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Blues for Mister Charlie


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A: James Baldwin Pf: 1964, New York Pb: 1964 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Small Southern town, early 1960s C: 15m, 6f, extrasThe play opens with the racial killing of a black youth. The events that led up to the killing are presented as flashbacks in the subsequent trial. The victim is Richard Henry, the son of a black minister, Meridian Henry. Richard has recently returned to the South from New York, where he succumbed to drugs, and is now leading a non-violent civil rights movement (however, we see his father hiding Richard's gun under a Bible). Richard's militant attitude stirs up hatred between the ‘Blacktown’ and the ‘Whitetown’. Lyle Britten, a white bigot who owns the local general store, is tried for Richard's murder. Richard's grandmother Mother Henry lies to protect Richard's reputation, and when Meridian speaks out for his son, he is branded a communist agitator. Only Parnell James, the liberal newspaper editor, is not caught up in the racial polarization in the community. He supports racial equality and has black friends. He also secretly loves Juanita, the beautiful black girl with whom Richard had intended to elope on the day of his murder. Caught between conflicting loyalties, James gives evidence that helps to acquit Richard's killer. At the end, the murder is re-enacted: Richard boasts of the sexual superiority of black men, as Britten indignantly fills him with bullets. Outraged at Britten's acquittal, the blacks prepare to march, and the whites get ready to prevent them.

A: James Baldwin Pf: 1964, New York Pb: 1964 G: Drama in 3 acts S: Small Southern town, early 1960s C: 15m, 6f, extras

Growing up in Harlem and aware of the humiliation to which African-Americans were subjected even in the ‘liberal’ North, Baldwin spoke out in his novels and plays about racial oppression. This play is based on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi. In cinematic scenes based on a fluid movement of time and place, Baldwin is at pains to show that Richard is himself flawed, and that stereotypes about racial superiority are not confined to the white community.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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