for the pair and Gypo has no idea what to do next. Tragically, he imagines he can play the innocent with McPhillip's family and the Organization and no one will be the wiser. But, at the same time, he spends the tainted money wildly, drawing attention to himself, and is soon being hunted again, like a the wild animal he resembles, then put on trial for his own life by the Organization and its leader, Dan Gallagher.

If the initial treatment of Gypo and McPhillip did not sufficiently reveal the false face that the Organization wears, the character of Gallagher exposes it all too clearly:
“Tell me, Dan,” she whispered, “do you believe in anything? Do you even believe in Communism? Do you feel pity for the working class?”

Gallagher uttered an exclamation of contempt and shrugged his shoulders. He panted as he spoke, such was the rapidity of his words, in an effort to keep pace with the rapidity of his tempestuous thoughts.

“No,” he said, “I believe in nothing fundamentally. And I don’t feel pity. Nothing fundamental that has consciousness capable of being understood by a human being exists, so I don’t believe in anything, since an intelligent person can only believe in something that is fundamental. If I could believe in something fundamental, then the whole superstructure of life would be capable of being comprehended by me. Life would resolve itself into a period of intense contemplation. Action would be impossible. There would be no inducement for action. There would be some definite measurement for explaining everything. Men seek only that which offers no explanation of itself. But wait a minute. I haven’t worked that out fully yet. It’s only in the theoretical stage yet. I have no time.

“But you spoke of pity. Pity? Pity is a ridiculous sensation for a man of my nature. We are incapable of it. A revolutionary is incapable of feeling pity. Listen. The philosophy of a revolutionary is this. Civilization is a process in the development of the human species. I am an atom of the human species, groping in advance, impelled by a force over which neither I nor the human species have any control. I am impelled by the Universal Law to thrust forward the human species from one phase of its development to another. I am at war with the remainder of the species. I am a Christ beating them with rods. I have no mercy. I have no pity. I have no beliefs. I am not master of myself. I am an automaton. I am a revolutionary. And there is no reward for me but the satisfaction of one lust, the lust for the achievement of my mission, for power maybe, but I haven’t worked that out yet.”
What conceivable loyalty could anyone owe such a man or such a "cause"? Fittingly, O'Flaherty gives Gypo not just a heroic but a positively Biblical end:
?"Mrs. McPhillip, 'twas I informed on yer son Frankie. Forgive me. I'm dyin'."

"I forgive ye," she sighed in a sad, soft whisper. "Ye didn't know what ye were doin'."

He shivered from head to foot and bowed his head.

He felt a great mad ruch of blood to his head. A great joy filled him. He became conscious of infinite things.

Pity and mercy and peace and the phantoms of death breathing faint breaths. Mercy and pity and peace.

"Lemme go!" he cried, struggling to his feet.

He stood up straight, in all the majesty of his giant stature, towering over all, erect and majestic, with his limbs like pillars, looking towards the altar.

He cried out in a loud voice:

"Frankie, yer mother has forgiven me."

Then with a gurgling sound he fell forward on his face. His hat rolled off. Blood gushed from his mouth. He stretched out his limbs in the shape of a cross. He shivered and lay still.
The only thing missing from the Christ analogy is the "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

What makes this all particularly fascinating is that O'Flaherty had somehow once been a founding member of the Irish Communist party himself and led an abortive takeover of Rotunda Hall in Dublin in 1922. He seems an unlikely dupe of any utopian revolutionary movement given what he writes of Gypo just three years later:
They only knew at that moment that he was a poor weak human being like themselves, a human soul, weak and helpless in suffering, shivering in the toils of the eternal struggle of the human soul with pain.
and, famously, of himself:
I was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men's bones.
This was an author who believed in Original Sin, not in man's capacity to create a "New Man."

It's impossible to read the novel as anything but a savage repudiation of his earlier naivete and hard to see why it doesn't rank with great anti-communist texts by former comrades like Darkness at Noon and 1984.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Irish Literature
Liam O'Flaherty Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Liam O'Flaherty
    -TRIBUTE SITE: Liam O'Flahherty, The Man From Inishmore
    -ENTRY: Liam O'Flaherty (The Modern Novel)
    -ENTRY: Liam O'Flaherty (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: O'Flaherty, Liam 1896–1984 (
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Liam O'Flaherty (IMDB)
    -SHORT STORY: The Sniper by Liam O'Flaherty (American Literature)
    -SHORT STORY: ‘The Discarded Soldier’ by Liam O’Flaherty, a rediscovered anti-war short story: Jenny Farrell introduces a story published in The Daily Worker in 1925 by the writer’s brother (Jenny Farrell and Liam O'Flaherty, 12/06/18, Irish Times)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Informer
    -ENTRY: The Informer: novel by O’Flaherty (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Informer (eNotes)
    -PLAYOGRAPHY: The Informer (Irish Playography)
    -OBIT: LIAM O' FLAHERTY DIES AT 88; WROTE TALES OF IRISH STRUGGLE (Joseph Berger, Sept. 9, 1984, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Conflicting cultures and two languages shaped O'Flaherty as man and artist (Eileen Battersby, Aug 28, 1996, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: How Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty once led a "Council of the Unemployed" occupancy in Dublin: He may be better known for his stories "The Informer" and "The Sniper" but as one of the founding members of the Communist Party in Ireland, O'Flaherty's early life was one of left-wing rebellion. (Pauline Murphy, Aug 29, 2018, Irish Central)
    -ESSAY: With Dark Joy, the Madness: Liam O’Flaherty’s Assassins and Informers (declan Burke, SEPTEMBER 17, 2008, Rap Sheet)
    -ESSAY: Free State Interrogators: Liam O'Flaherty and Frank O'Connor The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty and My Father's Son by Frank O'Connor (Liam Harte, Irish Studies Review)
    -ESSAY: Liam O'Flaherty's Disillusionment with Irish Revolutionary Martyrdom in The Informer and The Assassin (Jennifer Malia, Pacific Coast Philology)
    -ESSAY: Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer and the Aesthetics of Terror (Homer B. Pettey, Screening Modern Irish Fiction and Drama)
    -ESSAY: The O'Flaherty Novel : a Problem of Critical Approach (Dermot Heaney, Etudes irlandaises)
    -ESSAY: Liam O'Flaherty and Duil (John Cronin, New Hibernia Review)
    -ESSAY: Raising the Red Flag at the Rotunda. The workers occupation of January 1922 (Donal, August 27, 2010, Come Here to Me)
    -ARTICLE: Liam O’Flaherty’s ‘Hollywood Cemetery’: Long censored exposé makes a comeback (JENNY FARRELL, 3/21/19, People's World)
    -ESSAY: Spearheads Gone Too Fast (BLOODY CONFLICT IN AMERICA AND IRELAND: 1968-69, SEPTEMBER 11, 2020, University of Notre Dame)
    -ESSAY: A tribute to Liam O'Flaherty in honor of an August birthday (Bridget Haggerty, Irish Culture & Customs)
    -ESSAY: Liam O’Flaherty’s Hollywood sojourn: Aran Islander's 1935 American set novel to be republished (DES KENNY, Apr 04, 2019, Galway Advertiser)
    -ESSAY: T.F. Powys and Liam O’Flaherty (PATRICK QUIGLEY, The Powys Journal)
    -ESSAY: Insurrection fiction: Before Sunday’s commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising and the thousandth anniversary later this month of the Battle of Clontarf, we look at how fiction has dealt with our violent and disputed history of invasions, battles, insurrections and civil conflicts. (Sarah Gilmartin, 4/18/20, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: Raising the Devil: The Unspeakable Fictions of Liam O’Flaherty (Dave Lordan, Winter 2014, The Stinging Fly)
    -ESSAY: Gypo Goes to Hollywood: Three Images of the Irish Informer (Roy Goldblatt, Irish Journal of American Studies)
    -ESSAY: The Informer: The Life and Art of Liam O’Flaherty (An essay included in the book by Ruth Dudley Edwards, Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century)
    -ESSAY: A Nation Gone Wrong: Liam O'Flaherty's Vision of Modern Ireland (Brian Donnelly, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review)
    -ESSAY: The “informer” and the political and organisational culture of the Irish republican movement: old and new interpretations (Stephen Hopkins, Irish Studies Review)
    -INTERVIEW:: The Reds and the Green: AN INTERVIEW WITH EMMET O’CONNOR: The Irish fight for freedom inspired revolutionaries around the world. Yet the Comintern founded in 1919 struggled to build a lasting socialist presence in independent Ireland’s politics. (David Broder, March 2019, Jacobin)
    -ESSAY: THE ANTI-CLIMAX AND O'FLAHERTY'S ASSASSIN (Sean Matgamna, 2/17/17, Workers' Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Ireland’s Comintern Generation (Maurice J. Casey, RTE)
    -ESSAY: "Carry the Wild Rose of Insurrection" : Liam O'Flaherty's Novel on the Easter Rising (Gustav Klaus, Etudes irlandaises)
    -ARCHIVES: Liam O'Flaherty (National Library of Ireland)
    -ARCHIVES: Liam O'Flaherty (
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Liam O'Flaherty (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Informer (Bob Corbett,
    -REVIEW: of The Informer (Sergei Dinamov’s review of Liam O’Flaherty’s THE INFORMER, from a 1927 edition of the Soviet literary journal PRINT AND REVOLUTION)
    -REVIEW: of The Informer (Feckless Wonder, Hipster Book Club)
    -REVIEW: of The Informer (Nicholas Reid, Reid's Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Insurrection by Liam O'Flaherty (Jenny Farrell, galway: Decade of Commemoration)
    -REVIEW: of Hollywood Cemetery by Liam O'Flaherty (Jenny Farrell, Culture Matters)
    -REVIEW: of The Stories of Liam O'Flaherty (TIME)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Liam O'Flaherty (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Informer (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Informer (1935) (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Informer (1935 film)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: John Ford (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: John Ford: American director (John Sayles, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: John Ford
    -ARTICLE: The Informer by John Ford is immortalised 83 years after Irish censor called it a ‘brutal libel’ (Eithne Shortall, December 16 2018, The Sunday Times)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: The Informer (Metacritic)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Lee Pfeiffer, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Meter Levin, Esquire)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Helen Brown Norden, Vanity Fair)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Graham Greene, The Spectator)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Andre Sennwald, NY Times))
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Kevin Jack Hagopian, New York State Writers Institute)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Kim Newman, Empire)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Informer (Self-Styled Siren)

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