The characters in Gem of the Ocean are all living in freedom, but are they truly free? How do you define freedom? Is it as much a state of mind as anything? 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?

The characters in Gem of the Ocean are not truly free, because they are held back by the past. This hold is embodied in the ancient Aunt Ester, who uses knowledge gained from past experience to help others move forward. Citizen is burdened by feelings of guilt, while Caesar is actually guilty of murder. Solly extends his actions in freeing enslaved people to helping the mill workers.

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All the characters in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean are shown as not being truly free. All are held back in some way by the burden of the past. The power of the past is best represented by Aunt Ester, who is said to be 267 years old;...

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All the characters in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean are shown as not being truly free. All are held back in some way by the burden of the past. The power of the past is best represented by Aunt Ester, who is said to be 267 years old; her life spans the period since enslavement began in the British colonies. She uses the past in generally positive ways, drawing on her knowledge to help each successive generation manage the present and envision a different future.

Wilson explores the impact of the past through the relationship between actual events and people’s emotional and psychological interpretation of those events. Citizen and Caesar are two characters who show how this impact differs. Citizen set off a chain reaction that ultimately led to Garret’s death. The audience sees Aunt Ester try to aid Citizen on his spiritual journey to coping with this guilt. In contrast, Caesar actually does commit murder, but he seems to not to suffer remorse. Regardless, Wilson implies, Caesar will retain the burden of his crime.

Solly shows how the legacy of enslavement remains with a person. His own journey to freedom was only the beginning of a longer journey to help others escape enslavement in his involvement in the Underground Railroad. He continued to carry the weight of this sense of responsibility, taking it upon himself to help the imprisoned mill workers.

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