The Purple Flower |

The Purple Flower

MARITA BONNER was born in 1928.

Author biographies.

The summary of the PLOT.


Historical context.

Critical overview of the sciences.

It is a crime.


Further reading.

According to Joyce Flynn in Frye Street and Environs : The Collected Works of Marita Bonner, The Purple Flower is a short, one-act play by Marita Bonner, an African-American writer of the Harlem Renaissance. The Purple Flower was the first prize winner in the 1927 Crisis magazine literary awards.

Although The Purple Flower is an allegory for racial relations in the United States, it could be applied anywhere in the world at any point in history. There are two sets of characters in the play. African Americans are represented by the Us ‘s. The WhiteDevils live on the hill, atop of which grows the purple Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest. The Us live in the valley and spend their time trying to reach the hill, a goal that the White Devils do everything in their power to keep them from attaining. The stage is divided into two levels by a thin board. The upper level holds the dialogue and main action. The lower level is occupied by a group of people who dance around and mimic the action on the upper level. The best way to raise a person ‘s status is represented by the individual characters among the Us ‘s.

An Old Man in the play mixes in an iron pot a conjuring Potion made up of dust, books, gold and human blood. Finest Blood, the bravest Young Us, is sent off to confront the White Devils with the power of music, faith, and the readiness to sacrifice his own blood. The Old Man combines the contributions of many different members of the community to give birth to a new man who will fight for equality.

On June 16, 1899, Marita was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a machinist. She had three siblings who died in childhood. In 1918, she majored in English and comparative literature at Radcliffe College. Because African-American students were not allowed to live on campus, she lived at home. She was 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 800-273-3217 From 1922 to 1924, Bonner taught English at Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, Virginia. From 1925 to 1930.

The short story “ The Hands-A Story ” was published in Opportunity magazine in 1925. Her essay about being young and black was published in a magazine. Through 1941, she continued to publish short stories, essays, plays, and reviews. While in Washington, D. The Harlem Renaissance is a term used to describe a period of flowering of African- American literature during the 1920s.

Critics referred to her by her maiden name rather than her married name when she was married to William Almy Occomy in 1930. William Almy, Jr., was raised in Chicago by the couple and their three children. Marita Joyce and Warwick Noel. “ One True Love ” appeared in Crisis magazine in 1941. In the 1940s, Bonner devoted more time to child rearing and became more involved in the religion of Christian Science. She taught English atPhillips High School in Chicago from 1950 to 1963. There was a fire in her apartment.


The flower-of-life-at-its-fullest grows on the hill as the play opens. The Us ‘s have worked to build all of the roads and houses on the hill, but are forced to live in the valley, where they spend their time trying to figure out ways to get up the hill. The WhiteDevils tried every trick known and unknown to prevent the Us from reaching the hill.

The Us rest beside a brook, with their backs toward Nowhere and their faces toward Somewhere. They can be heard singing from the hillside, “ You stay where you are! ” and “ We do n’t want you up here! ” He claims that he will go up the hill when he ‘s ready, but then he falls asleep. An old lady despairs that she will never get to the hill to see the flower, even though she has worked hard all her life to get somewhere. She has only gotten a slap in the face, according to a Young Us. The Old Lady said that the leader told them that they could succeed if they showed the White Devil how to work hard. Another young person says that working for the White Devil gets them nowhere. The Old Lady says that something needs to be done.

An Old Man, An Old Woman, A Young Us, and the Young Girl walk up and join the group. The old lady told the older man that the us are never going to make it up the hill. Average says they will as soon as they get the right leaders. The Middle-Aged Woman says that the problem is not getting the right leaders but that infighting prevents the leaders from doing anything. The Old Lady said that the Us ‘s are going to have a meeting to discuss what to do to make it up the hill. Average complains that talking does n’t do anything, but his daughter and son volunteer to speak at the meeting.

An Old Us is beating on a drum. Some of the other Us, roused by the sound of the drumming, begin to dance. The purple flower can still be seen at the top of the hill. An old man with a long beard is urging others to work hard to reach the hill. They retorted that they have been told all their lives to work hard, but that has gotten them nowhere. A young man tosses a bundle of books to the ground because they do n’t say anything about how Black Us can overcome the White Devil. A Young Man and A Young Us argue that calling to God does not do any good.

Sweet ran out of the bushes and told the others that a White Devil was hiding there and pinched her when she walked by. Cornerstone warns Finest Blood that the White Devil will kill him if he picks up a rock with the intention of going after them. His father says that he is better off staying where he is because he has food and shelter. A Newcomer carries two heavy bags of gold and drops them to the ground. All of his money does n’t do him any good because he wo n’t be allowed to buy anything or get somewhere with it.

An old lady told the others that she had a dream of a White Devil. An old man is thanking God and asking for an old iron pot. He begins conjuring by calling upon the ancestors of the Us. The voices.

The Old Man asks for a small amount of dust, which An Old Woman throws into the pot. The man is asking for books. The young man put the books in the pot. The Man of the Gold Bags puts the old man ‘s request into a pot. The Old Man asked for blood from the eyes, ears, and the whole body.

The other Us are silent. Finest Blood is about to offer his blood. The Old Man tells Cornerstone that she is needed by the other Us. The Old Man says that he is doing what God has told him to do. He says that God will shape a new man if he mixes the dust, books, gold, and blood. The New Man must be born, because Finest Blood offers his own blood. The Old Man told Finest Blood how to approach the WhiteDevils and tell them that blood has been taken and blood must be given. Finest Blood goes off into the night to fight the WhiteDevils, while the other Us and the WhiteDevils listen. The final stage directions said to let the curtain close and listen. Is it time ?

Another group of people.

A person is lying on his back chewing a piece of grass. He tells the others that he is not concerned with the White Devil, but he rolls over and goes to sleep, indicating his indifference towards the idea of fighting for racial equality.

Another group of young people.

Like the first Young Us, Another Young Us disagrees with the Old Lady that hard work does not improve the status of the Us.


The right leaders are what is needed to improve the status of the Us. He is against the idea of having a meeting to talk about what can be done. Average expresses the hopelessness of the Us ever making it up the hill. The average is an attitude about the status of the Us. He told the other Us that they should stay safe and sound because they have food and shelter. The average person would rather accept what he has than fight for more equality, according to this character.

The Cornerstone.

Cornerstone believes that the problem is not a lack of good leaders to strive for greater equality but a lack of unity among us. She says holding a meeting is important because talking is better than not talking. Cornerstone was persuaded not to sacrifice her own blood when her son Finest Blood volunteered to sacrifice his blood to the conjurer. The Old Man convinces her that Finest Blood is important to confront the White Devil. Cornerstone is the cornerstone of her community and INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals INRDeals

We are the first young ones.

There is no point in working hard all your life if it does n’t get you anywhere, argues the First Young Us. He compares a life of labor to boring around in the same hole like a worm, which results in making the hole bigger to stay in. The viewpoint of A Young Us is that laboring away at the type of menial job available to the African Americans will not improve the status of the race. The Old Us argue that the Young Us should give God a chance to talk to him instead of spending so much time talking to God. The Young Us is skeptical when the Old Man tries to help them.

The grass chewer.

You can see another us.

The man has gold bags.

You can see the newcomer.

The woman is Middle-Aged.

You can see Cornerstone.

The new person.

The Newcomer walked up to the group of Us carrying a heavy bag of gold and dropped to the ground. Even though he has money, he does n’t get to stay on the hill because the WhiteDevils refuse to sell him any land or property. The effects of racial prejudice prevent African Americans from buying homes or other property in desirable locations.

An old lady.

The Old Lady does n’t want to see the purple flower. She insists that something needs to be done about the White Devil, but she believes that they will make the hill. The Old Lady has spent her entire life working for whites and has lost hope of ever attaining racial equality.

An old man.

The old man beats a drum and gets the attention of all of us. He says that it is time after an old woman said that she had a White Devil dream. The Old Man uses an iron pot to conjure. He calls upon all of the ancestors of the Us. He wants a small amount of dust to put in the pot. He added a bundle of books and a bag of gold. The Old Man asked for red blood. He says that he is doing what God has told him to do in order to shape a new man. Finest Blood was advised by the Old Man to confront the White Devil.

White devils are sundry.

The lower level of the stage is occupied by the Sundry White Devils. The main action takes place on the upper level. Artful little things with soft wide eyes such as you would expect to find in an angel are described. They have soft hair and their horns are red all the time. They have bones tied across their tails to make them seem less like tails and more like decorations. The WhiteDevils are full of artful movements and artful tricks. They dance as if they were men and sometimes as if they were snakes. Try every trick, known or unknown, to keep the Us from getting to the hill. The WhiteDevils are white people who oppress others. They try every trick in the book to keep their privilege over African Americans. They imply that racism is imposed upon people of color through various forms of deception. White people sometimes behave like men with dignity and sometimes like snakes, which is indicative of their association with snakes, a traditional symbol of evil.

A young girl is sweet.

The young girl is described as a medium light brown girl. Sweet is sexually harassed by a White Devil who hides in the bushes and pinches her when she walks by. This incident is an allusion to the history of rape and sexual abuse of African-American women, particularly in slavery, by white men.

A man is young.

There is n’t anything in one of the books that tells black people how to get around white people. The efforts of African Americans to improve their status through education is represented by this young man. The implication is that education is not effective because the educational system is dominated by white people.

The young man has fine blood.

The Young Man-Finest Blood is a slender, tall, bronzy brown youth who walks with his head high. As he walks, he touches the ground with his feet as if it were a velvet rug and not jagged rocks. After his sister, Sweet, reports that she has been pinched by a White Devil hiding in the bushes, Finest Blood immediately picks up a rock and starts after the White Devil, but the others discourage him from exacting a violent revenge. Finest Blood immediately volunteered his own blood when the Old Man said he needed red blood. According to the Old Man, Finest Blood should confront the White Devils after the play is over. His voice lifted, young, sweet, brave and strong, as he said the closing lines of the play. The New Man who possesses all of the finest qualities needed to fight for racial equality is referred to as Finest Blood.


The Us in the play are not slaves, but their situation is.

There are appendices for further study.

  • Bonner wrote an essay about being young a woman and colored. What are the issues and concerns that she raises in this essay ?
  • It has been said that the plays were written to be read. None of her plays were ever performed, although they were published in magazines. There is a segment from The Purple Flower. How can you better understand the meaning of the play ?
  • African-American experiences in the urban environment of Chicago during the Depression are reflected in the short stories published by Bonner. You can learn more about the experience of African Americans during the Depression.
  • The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of African- American literature in the 1920s. The Harlem Renaissance has writers, musicians, and artists associated with it. What are the social, political, and aesthetic concerns associated with the Harlem Renaissance ?
  • The characters, actions, and events of the play are meant to be interpreted in a symbolic way. Issues of racial conflict in America were addressed by this form. Try to write a scene that is an allegory for a particular social or political issue. What is the moral of the play or scene ?
  • In the 1930s, Chicago was the setting for much of Bonner ‘s fiction. You can learn more about the history and culture of the African-American population of Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century.

African Americans have a legacy of slavery. The Us cultivated the valley and made it as beautiful as it is, according to an introductory explanation of the play. They built houses for the White Devil. The prosperity of the United States was built in part by the labor of African-American slaves. Slavery and hard labor take their toll on us. An Old Us joined the group and explained that he is blind from building in the heat of the noon-day sun. The White Devil let them build houses and then knocked them down into the valley. The Old Man refers to the work of slavery at the expense of the slaves, just before Finest Blood sets off to confront the White Devil. They watered the cotton crops with our blood. The goal of Finest Blood is to seek revenge for the loss of blood that the Us have suffered from hundreds of years of slavery.

Leadership and the new man.

The play is concerned with social action and the question of leadership is an important one. The Us debated various ways of trying to make it up the hill. Cornerstone argues that the problem is not a lack of leaders, it is the infighting that prevents the leaders from achieving anything. The Old Man with the drum is one of the leaders of the community of Us ‘s, bringing together the traditional culture of the Old Us ‘s and the new ideas of the educated and financially successful Us ‘s. Old Man inspired a Young Us, Finest Blood, to step forth as a new leader in the struggle of the Us. The young leader will emerge as the New Man as the Wisdom of the Old Man helps him to reach the hill.

There is a religion.

The role of religion in achieving equality is discussed by the Us. An Old Us claims that he is powerful and that he will move in his own time. The Old Man tells the other people that he is a servant of God and that he is doing what God told him to do. God will create a new man if he does what he is told to do. The Old Man Finest advises Blood to give blood because he is an instrument of God. The importance of religion in the struggle of African Americans for equality is indicated by this.

White Privilege.

Those who enjoy the privileges of being white in a white-dominated society are represented by the White Devil living on the hill. Although they have enslaved the Us and employed them in hard labor to work their land and build their houses and roads, they do everything in their power to keep the Us from reaching the hill. The idea that white people are skillful in their efforts to keep African Americans from achieving equality is expressed in the stage directions.

There is allegory.

The play is called The Purple Flower. An allegory is a story in which the characters, settings, and action are meant to be representative of a social or political situation. There is a moral or lesson to be learned from this situation. The play is an example of race relations in the United States, in which the Us represent African Americans, and the WhiteDevils represent white Americans. The hill with the purple flower is the realm of the privileged, while the valley is the realm of the underprivileged. The characters ‘ discussion of how to reach the hill symbolizes various debates among African Americans as to how they should go about trying to achieve equality, as they represent a variety of attitudes toward these race relations.

Setting is about time and place.

The historical position of African Americans in the United States is depicted in The Purple Flower. The directions state that the place might be here, there or anywhere. The inequality that characterizes the status of the us in relation to the white devils exists anywhere and everywhere in the world, although it is particularly concerned with black-white racial inequality in the us. The setting is an open plain, with a hill in the distance, representing Somewhere, atop which the purple Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest grows. It is on the other side. The Us ‘s want more than anything to get “ Somewhere ” in life, while their historical legacy as African Americans is one in which racial oppression has allowed them to get “ Nowhere ” in life. The valley in which the Us ‘s reside represents the low socio-economic status of African Americans in the United States, while the hill represents the high socio-economic status of white Americans.

The time of the play is called The Middle-of-things-as-They-are. It means the end of things for some characters and the beginning of things for others. Current racial relations are described in the middle-of-things-as-fhey-are. If the action taken by Finest Blood leads to the birth of the “ New Man ”, the end of the play may be the “ end-of-things ” for both the Us ‘s and the WhiteDevils. If African Americans are able to achieve racial equality, it will be the end of the status-quo.


The two types of characters in The Purple Flower are meant to be understood in terms of allegory. At one point, The Us ‘s were referred to as Black Us, while the White Devil ‘s were referred to as African Americans. There are no individual characters and there is no dialogue among the WhiteDevils. From the perspective of the oppressing race, the dominant whites represent a mass power block. The Us who carry the main action and all of the dialogue in this play are referred to as A Young Us, An Old Us, Another Young Us, and an Old Woman. Allegorically, each Us has an attitude about the status of African Americans and how to improve it. There is a generation gap in thinking about race relations. The production notes state that the Us can be white, brown, and black, but not necessarily of African descent. This suggests that the Us represent a variety of people from different cultures.

The literary movements of black people in the 20th century.

The Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement are two important literary movements. The Harlem Renaissance is a period in the 1920s in which African-American literature flourished among a group of writers concentrated in Harlem, New York. Notable writers of the Harlem Renaissance include : James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man ; Claude McKay, who wrote the novel Home to Harlem ; and Langston Hughes, who wrote the poetry collection The Weary Blues. The financial status of many African-American writers was affected by the Great Depression.

She is associated with the Harlem Renaissance because of her involvement in the “ S ” Street Salon, a gathering of writers in Washington. They met at the home of Georgia Douglas Johnson. The three major urban centers in which she lived were Boston, Washington, and D. Similar themes are addressed in Chicago and Harlem. While in Washington, D. The Krigwa Players are an African-American organization of dramatists. The majority of Bonner ‘s plays, short stories, and essays were published in two African-American magazines. The National Association for the advancement of Colored People ( NAACP ) founded The Crisis : A Record of the Darker Races in 1910 as a monthly publication. The city of DuBois. The works of many young African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance were published by The Crisis during the 1920s. A Journal of Negro Life, a publication of the National Urban League, was an important promoter of Harlem Renaissance writers.

The Black Arts Movement, also referred to as the Black Aesthetic Movement, emerged in the 1960s and 70s as a movement that promoted politically and socially significant works, often written in Black English. Some of the most important writers of the Black Arts movement include : Le Roi Jones, Imamu Amiri Baraka, and Alice Walker.

The theater is African-American.

The development of African-American theater in the first half of the twentieth century was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and included the establishment of theaters devoted to black productions in major cities throughout the United States. The American Negro Theater and the Negro Playwrights were the most prominent Black theaters.

There is a company and a confederation.

  • 1910s : Rachel. The first successful stage play by an African-American writer is Grimke. The Harlem Renaissance is a period of flowering of African-American literature and the arts. The Krigwa Players are in Washington. The association of African-American dramatists is from the Harlem Renaissance era. Depression, which began with the stock market crash of 1929, results in economic hardship for writers of the Harlem Renaissance, leading to a decline in literary production and the end of the Harlem Renaissance era. The American Negro Theater is one of the most prominent African-American theaters in the United States. The most prominent and widely celebrated play by an African-American writer is A Raisin in the Sun. The cutting edge of African-American artistic and literary style and philosophy can be found in the 1960s and 1970s. The Dutchman is an early production of the Black Arts movement. The Black Arts Movement inspired the establishment of the Black Repertory Theater in Harlem. For colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf is a successful, experimental play, inspired by the Black Arts Movement, addressing issues of concern to African-American women. Black theaters have been established throughout the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. The Black Arts movement influenced a new generation of writers and artists. Black Bottom is the most celebrated play of the 1980s by an African-American writer.

The company is a company. African-American theater became more political and focused on celebrating African-American culture after World War II. The 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun was one of the most prominent works from this period.

The establishment of the Repertory Theater in Harlem was initiated by the Black Arts movement. The Dutchman is one of the most celebrated dramatic works of this period. The 1977 play, for colored girls who have considered suicide, used an experimental dramatic format to address issues facing African-American women. August Wilson wrote Black Bottom, a play about a blues singer and her band, in the 1980s.

The second of three plays published by Bonner is called The Purple Flower. The first, The Pot-Maker, appeared in Opportunity magazine in 1927, and the second, Exit, was published in The Crisis in 1929. The purple flower was the first prize in the 1927 Crisis Contest Awards. In Frye Street and Environs, Joyce Flynn says that Bonner ‘s dramas are all “ morality plays ” which continue her exploration of the black American as Everyman/ Every woman. Flynn refers to The Purple Flower as an allegory of the black quest for freedom and happiness in post-Emancipation North America. The Purple Flower deals with black aspiration and relevance of the myth of the American melting pot. The drama assumes that there will be a violent racial revolution in America.

In Black Women Intellectuals, Carol Allen describes Bonner ‘s contribution to the Harlem Renaissance literary movement through her participation in the “ S ” Street Salon and the Krigwa Players, both of which met in Washington, D.

As she and others like her fueled the Harlem-based cultural revival with their intense discussion, critique, and public performance, her contribution to these groups can not be stressed enough. The Salon could be seen as a modern stop on the Underground Railroad, leading to an expression of the diversity in black culture.

Some of the Salon ‘s collective appreciation for black art was transferred when Bonner left Washington in 1930. Critics focus on the portrayals of urban life in Chicago during the Depression years of the 1930s. Her texts focus on how segregation and gender expectations affect the development of black subjects. Flynn describes Chicago as a fallen world both in terms of race relations and the doomed ambitions of the city ‘s black immigrants from the South. She also targets the resistance and pleasure created from and within urban neighborhoods by struggling black migrants and immigrants of all colors. Bonner exposed the city ‘s oppressive side, but also found strength in the new cultural exchanges that urban neighborhoods fostered.

Flynn referred to Bonner as one of the most versatile early twentieth-century black writers. She won an award from Crisis magazine in 1925 for her essay “ On Being Young — a Woman — and Colored ” and the Opportunity magazine literary prize for fiction for her story “ Tin Can ” in 1933. Her works can be found in Frye Street and Environs. The collection Black Theater U includes The Purple Flower. Forty-five plays by Black Americans were published in 1974. Black Women Intellectuals : Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood in the Works of Jessie Fauset, andMarita Bonner was written by Allen. The stories and feelings of the black universe coming to consciousness in northern cities in the decades that separated the world wars has kept alive an entire world, according to Flynn. Flynn concludes that for that act of imaginative deliverance, more generations will be grateful.

Liz Brent is a person.

He has a degree. From the University of Michigan, specializing in film studies. She teaches courses in the history of American cinema. The significance of music and religion to social action is discussed in the following essay.

The value of culture in the struggle for equality is celebrated by Carol Allen in her book Black Women Intellectuals. She notes that Bonner sees a village springing from the construction of old and new world practices and beliefs. Music and religion are important to the struggle of African Americans for racial equality in The Purple Flower. Music and religion are derived from both old and new world practices and beliefs.

As the Us in the valley hear the song of the White Devils from the hillside, the sound of their singing rolls across the valley.

You stay where you are!We don’t want you up here!If you come you’ll be on parWith all we hold dear.So stay—stay—stay—Yes stay where you are!

This is anything but subtle. The song articulates the racist view held by the White Devil who want to make sure that the Us stay where they are. The musical theme that runs throughout the play is due to the fact that the WhiteDevils communicate this message through singing a song. As the Us work towards an effective strategy in their fight for racial equality, their own music serves as a counterpoint to the oppressive music of the White Devils.

The Old Man ‘s approach to music is indicated by a drumbeat heard in the distance. The Old Man beats the drum with strong, vigorous jabs that make the whole valley echo. Upon hearing the drumbeat, all the Us stood up and shook off their sleep. The Old Man approaches and the Us all congregate at the center front. Some of the Us begin to dance in time to the music. The sound of his drumming roused the Us ‘s, who have been lying around relaxing and arguing amongst themselves, to rise to their feet and gather together as a group. Some are motivated to start dancing to the beat of the drum. The community of Us ‘s is galvanized by the Old Man ‘s drumming, which eventually leads to the creation of a new strategy in their fight for equality with the White Devil. The significance of the Old Man ‘s drumming is that African-American cultural practices, such as music and dance, can be a powerful force in the struggle for racial equality with the potential to rouse the members of the community from their complacency, bring them together as a group, and inspire them

The drumming of the Old Man is associated with traditional African culture. According to Joyce Flynn, Bonner ‘s inclusion of drum music seems to be a deliberate Africanism. The African-American community, represented in this play by the Us ‘s, have something to gain by looking back to their African cultural heritage for guidance in the fight for equality. The practice of conjuring by the Old Man introduces elements of African cultural heritage into the community. Traditional African religious practices have developed into the practice of voodoo in the Americas. The combination of traditional African religions brought to the Americas by slaves and the beliefs of the Catholic Church led to the development of voguish.

French colonizers sent their people to Haiti. Through conjuring, the Old Man in the play draws from African and African-American traditions to empower the community of Us. The Old Man begins conjuring by looking at the past and present. Ancestor worship is associated with African culture. The old man asked if he could hear him. Do you hear me, Old Us ?

What do I read next ?

  • The Pot-Maker was first published in Opportunity magazine.
  • The third and final play by Bonner was published in Crisis magazine.
  • The essay “ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain ” by Langston Hughes is in The Ideology of Blackness, edited by Raymond Betts.
  • For colored girls who have considered suicide, Ntozake Shange ‘s play “ when the rainbow is enuf ” is a highly celebrated experimental black feminist play first produced during the era of the Black Arts Movement.
  • Black Bottom was written by August Wilson and was a work of African-American theater from the period after the Black Arts Movement. The story is about a blues singer and her band.
  • The Harlem Renaissance : A History of Black People in America, 1880-1930 is a history of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, and Louis Armstrong.
  • A collection of short stories by women writers of the Harlem Renaissance is called The Sleeper Wakes : Harlem Renaissance Stories by Women.
  • Cheryl A wrote Women of the Harlem Renaissance. The works of key women writers of the Harlem Renaissance are critiqued and interpreted by Wall.
  • The biographical and critical information on African-American women writers during the Harlem Renaissance is provided in Harlem ‘s Glory : Black Women Writing, 1900-1950.
  • Anthony D wrote Pages from the Harlem Renaissance : A Chronicle of Performance. The influence of the Harlem Renaissance on African-American theater is addressed by Hill.

Do you hear me, Old Us that are dust ?

The Old Man talks about a Christian God even as he begins conjuring. The Old Man says, “ We hear you! ” when he calls upon the ancestors of the Us ‘s. The Bible explains the Old Man ‘s call for blood as a necessary element of the conjuring brew he mixes in the old pot. The Old Man said, “ When God asked a faithful servant once to do sacrifice, even His only child, where did God put the real meat for sacrifice when the servant had the knife upon the son ‘s throat ? ” The Old Us responded with a chorus of “ In the bushes, Lord! In the bushes, Lord! ”

Many African Americans hold the Christian faith as well as the African-derived belief in voodoo. The drumming associated with the African-influenced spiritual practice of conjuring and spirituals associated with Christianity is related to music and religion in The Purple Flower. Community organization and social action can be formulated through both traditional African and modern African-American belief systems.

Blood ‘s instructions are based on the power of music and faith, as well as the willingness to sacrifice blood, when the Old Man tells him how to approach the White Devil. When the Old Man refers to the god Pan of Greek mythology, a third musical-religious element is added. As the Old Man prepares Finest Blood to confront the White Devils, Finest Blood grabs a rock ready to attack them. The Old Man says Finest Blood should come first with gifts, such as the pipes of Pan. Pan, a fertility god in Greek mythology, is characterized by his lustful nature and is associated with the music of his pipes. The head, arms, and torso of a man are often depicted in visual art with the ears, horns, and legs of a goat. Finest Blood was advised by the Old Man to speak to the White Devil through music. Finest Blood was told to play on the pipes to make the White Devil fall in love with the pipe. Even a White Devil will listen to music. He will come out even if he only tries to get the pipe. The Old Man believes that it is a Christian God who plays the pipes of Pan, a pre-Christian, pagan god, through the instrument of a man. Finest Blood should tell the White Devil.

White Devil, God is using me for something. You think it ‘s me who plays on this pipe ? I do n’t play. It is God who plays through me.

Finest Blood is an instrument that God uses to speak to the White Devil. In the end of the play, Finest Blood can be heard saying, “ White Devil! God speaks to you through me! ”

Music in The Purple Flower speaks to the power of African-American tradition and culture as a crucial element in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Through his practice of conjuring and preaching.

The old man ‘s instructions are based on the power of music and faith, as well as the willingness to sacrifice blood in a battle.

African-American culture and belief systems are symbolized by both African and American musical traditions. The play provides a recipe for social action on the part of African Americans, which includes a combination of education, hard work, financial success, Christian faith, and African-American cultural traditions with the willingness to sacrifice in the struggle for equality.

There is a Critical Essay on The Purple Flower in Drama for Students.

Allison Berg and Merideth Taylor.

The most challenging aspect of The Purple Flower is Berg and Taylor ‘s suggestion that race is both an illusion and a primary determinant of social identities.

The stage is divided into two sections by a thin board. The upper stage is where the main action takes place. Sometimes the action that takes place on the upper stage is duplicated on the lower stage, even though the light is never quite clear. Sometimes the actors on the upper stage get too loud and violent and they break through the boards and lie in mounds. There are mounds that are twisted and broken. You look at them and do n’t know if you see anything or not, but you can see a curve that might be a human body. There is a white hand, a yellow one, and a brown one. The skin-of-Civilization must be very thin. It can be dropped through a thought.

The stage directions for The Purple Flower can be found here.

The pear foliage is a dense, non-realistic setTING, UNDEVELOPED CHARACTER TYPES, and a MULTIPLICITY OF RACIAL MARKERS.

The play, which won the 1927 Crisis prize forLiterary Art and Expression, was never produced. The Sundry White Devil, whosehorns glow red all the time, and Us, who may be white as the White Devil, are two sets of players. Georgia Douglas Johnson ‘s Plumes, which won the Opportunity prize for drama in the same year, remained unperformed because of the challenge of realizing such directions on stage. Perhaps the most important reason is the play ‘s revolutionary message, particularly the final warning to the “ White Devil ” : “ You have taken blood ”. You have to give blood. Because The Purple Flower is more in keeping with the revolutionary black theater of the 1960s and 70s than with the folk or propaganda plays typical of the Harlem Renaissance, the play has only recently been acknowledged.

It has been in James V since 1974. Hatch and Ted Shine wrote Black Theater U. It was included in Kathy A. Critics have agreed that The Purple Flower was most likely meant to be read rather than performed. Our experience directing a staged reading of The Purple Flower in the context of an undergraduate literature course suggests that the play is best understood by considering the problems it poses for would-be performers, for the interpretive questions raised by the play text become, in rehearsal and performance, an opportunity. The most challenging aspect of the play is not its prediction of racial revolution, but its suggestion that race is both an illusion and a primary determinant of social identities in the United States.

There are practical questions about how to cast the play, as well as questions about racial identity, social conflict, and the relative primacy of race and class oppression, that are not immediately apparent in the text of the play. White students and students of color can be equally reluctant to discuss these issues in predominantly white classroom settings. The play ‘s ability to bring to consciousness, and bring into dialogue, competing assumptions about race, is demonstrated by our African American and white students ‘ collaboration in preparing to perform The Purple Flower. The Purple Flower, whose unusual form and indeterminate message give it historical significance as well as current potential to foster interracial discussions in the classroom or theater is being reported by our students.

We look in particular at moments of the play that undermine essentialized and dualistic concepts of race, discuss our students ‘ attempts to negotiate the play ‘s meaning through performance, and reflect on the implications of studying.

There are literary contexts.

The two dominant philosophies guiding African American theater in the 1920s are not compatible with The Purple Flower. The goals of propaganda plays endorsed by W are in line with the revolutionary message of The Purple Flower. Du Bois believes that plays of a real Negro theater must reveal Negro life as it is. The Purple Flower is different from the folk plays promoted by Montgomery. Gregory is at Howard University. While Locke and Gregory disagreed with Du Bois ‘s injunction that “ all Art is propaganda and ever must be ”, they shared his approval of formal realism, arguing that “ the only avenue of genuine achievement in American drama for the Negro lies in the development of the rich veins of folk-

Despite their differing opinions about the function of black drama, all three agreed with James Weldon Johnson ‘s statement of the larger problem facing black writers of the period. Johnson argued that there was a problem with the Negro author.

The Aframerican author has a problem that the plain American author does n’t know about. It is more than a double audience, it is a divided audience made up of two elements with different points of view. White America and black America are always in his audience. The Negro author can try the experiment of putting black America in the orchestra chairs, so to speak, and keeping white America in the gallery, but he is likely at any moment to find his audience shifting places on him, and sometimes without notice.

The use of a theatrical metaphor by Johnson shows the applicability of his argument to the black dramatist. His recommendation that a black writer negotiate the dilemma of a dual audience by standing on his racial foundation yet rising above race and reaching out to the universal may shed light on the seeming inconsistencies of The Purple Flower, which draws on black folk types. In her indication of the time as “ The Middle-of-Things-as-They-are ”, she attempts to generalize her themes.

Her plays have in common a naturalistic, domestic setting, an interest in psychological realism, and implicit or explicit identification of the race of each character, but The Purple Flower is different.

Her presentation of an extended “ Argument ” is the most obvious example of the divergences from the practice of her peers.

The WhiteDevils live on the side of the hill. Somewhere. The flower-of-life-at-its-fullest is on top of the hill. On top of the hill is a flower that is as tall as a pine. The Us live in a valley that is between Nowhere and Somewhere and they spend a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get up the hill. The WhiteDevils live all over the hill, trying to keep the Us from getting to the hill. The Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest will shed some of its perfume if the Us get up the hill.

This argument clearly outlines the play ‘s themes of power, exclusion, and conflict, and the action follows this outline, with various Us recalling failed efforts to “ get up the hill ” and resolving to try a new, more violent tactic involving the sacrifice of a White Devil.

The identity of the Us is not clear. On the other hand, the Us ‘s seem to share an historically specific experience of slavery : When one of the Us ‘s recalls two hundred years of slavery, he presumably refers to the enslavement of African Americans. The play identifies four possible routes to the Purple Flower that seem to apply more generally to the quest for the American Dream. While the climax of the play calls for a young Us named Finest Blood to extract blood from a White Devil, the initial stage directions make it difficult to read the predicted violence as a clash solely between blacks and whites. The examples of those who have failed to gain a place on the hill are made up of white, yellow, brown, and black figures.

It seems more likely that all of these colors refer to the various colors of skin defined as black within the racial order of the United States. The play suggests that characters of all colors can fall through the skin-of-Civiliza-tion, which could be seen as an allegory about the confrontation between the Haves and Have Nots. It is possible to allow a race- and/or class-based interpretation of the play.

The play is being interpreted as a performance.

Our reading was staged as part of a literature course on women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The course was taught by Professor Berg, who is white, and had fifteen students : five who identified themselves as African American and ten who identified as white ; twelve women and three men ; twelve English majors as well as a biology major, an anthropology major, and a continuing education student. The course devoted equal time to poetry, fiction, and drama, but students were particularly taken by the one-act plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson. Wanting to share with the campus community their enthusiasm for these plays, as well as their strong conviction that black women writers from this period deserved wider recognition, students decided to host a “ celebration ” of black women ‘s creativity in the 1920s. The students wanted a reading of The Purple Flower, which was the most relevant of the plays on the syllabus, to be the centerpiece of the event. Professor Taylor, a white professor of theater and dance, agreed to join the class as a consultant because neither the students nor their literature professor had any theatrical experience. The rehearsal process was mostly student-driven, with the instructors serving more as facilitators than directors.

Students were engaged in what Michael Vanden Heuvel has recently described as the theatrical “ enactment or production of knowledge ” by coming to terms with The Purple Flower ‘s ambiguities through casting and staging decisions. According to Vanden Heuvel, although drama is written within an aesthetic and semiotic framework that includes theatricality or spectacle, these are the aspects most often. Our own collaboration as professors of literature and of theater/dance, as well as the necessary collaboration of our students in interpreting and enactment the play, allowed us to consider the play both as text and theater, making possible a self-conscious performance of textual meaning which, as Vanden Heu

While all dramatic literature can be said to produce knowledge in the act of performance, Bonner ‘s play is unique among dramas of the Harlem Renaissance in the extent to which it demands a reader ‘s active collaboration in meaning making. Our students varied widely in their interpretations of the play in class. Black and white students initially felt that the play was only about race, but their understanding of the play did not polarize along race lines. The students who believed in the latter view felt that America ‘s history of racial discrimination left a legacy of economic disparity, but that race no longer determined an individual ‘s power and privilege. Michael Jackson is an example of a raceless success story. Jackson ‘s ever-lightening skin, which they interpreted as evidence of racism, was one of the reasons why other students argued that race still mattered. The students concluded that a race war was inevitable because of the persistence of racism.

While this conversation began a useful dialogue about the ambiguous relationship between racial membership and social privilege, as well as between self- and social definitions of racial identity, it should be obvious from the examples cited above that initial discussions of these issues did not venture far from familiar mass-media images. The dynamics of racial privilege and oppression were simplified by the use of mass-media images of racial success and discrimination, which allowed students to talk about race in a sort of shorthand and created an illusion of consensus. Students could avoid revealing the particularities or the complexity of their own experiences of race because they could easily assume shared outrage at Rodney King ‘s beating. The examples students chose to illustrate their ideas about race were all black ; at this point, neither black nor white students indicated an awareness of whiteness as a racial identity.

As our discussions of the play as text turned to a consideration of how we would realize the play in performance, students had to make explicit the reasons that they interpreted moments of the play as they did. We were committed to a collaborative process that would encourage negotiated meanings, but more often than not it was impossible to reach consensus. Because student discussions of the relationships among race, entitlement, and power revealed such different experiences and assumptions, they were reluctant to present the play in either of the two ways its critics have interpreted it. The question was how they could maintain the play ‘s ambiguity in performance, making both racially specific and racially non-specific interpretations available to their audience.

Though time and budget constraints prevented us from doing a fully mounted production of the play, we wanted our performance to include at least some elements of characterization, staged action, and spectacle. Students were asked to agree on practical decisions related to three major questions : How should we cast the play, what are the crucial elements of the setting, and how should we indicate them for the audience.

There is a need for casting. Students had to decide if the collectivity implied by the term Us ‘s was a specifically racial identification or if it could describe any group of people united through oppression and struggle. We asked students to consider the larger implications of casting in terms of current debates among theater practitioners and theorists, prefacing our class discussion of this issue with a brief presentation on current casting practices as well In order to engage the question of if, and how, race mattered in the theater, we introduced the concepts of color-blind casting and race specific casting. We felt that it was important for students to consider the implications of casting decisions, even though our own options were governed to a large extent by the demographic of our group.

We wanted to contextualize the issue in terms of the exploitative tradition of black representation in the theater and the current debate about race and gender. Students were introduced to the idea that in the theater, responsibility for artistic decisions is conjoined with responsibility for political decisions. The debate about casting was complicated by the inherent ambiguities in the script and students differing interpretations, making it the most fruitful discussion. Our casting decisions were complicated by the different forms of participation called for in the parts of the White Devil and the Us, the White Devil having no lines, and the Us having reading duties that would limit movement.

Students complicated the opposition implied by the two groups of characters by rendering them as mounds of people described in the directions of the stage. Students decided to refer to these characters as “ Strivers ” and use them to embody the spoken lines of the Us ‘s, so that the action that takes place on the upper stage is duplicated on the lower stage. Our staged reading became a focal point of the collaboration between students and actors, as well as between playwright and actors.

Students chose their own roles, seemingly guided more by their inclination to read, move, or dance than by ideological considerations, despite our lengthy discussions of casting. The students were told that their decision to leave the casting up to individual choice was a collective decision about the meaning of the play. Some students and instructors felt a bit uneasy about this choice, which we feared might over-universalize Bonner ‘s message, and thus water down the play ‘s revolutionary import, but the decision did have some advantages. Students who took on a part that allowed them to create a social positioning other than their own seemed to gain more insights into the play than those who did not.

Setting. Concrete questions of setting and staging were asked with the issue of casting negotiated. The balcony of the black box theater was used to represent the hill realm of the White Devil. The WhiteDevils were positioned above the heads of the Us ‘s and were engaged in taunting the Us ‘s by waving bits of purple paper and dancing to an offstage recording of En Vogue ‘s 1992 hit “ Never Gon na ”. We used a scaffold between the two levels to represent the thin “ Skin-of-Civilization ” and to serve as a ladder of sorts for the “ Strivers ” to struggle up and fall from. The setting would be conveyed through the use of a narrator who would read stage directions.

We had a lot of discussion about how to represent the purple flower in the setting. Our discussion about how to concretize the play ‘s central symbol made more visible our different assumptions about the play ‘s meaning. Students agreed that the quest of the Us ‘s for the purple flower could be seen as a rough analogue to the American Dream, but disagreed about the validity of the pursuit. Those who saw the flower as a metaphor for material goods and the status associated with access to worldly wealth were the ones who thought of it as a symbol of spiritual or communal ideals.

Suggestions for visual symbols for the flower included a mirror ball, an empty spotlight, and a mixed-race baby. The Purple Flower is ambiguous, with suggestions wavering between racially specific and universal interpretations. One student created a large purple flower out of craft materials and brought it into the final rehearsal to resolve the issue. It glittered in its own spotlight, suspended over the heads of the actors.

There is staging. There were debates in the classroom about the play ‘s meaning, as well as movement exercises designed to help students feel, as well as intellectualize, some of the play ‘s conflicts. A randomly selected majority of students were asked to link hands and form a circle. The minority had to force their way into the circle. The students who made it into the circle expressed guilt for leaving others outside the circle as well as the sense that their new position was uncomfortably constricting. We were able to discuss feelings of solidarity, exclusion, isolation, and anxiety that accompanied different students identification with a dominant or subordinate group. Most of the white students did not think of themselves as members of a racial group, while most of the black students did.

Students were divided into three groups to plan physical actions for the staged reading. The Us ‘s chose to wear matching costumes of blue jeans and black t-shirts to represent the collective identity of the Us ‘s, even though they used excessive amounts of makeup to indicate the superficiality and self-aggrandizement of those closest to the flower. The students attempted to represent both the collectivity of human struggle and the lack of solidarity by using each other ‘s bodies as bridges and barriers to ascending the scaffolding. The most powerful experience in performance was reported by the Strivers, who were physically the most engaged.

There are implications.

Student essays reflecting on their experience confirmed that the theater offers a unique opportunity to step into the space of other individuals and other experiences with safety in mind. Critics outside or on the perimeters of black cultural experience often discuss black theater as if it were unrelated to their own lives. White students and faculty often see race as attaching to others but not to themselves. Participation in an interracial production that demands self-reflection may do more to interrupt this tendency than viewing African American drama from the outside. The Purple Flower ‘s accessibility to white performers makes it particularly useful in predominantly white institutions, where white directors sometimes hesitate to direct African American plays focused unambiguously on the black experience, and black and white students can.

It was difficult for white students to see either blackness or whiteness from the stage experience. One of the most interesting realizations came from a white student whose role as a White Devil gave her insight into what is often unacknowledged in discussions of race : that whiteness depends on blackness, and that white privilege is actively upheld by maintaining race as an insurmountable difference. There was nothing for the White Devil to do that was n’t in a direct relationship with the Us. I only showed the Us what they were not and what they could not be. I was kept out of things and apart from the main action of the stage, even though I was a white devil. A white student said that playing the part of a White Devil made her question the rapaciousness of the White Devil.

I did n’t notice the unity of the Us until the performance. I did n’t think the White Devil had an emotional connection because of the purple flower. I felt that the Us would n’t have fought or killed each other for the purple flower, but that the WhiteDevils would have. I was surprised by how much I thought about it during the performance.

Students who performed a racial identity other than their own had better responses. An African American student who chose to play the role of a White Devil found her understanding of both Us ‘s and White Devil altered by the experience of performance. They seemed to have more strength. I liked running around and having freedom, while the Us just stood there and read or withered to the ground. It made me feel better being up there dancing and teasing. The student points out that the social positioning of whites over blacks contributed to a seductive feeling of superiority. Her increased awareness of whiteness is reflected in her comments.

Both black and white students said that our discussions of racial casting, and our ultimate decision to cast across race, made possible what Deborah Thompson has described as not merely “ color conscious ” but “ color-raising ” casting. Thompson argues that the legacy of whites performing black roles can potentially be transformed into a mode of understanding, of trying on other identities, so that body-identities, particularly racial identities, become both fictions and truths. The response of the white female student who chose to play the role of Finest Blood, the member of the Us ‘s chosen to attack a White Devil, makes clear not only the possibilities but also that this sort of “ try on ” can be a powerful catalyst to rethink assumptions about race. The student draws on her own understanding of oppression to make her role believable.

I tried to make myself into Finest Blood. I tried to understand what it would want. I drew on my own experiences as a woman in a patriarchal society in order to allow my frustration and anger to enter into my voice as I spoke my lines. I wanted to make it believable. I wanted to be more than just a read.

Her desire to be Finest Blood, whom she viewed as black, was certainly a sincere attempt to take on a different identity. Her comments underscore the temptation to equate different forms of oppression, thereby glossing over the historical specificity of racial and gender oppression. We did not want our students to think that they could be black in performance if they played a role in a staged reading. We would take more time to explore with our students the fine line between constructive transgression and what could easily become appropriation.

Students generally evaluated their experience favorably, but we do n’t mean to imply that our process was seamless or an unqualified success. Many of the same issues our students faced were faced by white feminist faculty collaborating as teachers and co-directors of the play. The two of us debated the play ‘s meaning, as well as our implication in the race and class conflicts it depicts. Ellen Donkin thinks that there are pitfalls in working with black play texts.

The model of director as an interpreter of the text is full of bogus neutralities and veiled authority that feminists have been exposing in literature and literary criticism for the past twenty years. The real functions of the position of director are exposed as a form of colonialism in the case of a white director working on an African American play text.

Donkin believes that collaboration can decentralize the interpretive process and allow white directors to enter the text of an African American play in a position of inquiry. We were more interested in providing conditions for cross-racial dialogue and learning than in offering a particular interpretation of the play. In predominantly white classroom settings where authority is invested in a white teacher, the sort of decentralization Donkin calls for in the theater is equally important.

While the literature classroom or theater never escapes larger social constructions of race, collaboration on many levels, among and between faculty, students, and a challenging playwright can make different understandings of race more visible. The student performers were engaged in a process of inquiry requiring identification with their respective characters as well as critical reflections about race.

While we try to be self-critical about our assumptions, our interpretive decisions may be challenged outside of the predominantly white setting in which our staged reading was performed. What makes The Purple Flower particularly useful as a teaching tool and particularly powerful in performance is Bonner ‘s deliberate solicitation of debate, nowhere more evident than in her decision to end the play with a question. The final stage directions indicate that Finest Blood ‘s demand for blood echo into a sudden silence.

All the US listens. The valley listens. Nowhere listens. White supremacists listen. Somewhere listens. All of the US, the white devils, Nowhere, Somewhere, listening, let the curtain close. Is it time ?

Although we did not end our performance by asking our audience to respond to this question, soliciting this form of audience participation as a final form of collaboration would have continued, and further complicated, the dialogue we undertook as a classroom community, future fully mounted productions of the play would certainly be enhanced by In the current racial climate, when conflict and distrust are increasing, and public forums for interracial conversations are rare, it ‘s crucial to encourage such dialogue. To the extent that African Americans and whites still form what James Weldon Johnson called a “ divided audience, ” performing or viewing innovative cross-racial plays like The Purple Flower may spur the sort of attentive listening that Bonner urges and theater ideally fosters.

Allison Berg and Merideth Taylor wrote “ Enacting Difference : Marita Bonner ‘s Purple Flower and the Ambiguities of Race ” in African American Review. No. 32 pp 3, Fall 1998. 476—178

Nancy Chick is a woman.

The Purple Flower was anticipated in theme and symbolism by a short story by Bonner.

The education of Bonner is firmly grounded in the classics. She majored in English and Comparative Literature at the sister college of Harvard. Her English courses included the History of English Literature, the Lives and Characters of English and American Men of Letters, and Shakespeare. In her last year of college, she began teaching high school English. She would have had a lot of familiarity with the poetry and would have used the lyrics as the basis for her own works. She met other members of the Talented Tenth when she joined Georgia Douglas Johnson ‘s writing group, “ The Round Table ” or the “ S ‘ Street Salon ”.

Twenty-four works were published in the high profile integrationist journals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Crisis, and the National Urban League. There were three plays, seventeen short stories, two essays, and two reviews in her publications. She won two prizes in the 1933 literary awards. She took a three-year break from writing after she married William Almy Occomy. She devoted her time to short fiction when she took up the pen again. She died thirty years after quitting writing.

The significance of Bonner ‘s writing today is not measured by what other writers she knew or by her literary prizes, but by her legacy for later readers and writers. She proves to be more than just an early race-conscious feminist.

In order to illuminate issues of race in the play, Bonner ‘s extrapolation with the FLOWER is marked by the REMOVAL of the CONVENTIONAL SYMBOL from its focus on GENDER. UNGENDERED WHITENESS IS THE IDEAL OF THE FLOWER.

For writing about the African American woman facing prejudice based on race, sex, and class. Several critics have noted that her insight is ahead of her time, and that she should be considered a progenitor of such current-day luminaries as Alice Walker, Toni Morrision, Gloria Naylor, and Gayl Jones. The pessimistic tone that sets her apart from other Harlem Renaissance writers who hoped to show the potential and promise of African Americans through writing is due to this perspective.

While most of her protagonists are black or white, Bonner ‘s stories are not set in a black and white world. Her world is multi-cultural, especially her series of short stories about a neighborhood in Chicago that became her “ fictional universe. ” Her plays, stories, and vignettes present a point of view that is similar to the naturalism of Stephen Crane’sMaggie : A Girl of the Streets. Her voice is also that of a Modernist, experimental with technique and form, often lapsing into the surrealism and expressionism most evident in The Purple Flower.

Her initial experimentation with her “ key symbol of the local neighborhood ” of Frye Street is reflected in “ nothing new ”, a short story published in 1926. She sketches her second, though unacknowledged, key symbol : the flower as the symbol of race and gender. In this early story, Bonner uses the flower as a reference to white womanhood, yet she begins to explore the differences of race and gender associated with such an ideal.

The story begins with a fairy tale. It turns into a fairy tale of racism, violence, and injustice in an urban setting as the story unfolds. The narrative voice that tells the reader, “ You have been down on Frye Street, ” acts as a tour guide to the fictional neighborhood. Denny Jackson is a black boy who beats up a white boy over some flowers in a field. When Denny goes to college, he falls in love with a white woman and has to fight a white man over the relationship. Denny is executed for killing Allen Carter. The flower is now surrounded by violence because it is symbolic of the ideal white femininity represented by Denny ‘s girlfriend. The symbol is revolutionary in that it represents a black man who blurs the lines of race and gender, thus challenging the images in the lyrics of those earlier English poets.

The specific description of the flower, “ dusky purple milkweeds, ” is significant, indicating issues of gender and race. The milkweed is a representation of both whiteness and womanhood. The flower was bending to Denny. Similarly, Pauline is a lender. It is molded. Poised. The head is on the neck, the neck is lifted on the shoulders. As an aristocracy, slenderly molded. By conforming to the flower ‘s traditional representation of idealized white womanhood, Bonner begins. According to the newspapers that reported on Denny ‘s trial, the “ hypnotized frail flower ” is “ the beautiful and the true. ” Rather than simply using the conventional symbol as an artistic technique, Bonner appears to be deliberately alluding to the trope of the Renaissance poets and assigning it to the white press and the white judicial system. She establishes the convention of the flower ‘s representation of fragile, pure, white womanhood in order to challenge it. She is white and suggests purple. She subverts the ideal by being in love with a black man. She has broken a taboo. One character points out, “ Pauline goes out with that nigger Denny Jackson! ” Her appearance and her love affair imply a racial mixing.

The symbol of womanhood is subverted by removing the flower from its natural hideaways and moving it to an urban reality marked by violence. She uses nature symbolism, including floral imagery, to represent femininity as “ nurturing, life-giving, a haven from strife. ” As Doris E. In regal purple dressed, she uses the color purple not only for its connotations of wealth and power, but also because of her classical education. For its earlier references to “ ‘colored ‘ or’stained by, ‘ as if by blood ” because purple was “ esteemed among ancients ” and “ was closer, in Hebrew and Greek, to the color we call crimson ” The fight over the purple flowers is related to the fight over the white woman. The white boy yelled, “ You stay off the white kids ‘ side, nigger! ” just as Allen yelled, “ Stay on your own side! ” The white kids are on the other side. The flower was bending toward him. The Harlem Renaissance women poets used nature as an “ objective correlation through which they could articulate their gender ” by surrounding their floral imagery with violence.

It is the urge to protect the ideal that leads to bloodshed. A white woman is closely guarded by other members of her race. Allen tried to kill Denny, but he killed him instead. Denny was ordered to be executed by the white judge and jury because he was a man who had sacrificed his life for the beautiful and the true. The history of lynching in America is connected to the violence spawned by racial and sexual issues in which white men have the power to intimidate black men as a potential threat to the virtue of white womanhood. Hazel V wrote about “ On the Threshold of Woman ‘s Era ” : Lynching, Empire, and Sexuality in Black Feminist Theory. Ida B was paraphrased by Carby. She claims that white men used their ownership of the white female as a way to lynch the black male. A series of attempted lynchings, first by the white boy who tried to keep the flower ( representative of the white female ) on the white kids ‘ side, and then by Allen Carter, who tried to protect the white girl, are shown in the film. The courts follow through with the lynching, not only for the death of Allen Carter, but also for Denny, a white woman.

There is more than one level of symbolic subversion at which the flower operates. The milkweeds are purple. This flower shows that there is a racial mixture that is both white and black. The obvious referent for the flower is white, despite her suggestions of purple. Denny is not clearly black. Denny embodies of both race and gender the seemingly apparent “ facts ” of whiteness, blackness, and femininity.

Denny is black with white features that were meant to go with the blondest hair and the bluest eyes. He was not blond. He had a clean shaven and curly hair. The white women at his art school are attracted to him despite the fact that he is a black man. Denny blurs the boundaries of gender as well. Denny was insulted by the white boy with whom he fought for the flowers. Denny ‘s father thought no boy should look like Denny. Denny was told by the man that he must be a girl. Denny ‘s mother tries to prevent him from fighting and from conforming to this definition of aggressive manhood. Denny goes to art school, according to his father, instead of doing some real man ‘s work. Denny explores and subverts the seemingly clear-cut distinctions between black and white, masculine and feminine.

The lack of scholarly material may be due to the failure of critics to explain the piece. It marks her return to her flower imagery through a different genre and the removal of this conventional symbol from its focus in order to spotlight issues of race.

After the publication of her masterpiece, The Purple Flower, in 1928, Bonner returned to this symbol in two years. The drama of the White Devils, who horde the seductive, purple Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest, and the multi-colored Us ‘s, who cultivated the land and built the houses for the White Devils on a beautiful hillside called Somewhere, where the Flower- In the end, the Us ‘s are on the threshold of a bloody revolution while everyone waits and asks, “ Is it ? ”

The Purple Flower is a morality play that depicts virtues and vices. The black quest for freedom and happiness in post-Emancipation America is the subject of the allegory. Her appropriation of this genre, however, subverts it for the battle is not to save one ‘s soul, as in traditional morality plays, but to spill blood in order to enable the New Man, a new species to be created through someone ‘s.

There are many similarities in theme and plot between The Purple Flower and Nothing New. The flower in each is placed upon a hillside where, in the short story, not White Devil but “ strange ” children, the white kids guard it. The children are not familiar with Denny as if they were from a different race. The purple flowers are from the other side. The character Average in the play tries to maintain the status quo by proclaiming that he needs to stay safe and sound where he is.

Many people read Bonner ‘s writing. She often appeared by-line and captured the literary prizes offered by both magazines. According to Joyce Flynn, there is enough plot similarities to Richard Wright ‘s Native Son to suggest a “ shaping influence of Occomy ‘s [ Bonner ‘s ] urban fiction on Wright, who knew ”.

This play is the focus of the little scholarly work on Bonner. Her name is often hidden in a study of early African American dramatists, thus calling attention to this one work and neglecting the rest of her work. The play is not easy to discuss. Critics either focus solely on the political theme of the play or they fail to offer substantial analysis beyond a paragraph or two, for Scholarly attention to The Purple Flower has been short-sighted. Margaret B introduced Nine Plays by Black Women. It is an important early play by an African American woman, yet she considers it a form that emphasizes a political agenda rather than art. Critics point to its unusual technique. According to Quita Craig, Bonner deviated from the dominant realism of the period by experimenting with European techniques that had been used by only a few white playwrights during the decade. The trend towards unrealistic, distorted, nightmarish staging is not a form that gained popularity among black writers during the 1920s. Natalie Mann by Jean Toomer stands as an earlier expressionistic work by an African American writer, but McKay says that it is unlikely that Bonner was aware of Natalie Mann, making her achievements with this technique even more outstanding.

There is more to the play than the experimentation with technique. The discussions of it reveal its unique qualities. Errol Hill calls it one of the most unusual plays ever written on the subject of black liberation. Wilkerson claims that it is the most provocative play of the early twentieth century. It is different from the expectations of Harlem Renaissance literature. There is no place for the anger and urgency epitomized by its final call for “ Blood! ” in The New Negro. McKay says that most writers were more concerned with the celebration of the black identity. The future of blacks in America was written optimistically. ” Thus, by resisting the expectations of the literary period, Bonner ‘s work represents the inevitable rupture in tidy definitions that are imposed upon individuals.

The lack of scholarly material may be due to critics failing to contextualize the piece. She returned to her flower imagery through a different genre to explore further meanings of the symbol. Like other women writers of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Angelina Weld Grimke and Georgia Douglas Johnson, Bonner uses the same themes and motifs in several different genres.

In the play, the removal of the conventional symbol from its focus of gender in order to spotlight issues of race is marked by the experimentation with the flower. The flower is ideal for un gendered whiteness. There is an expressionistic morality play in which characters have names such as Finest Blood and Average and places are referred to as Somewhere and Nowhere.

The flower is a representation of what is white. The symbol of wealth and power and opportunity and freedom is the purple Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest. Old Man starts a melting pot at God ‘s order to create a new man superior to the Us. Flynn points out that the purple flower atop the hill of Somewhere is similar to the work of the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. The race towards whiteness has a desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization. As well as both male and female, the Us can be as white as the White Devil, as brown as the earth, and as black as the center of a poppy. The creation of a New Man would destroy the diversity of the Us. Heterogeneity is sacrificed to achieve the white ideal. This conception with an Old Man as a surrogate mother with an iron womb represents the submission to what Hughes called the whiteness of American standardization and what Marita Bonner called the purple flower.

Considering the privileged position represented by the flower and the idealization of it by the Us ‘s, the name the WhiteDevils is an oxymoron. It undermines the ideal of living Life-at- Its-Fullest. The White Devil ‘s behavior shows further irony of this ideal. They built up half their land on our bones and ripened crops of cotton in order to beat us back from Somewhere.

When one of the White Devils pinches Sweet, a beautiful female Us, from behind the bushes in the dark, they reveal their potential for violence-significantly sexual violence. This white-on-black ( White Devil to Sweet ) threat of sexual violence is similar to the black-on-white ( Denny to Pauline ) sexual violence alleged by Allen Carter. The rape of white women by black men is not the reason for lynchings, but the history of slave women who were the sexual victims. Finest Blood is a slender, tall, bronzy brown youth who walks with his head high. He touches the ground with his feet as if it were a velvet rug and not sun-baked, jagged rocks and threatens to kill the man who pinched Sweet. As soon as the curtain falls, the flower atop the hill of Somewhere and the whiteness surrounding it will be stained red by the violence of the impending racial revolution. In the midst of the bloodshed which it motivated, Bonner placed her flower, symbolic of a white ideal.

Nancy Chick wrote “ Marita Bonner ‘s Revolutionary Purple Flower : Challenging the Symbol of White Womanhood ” in The Langston Hughes Review. No. XIII, No. pp 1, Fall 1994/Spring 1995

There is a person named “ Doris Abramson. ”

The Purple Flower is called a paradigm for later plays because of its treatment of racial issues.

Mary T, Angelina Weld Grimké. Georgia Douglas Johnson and Marita O are related. The middle class of the country that allowed them an education was jealous of them and kept them from full participation in a society dominated by white males. They taught at a high school. Grimke wrote a poem for the graduating class in 1925 in which she referred to “ quick’ning youth whose eyes have seen the gleam. ” Youth between their tears and laughter. Mary Burrill was a teacher in the same department. In the same city, Marita Bonner taught at a high school. Georgia Douglas Johnson was a poet and playwright who lived in Washington. They wrote plays in the teens and twenties of this century.

It is interesting to note that they shared a middle-class background that included a classical education, but they are not interchangeable as women or writers. They wrote plays about the Black experience. Some wrote in dialect while others did not. They wrote serious plays for churches and lodges and halls. If it is a Negro play that will interest us and depict our life, experience and humor, it can be produced in our churches and lodges, and halls.

The battle cry of Marita Bonner ‘s The Purple Flower is “ Is it time ? “, a question for which she asked in 1928 not, will there be a revolution, Black versus white, but “ Is it time ? ”

The purple flower-of-life-at-its-fullest is on top of the hill. The US live in the valley. We are told.

The Ashoka means “ colored ” or “ staINED BY ”, as if by blood. It is a perfect color for the flower as it protects it from the elements.

The time is “ The Middle-of-Things-as-They-are ” and that means “ the End-of- Things for some of the characters and the Beginning-of- Things for others. ” The WhiteDevils are dancers on the Thin-Skin-of-Civilization. The US can be as white as the White Devils, as brown as the earth, and as black as the center of a poppy.

The US has tried many ways to get to the top of the hill. Work, education, religion, the acquisition of money are some of the ways that are practiced in the play. There is a song that rolls out across the valley.

You stay where you are! We don’t wantyou up here!If you come you’ll be on parWith all we hold dear.So stay—stay—stay—Yes stay where you are!

The color purple for the flower is interesting. She used the symbol of a purple flower in a short story two years before the play. Denny is a young black boy fighting with a white boy for a purple flower.

Denny and the white boy were on the ground. They worked on each other. Nigger, stay off the white kid ‘s side! The flower bent its stalks. The white kid was on the other side. It was lovely, dusky, purple. He wanted it. He would get it.

His dark-skinned playmates sing a song of triumph after he gets the flower. He continues to fight for the white kids. He wo n’t stay in his place. He ended up in a murderer ‘s grave because of his love for a white woman.

By the time she wrote The Purple Flower, Marita had distilled this familiar story of racism in America, had gone beyond realism to surrealism, but she kept the image of the purple flower. Her classical education could have told her that the color purple was associated with wealth and power. It was closer to the color we call crimson, in Hebrew and Greek. As if by blood, the archaic meaning of purple is “ colored ” or “ stained by ”. It is a perfect color for the flower that is jealously guarded and desperately desired, symbolizing as it does both power and blood.

The play tells the story of an Old Man who comes to teach the younger US how to rid themselves of the White Devil. He tells them that God will create a new man, but blood has to be let for birth to give life.

Old Man has said that he is going to kill him in the dark before he sees him, that is a White Devil trick.

The man is old. If you want to play White Devil ‘s games, do n’t kill him in the dark. Get him out of the bushes and tell him that he is being used by God. It is God who plays through me. Will you listen to what he has to say ? Blood must be taken during the night to be used at the birth. The US put in a lot of effort to give dust for the body, books to guide the body, and gold to clothe the body. They need to give birth to a new man. You took the blood. You have to give blood. Come out! And then fight him!

The leader of the WhiteDevils will confront Finest Blood. The curtain line is “ blood! ” and the last stage direction is “ let the curtain close leaving all the US, the white devils, Nowhere, Somewhere, listening, listening. ” Is it time ?

The argument of the play was written by Marita Bonner.

The WhiteDevils live all over the hill trying to keep the US from getting to the hill. If the US gets up the hill, the Flower-of-Life-at- Its-Fullest will shed some of its perfume and then they will be somewhere with the white devils. The US asked for permission to go up. They cultivated the valley and made it beautiful. They built houses for the white devils. They let them build houses and then knocked them down into the valley.

We may ask if the purple flower has faded or if the US can claim a kind of victory.

Marita Bonner could have spoken for her sisters when she wrote about being young and black.

Being a woman, you can wait. With a smile that is so slight at the eyes, Life will flow into not by you. You can swoop to your feet at a single gesture when Time is ripe.

They had a small audience. They are not well known in ours. Time is ripe for these wise Black women to be acknowledged, and their plays to be read and produced.

Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary T. Georgia Douglas Johnson and Marita O are related. The analysis of their plays was written by Bonner. I, No. pp 1, Spring 1985.

Black Women Intellectuals : Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood is a book written by Carol Allen. 11-2, 18, 78-9

Flynn, Joyce, and Joyce Occomy Stricklin are authors. The Collected Works of Marita Bonner was published in 1987. xvi, xix, xxv

The ed was written by Giovanni andNikki. “ Like My Sister Kate : Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poems ” was written in 1996.

There is a discussion of the Harlem Renaissance in this poetry collection.

James V Hatch. The Black Theater. Forty-five plays by Black Americans were published in the Free Press.

The Purple Flower is one of the plays by African-American writers. Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ntozake Shange are just a few.

Rhapsodies in Black : Art of the Harlem Renaissance was published in 1997.

The Harlem Renaissance is the subject of the exhibit “ Rhapsodies in Black ” at the Hayward Gallery in London.

Rodgers, Marie E. The Harlem Renaissance : An annotated reference guide for student research was published in 1998.

There are works on the Harlem Renaissance and African- American art in this reference book.

The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond : Literary Biographies of 100 Black Women Writers, 1900-1945 was written by Roses, Elena, and Randolph. Hall was born in 1990.

The biographical information on the works of African-American women writers in the first half of the twentieth century can be found in this reference work.

The New Negroes and Their Music : The Success of the Harlem Renaissance was published in 1997.

A critical discussion of the music of the Harlem Renaissance in terms of the cultural and historical context of African-American musical production can be found in Spencer ‘s text.

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