Like many other African American authors, Joseph A. Walker examines issues close to the black community and, in particular, those dealing with black American men. Issues of personal identity, relationship strife, and racism play dominant roles in influencing both the thinking and the actions of the black male characters portrayed in his dramas. Lacking a homeland and history, repressed by both whites and assimilationist blacks, and dissociated from the comforts of stable male-female relationships, Walker’s black protagonists lead desperate and often destructive lives.
Walker’s critical success has derived from his realistic portrayals of African American men. Working from his own, personal experiences as a black man in the United States, Walker examines interracial relationships, conflicts between people and society, and the struggle that many blacks have in achieving inner peace and acceptance.
The Harangues is made up of two closely paired one-act plays, each introduced by an episode designed purely to serve as the media for the author’s invective. In the first episode, a fifteenth century West African man observes the presence of slave traders’ ships sitting in the nearby harbor and, foreseeing a life of slavery for his newborn son, chooses to drown him rather than have him captured by the traders.
The one-act that follows this violent episode presents the story of a young interracial couple. A young black man wishes to marry a young white woman who has fallen deeply in love with him and become pregnant with his child. Because the woman’s wealthy father opposes the match and threatens to disinherit his daughter, the young man decides that he and his fiancée must kill her father. Seemingly lacking any familial feeling, the white woman agrees to assist her lover in the murder of her father. However, the plan backfires while still in the planning stages. A traitorous black “friend” reveals the couple’s intentions to the girlfriend’s father and causes the death of the young black man, bringing an end to his plan to marry his white girlfriend and, with her, inherit her father’s estate.
The second episode, echoing in theme and purpose the first, presents a contemporary black American revolutionary who, depressed by his vision of the repression inherent in modern society, decides that he has no future. Knowing that he himself will die, he nevertheless convinces his wife not to die with him but to live on to raise their son as a freedom fighter.
The one-act play that follows centers on a deranged black man in a bar who has taken captive three people—a white liberal man, a black conservative man sympathetic to white society, and the black man’s white girlfriend—and has threatened to kill them unless they can justify their existence. After the captives are subjected to numerous humiliations, it becomes apparent that, according to the protagonist’s ideas of “worthiness,” only the white woman may...
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