The Play

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Jitney is set inside a gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and takes place over several days in early fall, 1977. On the walls of the run-down room hang a pay telephone and a sign with owner Jim Becker’s rules, such as keeping one’s car clean, not overcharging, and not drinking. The play’s two acts are each divided into four scenes.

The first act opens with Turnbo and Youngblood agitatedly playing a game of checkers. Fielding, noticing that his hidden gin bottle is empty, asks them for four dollars and is rejected. The phone rings, and Fielding answers it, agreeing to pick up a passenger. When Doub enters, Fielding tells him he needs four dollars for gas, and Doub loans it to him. Shealy enters, then Becker, and Shealy asks Becker if he can get his nephew a job at the mill. Becker says he will look into it. During this scene Becker, Fielding, and Doub all have occasion to criticize Turnbo for sticking his nose into other people’s business. The scene ends with Youngblood talking on the phone to a Mr. Harper about a closing date for a house he plans to buy. Youngblood learns his down payment does not cover a necessary title search on the property.

In scene 2, Turnbo hits on Youngblood’s girlfriend Rena, telling her she needs a more mature man and that he has seen Youngblood running around with Rena’s sister. Later, Rena confronts Youngblood about his taking the grocery money and his running around with her sister. Meanwhile, Doub learns that the city plans to tear down the jitney station along with the rest of the block, and he confronts Becker about knowing this for two weeks without telling the drivers. Doub also criticizes Becker for letting the station go downhill, ignoring Fielding’s drinking and other drivers’ overcharging or their refusing to haul passengers’ belongings. Becker responds that he is tired of the business and thinking of quitting. The scene ends with Becker getting a call to tell him that his son is being released...

(The entire section is 815 words.)

Jitney Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bryer, Jackson R., and Mary C. Hartig, eds. Conversations with August Wilson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. Collection of seventeen reprinted interviews with Wilson. Wilson provides insights into his aim and technique in Jitney in his interviews with Sandra Shannon, Elisabeth Heard, and Herb Boyd.

Elam, Harry J., Jr. The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Probing examination of Wilson’s plays, including Jitney, in a sociohistoric context; organized around key questions and themes that evolve throughout the cycle.

Herrington, Joan. “Jitney: August Wilson’s Round Trip.” In “I ain’t sorry for nothin’ I done”: August Wilson’s Process of Playwriting. New York: Limelite Editions, 1998. Illuminating discussion of differences between the original and the revised versions of Jitney. Argues that Wilson’s method of rewriting during the rehearsal process enabled him to make improvements inspired by the input of the director and actors.

McClinton, Marion Isaac. Introduction to Jitney, by August Wilson. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2001. Moving account of the significance of Jitney and August Wilson to African Americans.

Reed, Ishmael. Foreword to Jitney, by August Wilson. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2007. Feisty discussion of Wilson’s play in an American racial and political context.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. August Wilson: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Provides an extensive chronology of Wilson’s life and works, 166 encyclopedic entries on such topics as the themes, characters, allusions, and events that occur in Jitney and Wilson’s other writings, and useful appendixes, such as a list of forty potential topics for writing projects.