Gem of the Ocean

by August Wilson

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In Gem of the Ocean, The characters in the play are all living in freedom, but are they truly free? Consider the characters one by one, and discuss how free you think each is. How does each person deal with his or her freedom? How does each character’s freedom change throughout the play?

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Freedom is a slippery concept and an elusive reality for the characters in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. To get you started on this assignment, let's reflect on how the characters do and do not experience freedom in this play.

Aunt Ester was once a slave, and she is perhaps the freest character in the story. She has come to terms with her life and her spirituality. Nothing seems to bother her all that much, and she can use her freedom to help others achieve freedom.

Solly Two Kings is another former slave who once used his freedom to help other people move to freedom along the underground railroad. Solly is very much affected by the continuing form of slavery he sees all around him as his neighbors are held in bondage by their jobs at the local mill. This is why he burns the mill down: to free the people.

Citizen Barlow is not at all free. He is trapped by his conscience, for he has stolen a bucket of nails from the mill. Another man took the blame and died for it, and now Citizen must face what he has done in order to find freedom.

Black Mary is caught up in the household tensions in Aunt Ester's home, and she is also frustrated that she never seems to be able to please Aunt Ester. We might ask if Black Mary is ever able to please herself.

Caesar Wilks thinks that he is the freest person of them all, but he is really the least free, for he is the slave of his pride and violence. He thinks that he is upholding the law, but he is breaking every code of human decency.

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