Dramatic irony play is when the plots fulfill the protagonist's plans of action in an unexpected way to the reader/viewer and more often than not the opposite of what the reader believed. Why does...

Dramatic irony play is when the plots fulfill the protagonist's plans of action in an unexpected way to the reader/viewer and more often than not the opposite of what the reader believed.

Why does Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play fit that selection?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Charles Fuller’s script for A Soldier’s Play displays dramatic irony in multiple ways.  The first, and less sensational, involves the racist attitudes of Sergeant Waters, the African American noncommissioned officer whose views on lower-class, uneducated blacks like C.J. Memphis, who Waters frames for a crime and who commits suicide in his brig cell, are deeply rooted in his own bitter experiences as a soldier in a segregated army, and in his belief that, in order for blacks to succeed, the better educated blacks needed to weed out the weaker and less-sophisticated ones.  As Waters explains to C.J. after the latter has been unjustly imprisoned due to the sergeant’s actions,

“Them Nazis ain’t all crazy.  Whole  lot of people just can’t seem to fit in to where things seem to be going.  Like you, C.J.  See, the Black race can’t afford you no more. . .The day of the Geechee is gone, boy. And you’re going with it.”

In a play about black soldiers defending a racist society in a segregated army during World War II, Waters views clearly represent dramatic irony.  Waters is African American, but is prejudiced against African Americans who do not fit his ideal of what blacks should be.

A Soldier’s Play is even more ironic in the revelation of the identity of Sergeant Waters’ murderer.  Throughout much of the play, it is expected that white supremacists were behind the murder.  Early in his investigation, Captain Davenport questions two white officers known to harbor racist attitudes.  As the investigation continues, however, with Davenport developing a better sense of the atmosphere surrounding Waters’ platoon, the pool of suspects expands considerably, with the African American soldiers emerging as potential murderers.  The main example of dramatic irony in Fuller’s story, then, occurs when the identity of the killers, Privates Peterson and Smalls, is revealed, with the former commenting to Davenport, “I didn't kill much. Some things need getting rid of.”  That the killers of Sergeant Waters turned out to be people of his own race provides the play its greatest irony. 

Davenport’s response to Peterson’s comment -- “Who gave you...the right to judge?  To decide who is fit...to be a Negro...and who is not?” – is heart wrenching.  Captain Davenport is the exceptionally rare example of an African American soldier who has been permitted to rise in the ranks of commissioned officers in the United States Army.  He begins his investigation convinced that white racists murdered Waters.  That the killers turned out to be black, and possessed of the same prejudicial views as the white supremacists initially believed to be behind the murder of a man who similarly held to prejudicial views is dramatic irony at its most blatant.

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