Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson is a play that takes place in 1904 in the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old African American woman. Ester has become known as a wise woman who can cleanse souls, so troubled and lost characters find their way to her home seeking her wisdom and gift. Ester knows that she will not be around forever and needs to train someone else to take on her soul-cleansing abilities. She chooses Black Mary Wilks, her housekeeper. Ester tells Black Mary that she needs to decide if she wants to take on Ester’s gift of healing after she is gone and warns her about the heavy burden that it carries.
As Ester’s housekeeper, Black Mary does most of the work around the house, including washing Ester’s feet in a way symbolic of Mary washing Jesus’ feet. Unfortunately, the housework that Black Mary completes is hardly ever done to Ester’s satisfaction, which is difficult for Black Mary.
Black Mary is also the sister of Caesar Wilks, who is a policeman who upholds the law...
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