Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

by August Wilson

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What is the thesis of the story of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom?


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was written by August Wilson. It was put on stage for the first time in 1984. The play is set in Chicago during the 1930s. The play is about a group of black musicians who are in a band with Ma Rainey. One of its main themes is the inequality and power struggle between white and black Americans at the time.

The play starts with these musicians sitting in a recording studio, waiting for Ma Rainey to appear, as she is late for their recording session. They are chatting to each other whilst they wait, they speak about themselves and about their lives. Unfortunately, the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense, especially because of brewing conflicts, such as that between Cutler and Toledo. Added to this already existing tension, Ma Rainey’s delayed arrival further increases the loaded and aggressive atmosphere in the recording studio.

Patience soon runs out, as the band members are put under pressure by the white producers, who want them to hurry up. Despite this, Ma Rainey insists on her stuttering nephew doing the introduction of the song “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” ignoring both the producers’ as well as the other band members’ opinions. This leads to even more growing tension, which finally culminates in one of the band members, the trumpeter Levee, being sacked. As a result of this, he gets so angry that he kills another band member, Toledo, in his fury and frustration.

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