(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The play opens with five friends—Canewell, Vera, Red Carter, Hedley, and Louise—gathered in the backyard of a Pittsburgh house. They have just returned from the cemetery where they paid their final respects to their friend Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, mysteriously murdered at thirty-five. It is 1948.

Ironically, his death occurs at precisely the time that his first blues records is fast becoming a hit. The scene is somber until Louise, Floyd’s landlady, erupts with a ribald song, which imparts a joviality to what had been a sad event.

As the play develops, Floyd’s assembled friends recount memories of him and, in a series of flashbacks through which much of the play is revealed, elements of their lives and of Floyd’s are presented and assessed.

Some of the people who attended the funeral swear that they saw angels at the cemetery. Vera insists that she saw six angels, one for each of the mourners and one for Floyd. Louise doubts the presence of angels at Floyd’s funeral, but hers is a minority opinion.

Wilson uses the angels to represent the roles that Floyd’s friends played in his life and the role Floyd played in the lives of his friends who are assembled in his memory. Wilson points to the exploitation that African Americans suffer at the hands of white society. Floyd has been exploited, but now that success is palpable, he will not be alive to enjoy it.

Part of the success of Seven...

(The entire section is 530 words.)