Mirroring the Dark and Beautiful Warriors: Images of Blacks
Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange have created a multiplicity of realistic images of black men and women. The picture of black life that these dramatists offer is decidedly different from that portrayed by white female or black or white male dramatists between the 1950S and 1980s. Viewing black life from a special angle, these playwrights have worked to redefine the American stage that has traditionally been populated with stereotypes of blacks. These dramatists have literally reshaped American theater to include their visions of blacks, an especially difficult task because of the narrow and particularistic portraits of blacks that have dominated the stage.
Many well-meaning white dramatists between the 1920s and 1930s, such as Ridgely Torrence, Marc Connelly, Paul Green, and Eugene O'Neill, chose blacks as subject matter. Alvin Goldfarb and Edwin Wilson, in The Living Theatre, argue that "though many of the plays of these white dramatists are now considered condescending to blacks, they were not racist in intent, nor were they so regarded at the time, and they reflected a growing, if naive, interest in black life among whites." 1 These and other white writers, however, added to the list of stereotypes of blacks because their experiences and their racial background could not prepare them to interpret black life accurately. They were outsiders looking in and, as such, created peripheral characters.
The Negro character appeared in literature long before Ridgely Torrence's popularization of the Negro as subject matter. Jean Fagan Yellin, in The Intricate Knot, contends that a study of the characterization of black figures