Seven Guitars Essay, Research Paper
Seven Guitars The play I chose for my analysis was Seven Guitars by August Wilson. Seven Guitars opened on January 21, 1995, at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, Illinois. Later that year on September 15, 1995, Seven Guitars opened at the Huntington Theater Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Seven Guitars premiered on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theater on March 28, 1996. The play Seven Guitars requires the reader to imagine the poverty and times that black people were enduring in the 1940 s. The play revealed how black people felt about society in the 40 s and how they were discriminated against. My overall response to Seven Guitars was one of surprise and sympathy. I was surprised with the attitudes of the characters in the play in the fact that they were callous and not afraid to resort to violence if needed. The author, August Wilson, portrayed the lack of education of colored people in the times of discrimination and segregation very well which made the play more believable and understandable. The sympathy I felt was from the point of view that no matter what characters did it was practically impossible to climb out of poverty or escape the wrath of the white people, especially police officers. Overall the play was written well and captured my attention with the different social class and the way it was portrayed. August Wilson was born in 1945 with the name Frederick August Kittle. His mother was African American and his father was a white German-American baker. August s father left when he was young and he assumed his mother s name. Wilson remembers the language and rhythm of life on the street because his home was Pittsburgh s Hills District, an area lived in by African Americans. When august was fifteen he moved to Hazelwood, a white community where he was taunted by racial hatred and discrimination. He left school but didn t quit writing. Wilson would write love poems to his crushes and knew that some day he would be a poet. He was influenced by many poets, including John Berryman and Dylan Thomas. He eventually founded Black Horizons Theater Company with another black man in 1968. The theater was in Pittsburgh and he worked as a cook, an elevator operator, and a mower of lawns. It wasn t until the 1980 s that Wilson began writing his plays in St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote plays rich in the humor and tragedy of places he grew up like the local barbershops, the street corners, and the bars. His characters are generally musicians, cabdrivers, and landladies, and there were words were authentic to the time the play was written. August Wilson has a unique mission in his playwriting, he wishes to write a play about the black experience in every decade of the twentieth century. So far he has written seven plays including Fences and The Piano Lesson, both of which have won Pulitzer Prizes. August Wilson has also received a Tony Award, five New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and many other recognitions. Wilson, who now lives in Seattle, hopes that his writing about the history of blacks in this century can help people learn from the past so they can improve the future. During the year the play was written, many historical events happened. The most known event in American history was the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. This was a devastating terrorist act in American history and will remain so for many years to come. Many lives were lost in the bombing but the most shocking thing was that the bomber was an American and a former soldier. Other events that year were the mass flooding in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. These floods cost people their lives and billions of dollars in damage to property and agriculture. Along with the worst floods in American history was the 7.2 earthquake along the pacific coastal states of Mexico that destroyed buildings and countless lives. The play meaning to me was that of struggle and unfulfilled dreams of African Americans in the 1940 s. The play shows the reader (or the audience member) the spirit and determination of the characters to fulfill there desires to be equal and above the poverty level. August Wilson provided a look into what it was to be a part of this discriminated against society in Pittsburgh years ago. I think August Wilson s intended meaning of the play was the African Americans push-and-pull between fate and free will. Another meaning he was trying to convey was to show people the lives of blacks in this decade and the basic struggles of everyday life. Wilson conveyed a meaning of how bad luck and society influence led to poor choices made by blacks of that time that kept them from reaching their goals. The play was successful in conveying this meaning because I understood the characters and how bad times in life affected their decisions to do the right thing. August Wilson wanted to show how life was for blacks and he paints a vivid picture for the reader or audience. Seven Guitars takes place in the Pittsburgh s Hills District in 1948. The plot revolves around seven characters and their individual problems. Louise, Canewell, Vera, and Red Carter have just returned home from the funeral of their friend Floyd Barton. They are commenting on the angels that had been around the burial and Vera was stating how she saw them lift Floyd out of the fresh dug grave and taken him up to Heaven. The next scene is a flashback of when Floyd had returned home from Chicago and is trying to win back his love, Vera. Floyd had left Pittsburgh to go to Chicago and record a record. He had left Vera for a woman named Pearl Brown and just returned. His record had produced a hit single That s All-right and the record company wanted Floyd to return and record again. Floyd claimed that he would not leave without Vera this time but she did not trust him and was reluctant to go. Floyd s band members, Canewell and Red Carter, also return from Chicago with horrible stories about the city. Floyd wants them to return to Chicago so that none of them would have to worry about money ever again. The problem was that they had all pawned their instruments for money to survive and could not afford to buy them back. Another character, Hedley, is always in the background butchering chickens and making his chicken sandwiches to sell for money. He complains often through the play about the white men and the conspiracies of the whites versus the blacks. He s an older man and doesn t seem to have much to do with the story at first. During the story Canewell gives Vera a Goldenseal plant and claims that its leaves can be used as medicine and is just as useful as any doctor s medicine. She plants it in her garden and makes sure that the roots are properly buried so that they do not dry out. Meanwhile Louise is expecting her niece Ruby to come and visit because she has gotten into man trouble and someone had been murdered. Louise also takes care of Hedley, making sure he pays rent and looking after him because he is older and gives a sense of mental retardation. Floyd can not come up with the money to buy back the instruments so he goes to his manager for help, Mr. T.L. Hall. Floyd’s manager books him an act at the Blue Goose for Mother s Day which will get the money needed for their instruments. The next conflict arrives when Mr. T.L. Hall gets arrested for selling false insurance and the band loses their money. All the meanwhile Hedley keeps singing a song about Buddy Bolden and how Buddy has Hedley s inheritance from his father. Hedley believes that Buddy Bolden (who was a famous blues player) is coming anyday to give him his money. Hedley believes that he can buy a plantation and have a child which he believes will be the messiah. Ruby finally arrives and decides to look after Hedley and convinces him to go to a doctor for his TB. With Floyd being frustrated about not having instruments or the money to retrieve them he leaves to a secret place for a couple days. While he is gone, the local bank, Metro Finance, is robbed and the friend next door is shot by police while his accomplices escape. Floyd returns with a brand new guitar, tickets for Chicago, a dress for Vera, and cash which he buries in the back yard under the Goldenseal plant. He buries it under the plant because of the importance of keeping the roots buried and he knows no one will look there. Everybody is excited at this news and no one questions were the new belongings came from. Vera, Louise, and Ruby leave to watch Floyd, Canewell, and Red Carter perform their hit song for Mother s Day at the Blue Goose. They all return later that night and are commenting on how amazing it was that there were so many people to see them perform. Everyone leaves for bed except for Canewell and Floyd who remain outside talking. Canewell sees that the roots of the Goldenseal plant are uncovered and tries to cover them when he finds the $1200 dollars that Floyd had stolen from the robbery. Canewell believes that this is Hedley s hidden money and tries to claim it for his own. Floyd states that the money is his and Canewell laughs and proclaims, finders keepers! Floyd becomes extremely agitated and pulls his .38 caliber out on Canewell and demands the money. Canewell realizes where the money came, returns it, and leaves. After Canewell leaves Hedley comes down and sees Floyd with the money. Drunk and normally not bright, Hedley believes that Floyd is Buddy Bolden and is happy that Buddy has come to return his money. Floyd tries to talk sense into Hedley but Hedley believes that Floyd is Buddy Bolden and demands the money. Floyd tells Hedley to go to bed but Hedley takes his knife and cuts Floyd s throat puncturing his windpipe and killing him. Hedley takes the money and goes to sleep. The next scene is after the funeral again where Canewell and Hedley are sitting staring at each other. Hedley states that Buddy has given him his money and automatically Canewell knows what has happened. Hedley lets the money fall through his fingers like ashes and that is the end of the play.
The play takes place in Pittsburgh in 1948. The entire play is in a backyard of a run down house where Vera, Louise, and Hedley live. It is a brick house with one window facing the front. The only way to access the house is by weathered stairs going up to a small porch on the side of the house. This is where Vera lives. Louise and Hedley live on the second floor in separate rooms. The backyard is dirt with a small garden and a place where Hedley kills all his chickens and other livestock. There is usually a card table with an eclectic set of chairs in the backyard where the characters play card games. There are lights set up for night games and are run from extension chords out of the house. The setting is somewhere between spring and summer because the play talks about hot muggy nights. Most of the play is during the afternoon because Louise and Vera are preparing collard greens which takes about six hours to cook according to the book. The times this play is based on are when the African Americans were discriminated against and lived in poverty. They were harassed and thrown in jail for no reason and didn t have much hope about rising above the poverty level. The characters had to protect themselves so they carried weapons, mostly guns, and would protect themselves if needed no matter what the consequences. The author used this time frame because that is when these events would happen and was also when he actually witnessed these things on a regular basis growing up in Pittsburgh. The major characters in the story are Floyd, Vera, Louise, Canewell, Red Carter, Hedley, and Ruby. Floyd is the man with the mission. Floyd is determined to get Vera back and to make money. He wants to record another record but when he doesn t have the money he robs a bank. Floyd is very determined and the motivator of the group. Vera is the sweet lady who cooks for everyone. She seems to be a loving person and loves Floyd but doesn t know if she can trust him. She is the role model or mother of the group. Louise is a quiet house woman type. She cooks and takes care of Hedley. She loves a card game called whisp and is always trying to get the group to do things like play cards or even eat together. Canewell is an easy-going guy. He seems like the type that would be there for his friends and is sort of a ladies man. He plays the harmonica in the band. He is the smartest one of the group. Red Carter is the tough guy of the group. He acts tough but never seems to get his way. Through the play he is after Ruby and wants her to be his wife. He believes that Ruby would make the perfect wife because she can cook, clean and was pretty. He wanted her mostly around as a wife to do things for him. He plays the drums in the band. Ruby, Louise s niece, is a young pretty woman that all the men gaulk at. She carries an I m better and I m smarter attitude because she has traveled to cities before. She takes care of Hedley which shows she does have a soft side. She also is concerned about her appearance. For example, she changed constantly and would ask everyone to look and see if her hoes were straight. The character I chose was Hedley. He sells chicken sandwiches, cigars, cigarettes, candy bars, and fruits. Hedley s main objective is to retrieve the money his father supposedly left for him and buy his own plantation. This way he does not have to work and slave for the white man anymore. He constantly sings about Buddy Bolden, the man supposedly bringing his father s money. He often dreams of his father and Buddy and dreams that the money is coming soon. Hedley is older, late fifties or early sixties, and is constantly wearing a leather apron because of the livestock he slaughters. He is looked at as harmless in the beginning but it is known after a while that he is not right in the head and could become dangerous. Psychologically Hedley seems to have lost it. He constantly talks about his father and Buddy Bolden. He claims he is the king and has killed a man over it before. Hedley also believes that if he has a son it will be the messiah and king also. If I were to direct this play I would have it as a proscenium stage and set outdoors. Considering this play is in the backyard I think it would add to the realness and believability of the play by having it outdoors. My set would have four exits, two to different rooms of the house, one to a basement, and one leading out the backyard. The proscenium stage would be good because the play could be in the backyard and in front of the house. For costumes I would use old forties attire but make it look worn out and maybe a little outdated for that time. Being poor the clothes could come from a hand me down store or other places. They might not be able to afford anything modern. Hedley would be wearing black boots, some sort of dark clothes, and a beat up bloody leather apron. His clothes have to be worn and dirty. With the costume comes sweat because Hedley works hard all day and it is hot and muggy. For Louise and Vera I would cast Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. These two have played similar parts in movies and shows about the African American struggle of the past. For Hedley I would cast Devo from the movie Friday (also the President in Fifth Element) because he is big and can be intimidating. I can also see him as playing a non bright guy. Ruby would have to be Jada Pinkett because she is sexy and can hold an attitude if needed. Red Carter would be Will Smith because of the jokes and Canewell would be Colin Powell because he is more serious and more looked up to. For the role of Floyd Barton I would cast a black singer or musician. That way in the play the actor can either play an instrument, sing, or do both Writing a paper like this forces you to take an in depth look at how a play is formed and written. In plays like this one there is extra meaning because the author wrote this out of memories from childhood. His goal wasn t to make money but to educate and teach the future so that we can learn from our mistakes and not let it happen again. I will appreciate more of a meaning of a play because now I know that this might not be just a fictional story but a true experience of other individuals.