The protagonist of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the titular character, a blues singer whose recording session is the setting of August Wilson’s play. However, the other musicians who take part in its debates about race and economics play significant parts in the narrative.
In some respects, the antagonist is Levee, the youngest of the musicians, who wants to get together his own band to record his own songs, and whose faith that the white managers who control the music business will allow him to succeed is dashed. His frustration leads him to stab another of the musicians, an event that represents the violence black people do to each other because they cannot reach the white oppressors who are the real targets of their rage.
However, the real antagonist is the white power structure that controls the music business and the country. The play’s dialogue is largely about the characters’ experiences of racism and their knowledge that white managers are using their talent to make large amounts...
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