The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1128

At the beginning of The Blacks, the proscenium curtain is drawn to reveal a backdrop of black velvet curtains and various tiers, the highest of which, in the far rear, comes to be occupied by “the court.” Four black men and four black women dance around a catafalque (an ornamental structure containing a coffin) to a minuet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The members of the court are black but wear white masks so as to represent onstage an extension of the white audience in the theater. To both the court and the audience, Archibald introduces himself, then introduces Village, Bobo, Ville de Saint-Nazaire, Neige, Félicité, Vertu, and Diouf. Archibald and Félicité are the directors of the other blacks, who will present an enactment of the rape-murder of the white woman whose body now lies in the catafalque. This enactment, which the audience is told is performed every night, will constitute a play within the play. There is also a “play” occurring outside the play: Archibald sends Ville de Saint-Nazaire offstage to attend to important matters, which will later be disclosed as the trial and execution of a black by the black comrades he has betrayed—comrades in an antiwhite revolution.

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The play within the play begins as Village takes leave of Vertu, a black prostitute to whom he professes his love, to play the role of the rapist-murderer. Félicité assigns to Diouf the role of the white woman. He is given a blond wig, a white mask, balls of wool, a knitting needle, and white gloves. Finally, Félicité removes her skirt, and Diouf is put into it. Village undertakes his seduction of the white woman, named Marie, while addressing his words to Vertu, who in consternation begs him to stop. Remaining within the main play, Vertu is suddenly jealous of the white woman in the inner play and fears losing Village to her.

In the next segment of the inner play, Bobo acts as a midwife. She produces—from under Diouf’s shirt—five white dolls, one after the other; they represent the Governor, the Valet, the Judge, the Missionary, and the Queen—the members of the white court. Village then carries out his seduction as the court looks on. At this point Ville de Saint-Nazaire reenters with a report on the progress of the treason trial in the play outside the play. Comparing notes, Village and Ville de Saint-Nazaire bring the two plays into junction. The members of the court leave the stage to visit the world of the dead.

Diouf then, both as himself and as the murdered white woman, speaks from the world of the dead. Looking down from a tier, he describes his experience of being impregnated by Village and relates his God-vision of the white world that is hated by the blacks. Diouf explains that whites are not really white but actually pink or yellowy.

The members of the court—Valet, Governor, Missionary, Judge, and Queen, in that order—reappear in what is now taken to be Africa and proceed, in their roles as whites, to preside over the judgment of the rapist-murderer. The contrast of black and white is now heightened by the meeting of night and day: As Félicité announces that it is dawn, Archibald imitates the crowing of a cock; shortly thereafter, the Valet does the same. The “white” court and the blacks bow to each other, while the white dolls that represent the court remain in full view. The ensuing black-white confrontation is deeply imbued with racial hatred, and white tolerance of blacks is satirized by the Judge’s concession that all Africa cannot be held responsible for the death of one white woman.

The trial is interrupted by Ville de Saint-Nazaire’s report of the revolutionary traitor’s execution. At his appearance, the members of the court remove their masks and stand forth as blacks. Presently, the actors who have played the court decide, along with the other...

(The entire section contains 1565 words.)

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