What did I find in common in the plays Raisin in the Sun, Soldier’s Play and ‘Night Mother? For one, the characters are forcing their way since they get nothing by asking politely.
In Raisin in the Sun Mama Younger forces her family’s way into a white district in Chicago, ignoring the segregation that ruled in the time. She understood that not even her own family would have agreed to her if they had a round table kind of talk, let alone white folks. So, she did what she had to do without any guarantees that things would turn out to be fine, especially when one white representative of their future neighbours tried to buy them off for changing their minds about the move. This made me think of the ‘Sit In’ campaign of the 1960s when Negroes would sit in a white section of a diner, for instance, and expect to be served. They were forcing a new acceptance just like Rosa Parks did when she sat on a non-coloured section on a bus in 1955. In a way, my sympathies lie more with Malcolm X’s style of protest, super active, than just the rhetorical one of Martin Luther King. In Raisin, Mama acted just like Malcolm X would have – not asking for permission, but forcing her way in.
In ‘Night Mother Jessie forced everyone who ignored her for years to finally listen. She committed suicide because this was the only way to be heard. She was deprived of a life of her own, when only the others seemed to have all liberties, some even taken from her. Her son did what he felt like acting like a criminal. Her husband took on a lover and walked away from her. Her mother shaped her life around the certainty that Jessie would always be there for her, that she was hers in body and soul. But who was there for Jessie? When she shut that door at the end of the play, this was her final cry, but the shot she took was the forced way out: to freedom. Despite my negative feelings about suicide, seeing it as the solution for the weak, Marsha Norman succeeded in making me understand that the suicide was not an act of desperation, but of heroism because Jessie finally stood up for herself, forcing others to notice that she, too, had the right to do with her life what she wanted to.
Sargent Waters in A Soldier’s Play forced the Negro Armed Forces by his unpleasantness to realize that their situation would never improve if they did not stood up for themselves, even if this meant to assimilate instead of separate. He forced them to see that in times of WWII they were not supposed to be fighting Hitler, but their own country.
America is rich in theatre and literature depicting ways in which characters force the new way when the three examples in this text are nothing more than a quick taste of it. Americans are proud people – sometimes for the wrong reasons, but what forcing their way is concerned (in the good or in the bad way), they are indeed masters.
Luciana B. Veit