Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Folk Comedy in Collaboration: The Mule Bone Affair

Langston Hughes interest in black folk culture is evident in Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life ( 1930), written in collaboration with Zora Neale Hurston . However, his concern for folk characterizations can be seen as well in his first published play, The Gold Piece: A Play That Might Be True ( 1921), which draws on images he witnessed during his stay in Toluca, Mexico, with his father. The play appeared in the July 1921 edition of the Brownies' Book, a "junior version of the The Crisis." 1 The Gold Piece as well as two poems, Fairies and Winter Sweetness," were accepted for publication by the editor of the Brownies' Book, Jessie Fauset , who nurtured Hughes's early literary development. 2

Hughes had hoped that The Gold Piece might be included in Five Plays by Langston Hughes ( 1963), edited by Webster Smalley, but it was not part of the collection. The play was also supposed to have been staged at Karamu House, although no date was given for the performance. 3 Though juvenilia, The Gold Piece shows certain thematic tendencies that would be expanded in Hughes's later dramatic works: folk culture, family relationships and economic necessity. Unlike in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" ( 1921) with its strong themes of African heritage, Hughes explores the fairy tale world of ironic fate in The Gold Piece. The short play is built around three characters drawn from Mexican folk culture: Pablo, a "Peasant Boy"; Rosa, his wife; and an "Old Woman".

The economic circumstances of the youthful husband and wife are evident in the description of their dwelling, "a hut by the roadside." The play opens with the husband and wife admiring a fifty floren gold piece,

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