What is August Wilson saying about the history of African American culture?
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Wilson is suggesting that the history of African- American culture is complex. There is no other way to embrace the culture without accepting its complex nature. In this light, the people that live in the boarding house help to accentuate the complex nature of African- American culture.
In their own ways, different characters seem to embody some aspect of African- American culture that reflects complexity and intricacy. For example, Herald feels the struggle of identity formation in the condition of a world in which the shadow of slavery is never far off. Bynum recognizes this in Herald, suggesting that his own ability to find his "song" or identity is challenged by the ghosts of slavery: ‘‘Now he’s got you bound up to where you can’t sing your own song. Couldn’t sing it them seven years ‘cause you was afraid he would snatch it from under you.’’ Wilson is able to use this to suggest that African- American cultural identity involves embracing a complex process of understanding the past without becoming victim to it. Mattie embodies the condition of seeking to run back to the past as a way to avoid the pain intrinsic in the present. Her desire to get married and have children might be simplistic. However, it embodies a retreat into a past condition that embodies a form of bondage that seeks to eliminate the pain of doubt and insecurity that exists in the modern setting. At the same time, Molly embodies the sensibility to striving towards a goal in the future with no desire to return to the past. Jeremy represents the talent and yet rootlessness that is a part of African- American culture emerging out of slavery and into the Great Migration, while Bertha represents the element of stability and nurturing, a bedrock of faith in spirituality and in self that allows endurance and eventual triumph. Bynum is that connection to the rich past of African- American cultural identity that cannot be forgotten, even if it struggles to be remembered. In the characterizations offered, Wilson presents a complex and intricate view of the history and present condition of African- American culture.
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