Themes and Meanings
In the play’s preface, Baldwin announces that the play takes place in “Plaguetown, U.S.A.,” and that the “plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship.” As a play of ideas, Blues for Mister Charlie affords Baldwin the opportunity to explore several of the issues connected with race and Christianity through the use of dialogue and setting.
Baldwin uses stage structure as a comment on the situation between the races. He devises a set in which an aisle is placed between what he terms “Whitetown” and “Blacktown”; the division immediately sets the tone for the play. At times, the two sections function as the church, at other times as the courthouse. These two divisions not only support the themes of the play but also suggest the idea of two seemingly irreconcilable opposites.
With these several divisions as background for the play, Baldwin makes a statement about the nature of a society that permits a white man to murder a black man and not be punished for it. This speaks to the question of who has power and who does not. Richard recognizes this; on his return to the South, he tells his grandmother that “it’s because my Daddy’s got no power that my Mama’s dead.” According to Richard, this lack of power allows whites to “rape and kill our women and we can’t do nothing.” When Richard challenges Lyle’s power and, by extension, that of the white community, he is killed.
Power is not the only factor operative in the relationship between the races. The sexual factor—or, rather, the sexual basis of racism—is in fact the most explosive element, according to Baldwin. He depicts a white community that is obsessed with the sexuality of black people.
Baldwin focuses on the white community’s sexual fears and guilt and shows how these can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. When a group of white people gather in Lyle’s kitchen, their conversation inevitably turns to the sexual threat that they think that black men represent. They are terrified by the thought of “a nigger without no clothes on,” and they think that sex is the only thing that interests black people. The white men terrify their women with exaggerated stories of the black man’s sexuality.
Baldwin intimates that sex is used as a substitute for and as an indicator of power. It also becomes a...
(The entire section is 997 words.)