Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined

By Victor A. Kramer; Robert A. Russ | Go to book overview

she attempts to experiment beyond the confines of realistic drama. The first appeared in Opportunity and the second in the Crisis. The Pot Maker is a folk play. A newly-called black country preacher sets a trap to destroy his wife and her lover but falls victim to a similar fate himself. The play compares human actions to the story of a pot maker who carefully mends his broken wares, then tests each piece for its ability to withstand the pressures of its surroundings. The moral of the piece is that the flaws in humanity will be healed when people behave toward each other without jealousy and anger. This is the only one of Bonner's plays in which the characters speak in dialect. It uses a realistic setting but employs analogy as the vehicle for its action. In this way Bonner extends the conventional boundaries of the black folk play of her day. In Exit an Illusion, once again she departs from realistic portrayal to experiment with symbolic action and staging. The plot revolves around a young man who kills his girlfriend because he is jealous of her relationship with a man whom he thinks is white. Exit, the supposed rival, however, is an illusion, a fact which the disgruntled lover discovers only after he has destroyed the woman whom he loves.

Bonner's work stands out because she was a gifted writer who dared to risk extending her vision beyond the traditional limits of the writings going on around her. Today we might well wonder what she might have achieved had she received the necessary encouragement for her work in the 1920s.

Although Marita Bonner did not focus on issues connected specifically with women's lives, as we have seen, many other black women playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance did so. This is not surprising. At the same time, it is also evident that these women were intimately concerned with racial matters, and that they saw the black community as a unit, and they expected men and women to work together on all areas of the problems they faced. There is woman- centeredness in their writings, but no diminution of the need for positive relationships with men. In characterization, the women in the plays are neither exotic nor passive, regardless of their economic or educational status. They respond and react to life around them with full awareness of the conditions against which they struggle. Their anger and pain are never muffled, and they are never wanting in courage. The middle-class professional women who wrote these plays were not trying to create genteel worlds for black women in their art. They were interested in producing images that represented the lives of black people as honestly as they could. While they did not achieve fame or receive adequate recognition for their efforts, they left their mark on the literature of their day.


NOTES
1.
See James V. Hatch, ed., Black Theatre U.S.A.: Forty-Five Plays by Black Americans ( New York: Free Press, 1974); Doris Abrahamson, Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre 1925-59 ( New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1967); Sterling Brown, Negro Poetry and Drama (1937; reprint, New York: Atheneum, 1969); and Loften Mitchell, Black Drama: The Story of the American Negro in the Theatre ( New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967).

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