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Black Shack Alley vs Sugar Cane Alley

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Submitted By mariaoquendo13
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Black Shack Alley: Movie vs. Book

Sugar Cane Alley is a film directed by Euzhan Palcy that depicts Joseph Zobel’s novel, Black Shack Alley. Both the film and the novel are set in Martinique and follow the life of José as he matures and struggles to escape the poverty and hardships of a sugar cane plantation in the colonial Caribbean. With the love, sacrifice and support from his family, while both the movie and book narrate the same story of achievement and overcoming obstacles, it is remarkable to examine the adaptations Palcy made upon the original text. Whether it’s a change on character dialogues, appearances, or modifications to José maturity and education, every different adjustment made confronts and addresses the issues of slavery, racial inequality, and the push for a collective African heritage and identity conveyed through Zobel’s text. It is essential to point out that the most obvious difference between both works is the time discrepancy. In the novel, José’s maturity progresses over a period of many years, starting with the age of seven and elongating all the way through his education at the lyceé. On the other hand, Palcy presents José as having reached maturity very early in the movie. The incident of the broken bowl exemplifies this adaptation. In the original text the incident occurs when José invites his friends inside to snack on goodies and sugar (which was very protected by M’an Tine). Urged by José’s initiative, they then proceed to search the shack for the sugar and breaking M’an Tine’s bowl in the process. This creates a sense of culpability in José, who automatically realizes what he just encountered and immediately bursts out in tears. The events presented in the novel serve as testament to the innocence and youth of the kids. However, Palcy modifies this scene in a way that José is portrayed as more respectful, mature, and protective of M’an Tine’s shack. Palcy presents him as resisting his friends’ attempts of entering the shack and searching everywhere for the sugar bowl. Also, instead of breaking out in tears, as the novel suggested, José’s character in the movie puts on the effort of trying to put together the broken pieces, meanwhile he acknowledges the inevitable punishment M’am Tine will put him through once she realizes what they did. This difference, although seems unimportant, is essential in order for the story to seem credible to the viewer. Therefore, if José’s early physical appearance in both works is presented as the same, so should his maturity, and thus we see the change from the original version in the novel. Similarly, José’s educational background is altered in such way that the viewer might think his education is a strong one since the beginning. This is exemplified with the early presence of Carmen during the film, who doesn’t appear in Zobel’s text until José reaches the lycée at Fort de France. Another noticeably modification is the fact that Palcy removes Ms. Delia (José’s mother) from the film in order to give more strength to José’s and M’an Tine’s relationship. Ms. Delia’s absence now places M’am Tine as José’s caretaker. She is the one who accompanies him to the lycée and the one responsible to work herself to exhaustion in order to provide her grandson and pay his tuition. This direct linkage of M’am Tine’s health put to risk in order for her grandson to succeed allows the audience to view hear heart attack and death as an act of love, devotion, and determination in order to see her grandson overcome every hardship lived. Not only does Palcy remove Ms. Delia, but also she incorporates the presence of a new friend for José, Leopold, which is thought to be inspired by the character Jojo in Zobel’s novel. One final adaptation observed in the movie, amongst the many others observed, is the alteration of the dialogues between José and Mr. Medouze that focus explicitly on slavery themes and African heritage. In the novel, Mr. Medouze refers to Guinea as the birthplace of his family. However, in the film he develops in details the hardships brought among him, his family, and his ancestors due to slavery and the arrival of black people to Martinique, who where destined to become slaves. It can be concluded that although film modifies some of Zobel’s expositions, it still handles elegantly the technical issues of converting the book to film while directly addressing the matter of slavery in colonial societies.…...

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