Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Parks depicts the life of a desperate, African American, single-parent family living on the cusp of society. Unlike many of her other plays, In the Blood does not attempt to reflect life as it once was or even as it ought to be: It depicts a world that, for all its depravity, actually is. Hester is victimized by her gender, her naïveté, and her intense longing to be a good mother. Options are made available to aid her in “getting a leg up,” her self-described need. Her best friend, Amiga Gringa, is friendly only as long as Hester has something for her to take. The medical profession wants only to stop her from procreating, even as it takes advantage of her and her dire conditions. The government, through the Welfare Lady, has little time for Hester and offers her work for which she is unprepared. Formalized religion represents for her only another form of oppression and subjugation. Her true love cannot abide the burden that loving her brings. More isolating, Hester is illiterate, capable of forming and recognizing only one character, an “A.” That one piece of the alphabet reflects the only concrete connection she possesses to the civilization that has rejected her. It is not enough.

Parks found inspiration in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter (1850). She creates in Hester, La Negrita, a reflection of Hawthorne’s original character Hester Prynne, the Puritan heroine who is branded for adultery by being forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing after giving birth to a child out of wedlock. In Parks’s interpolation, however, there are five bastard children to tend, not one. Just as Hawthorne drew attention to the solemn realities of the world he knew, Parks accomplishes the same goal by providing her audience with images of America that are harsh, unrelenting, and impossible to deny.

Of equal importance for Parks are the traditions of ancient Greek theater. The choral effects put to use at the beginning and ending of the play and the insightful but painful “confessions” are manifestations of this influence. Most important, the story of Medea, the Greek heroine who killed her children to spite her unfaithful husband, is echoed in the actions of Hester, La Negrita. Altogether, In the Blood functions as a modern Greek tragedy: What happens must happen—there is no escaping one’s birthright.