Memphis Lee’s small restaurant is the setting of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Risa, a young woman who has scarred her legs with a razor to deflect the sexual interest of men, is the restaurant’s cook and waitress. The rest of the African American cast are male and include, among others, Sterling, an unemployed young man recently released from prison; Holloway, a retired house painter; and Hambone, who is mentally retarded.
The gossip, debates, philosophizing, and storytelling that take place in Memphis’ restaurant reflect the oral tradition of African American culture. Some critics note that the characters engaged in the talk seem detached from the racial riots, assassinations, and antiwar protests that marked the late 1960s, when the play takes place. Wilson responds by saying that he was not interested in writing “what white folks think of as American history for the 1960’s.” He was interested in making the point that “by 1969 nothing has changed for the black man.”
One thing not changed by 1969 was economic injustice. Holloway notes that for centuries blacks worked hard for free, enriching white slaveholders. Once blacks have to be paid whites deny them work and call them lazy. The characters in Two Trains Running are directly affected by the whites’ ability to make and interpret rules, to the disadvantage of blacks. When Hambone painted a fence, the white butcher who hired him offered a...
(The entire section is 503 words.)