Blues for an Alabama Sky

by Pearl Cleage

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Critical Overview

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Reviewers of Blues for an Alabama Sky frequently focus on the play’s treatment of issues of race and gender in historical context. Freda Scott Giles, in the African American Review, compared Blues for an Alabama Sky to Cleage’s plays Flyin’ West (1992) and Bourbon at the Border (1997), commenting that, in all three, ‘‘Cleage seeks to bring us to grips with our American past and help us understand and acknowledge its impact on present conditions, especially with regard to issues of race and gender.’’

As critics have also observed, in Blues for an Alabama Sky, Cleage focuses on the unknown figures in a specific historical era, the ordinary people who make, and are made by, history, yet remain nameless in official historical accounts. Marta J. Effinger, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, points out that Blues for an Alabama Sky is an example of Cleage’s ‘‘obsession with history.’’ She notes that while Cleage makes reference to a number of notable figures from the Harlem Renaissance era, ‘‘it is clear that the play examines what happened to ordinary people when the Harlem Renaissance ended.’’ Giles concurs that in Blues for an Alabama Sky, as well as in several of Cleage’s other plays, ‘‘Great events are seen not through the eyes of leaders and celebrities, but through the experiences of the ordinary people who lived them.’’ As Effinger states, ‘‘the lives of black men and women’’ in this play ‘‘are dramatized as a struggle to gain access to the sparse opportunities in the early years of the Great Depression.’’

Critics also focus on the character of Angel as someone who ultimately does not take responsibility for the consequences of her actions, for her own life as well as for those around her. Giles comments that Angel, ‘‘accustomed to living in search of someone to take care of her, changes the lives of friends and lovers by failing to accept her responsibility for the shaping of her own destiny.’’ Giles notes that Angel, ‘‘the pivotal character’’ in the play, ‘‘is called to account for her refusal to take responsibility for her actions.’’ Giles goes on to assert:

Angel . . . can only see her destiny in terms of the economic and emotional support of a man, and uses her body as the commodity through which she will achieve this support. Her myopic pursuit of selfinterest strains her relationship with Guy to the breaking point and leads her to ignore the dangerous ground she treads in her relationship with Leland.

Effinger comments that the character of Angel ‘‘does not triumph’’ by the end of the play. Effinger states that Cleage once said that Blues for an Alabama Sky is her first play in which ‘‘one of her black female characters did not overcome obstacles.’’ Effinger remarks that Angel ‘‘makes choices that destroy any possible opportunities,’’ adding, ‘‘At the end of the play Angel is sitting alone in her apartment with the blues.’’

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Essays and Criticism