Blues for Mister Charlie

by James Baldwin
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What is the genre of the play Blues for Mister Charlie?

The genre of the play Blues for Mister Charlie is social commentary drama. Here, as elsewhere in his work, Baldwin uses his writing to comment on certain aspects of contemporary society, most notably racism.

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Blues for Mister Charlie is a play dealing with the racist murder of a Black man by a white man and the subsequent criminal trial. This makes it a prime example of social commentary drama, which, as the name suggests, comments on certain aspects of society.

Right throughout the play, Baldwin provides us with a running commentary on the racial prejudice and injustice that is endemic in American society. There is a horrible sense of inevitability that Lyle, a white man charged with murdering Richard, a Black man, will evade justice for his crime. And sure enough, he does.

This is the inevitable consequence of a criminal justice system, as presented to us by Baldwin, that is so steeped in racial prejudice that it is simply unfit to give Richard's family the justice they so richly deserve.

Baldwin also offers up an interesting commentary on the fierce debate among African Americans as to the most effective means for obtaining justice. Some, like Richard's father, Meridian, believe in a nonviolent approach. Others argue that only violence will jolt white society into giving African Americans their inalienable rights.

By the end of the play, after watching his son's killer walk free from court, Meridian has changed his mind completely. No longer an adherent of nonviolence, he obtains a gun, ready to do whatever it takes to get justice.

Meridian's journey is one that many African Americans took in the days of the civil rights struggle. Large numbers became thoroughly disillusioned by the nonviolent approach of Martin Luther King and the official civil rights movement. They thought that the only way that they could ever get the justice they had been demanding for many years was to resort to more direct methods of political action, even if it involved the use of violence.

In Blues for Mister Charlie, then, we find Baldwin commenting not only on endemic racial prejudice and injustice, but also on how the African American community deal with these negative aspects of their daily existence.

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