Pearl Cleage, in her drama Blues for an Alabama Sky, has created two strong female characters who develop a relationship that exposes both their similarities and their incongruities. Throughout the passing sequences of the play, the women’s stories weave in and out of one another’s lives. In the beginning, the women bond with one another and experience mutual benefit, but, in the end, the characters are left connected to one another only through an irreconcilable grief. Cleage presents these women honestly, unafraid of exposing both their strengths and their weaknesses, as she strives, as stated in an interview in American Theatre, to be free of creating characters whose main roles are to portray only ‘‘the idea of positive images and role models.’’ Rather, Cleage merely offers this relationship of two divergent women; then she leaves it to the audience to pick through the women’s various personality traits to create their own role models.
Angel Allen, one of the two female characters in Cleage’s play, is a thirty-four-year-old blues singer who is out of a job and has few prospects for her future. Angel is also a woman of the world who has been with many men and who, despite her talents, tends to rely on men to support her. She likes to wear flashy clothes, and she can be very manipulative. Her counterpart, Delia Patterson, is twenty- five years old and a social worker. Delia wears drab, old-womanish outfits to create a professional image that will foster confidence in her clients. Delia is a virgin. She is also a pioneering feminist. In the description of the female characters, Cleage states in the stage directions that Angel looks five years younger than she really is. Delia, on the other hand, because she wears frumpy clothes, looks older than her age. In other words, despite the fact that a nineyear age difference exists between the women, the time is bridged by the differences in the women’s personalities. Throughout the play, Cleage repeats this same pattern, showing how the women’s differences both bring them together and pull them apart.
The play begins with Angel having to be assisted into her apartment because she is drunk. She has lost both her job and her boyfriend. The audience is introduced to Delia when she runs over to Angel’s apartment to see if she can help the intoxicated Angel. In this introductory scene, Cleage sets up the divergent qualities of the personalities of the two women. She juxtaposes the immaturity and carelessness of Angel with the sensibility and levelheadedness of Delia. Delia worries about and is very supportive of Angel. She suggests that she can help Angel find a new job by teaching her how to type. Angel, once she is sober, tolerates Delia but eventually turns her nose up at the idea of typing. Angel is an artist and to take a job that requires typing, although it might buy her food, is beneath her. Angel would rather go hungry or rely on someone else to feed her.
Men support Angel both financially and psychologically. Men come first in her life, with her career maintaining only a secondary status. Delia, on the other hand, is independent of men, as much as a woman in the early 1930s could be. She is attracted to and respectful of them, but she does not rely on them for support. She recognizes their power, but she does not see herself as subservient to them. Delia accepts life’s challenges in a way that inspires her, while Angel, when faced with difficulties, either turns to men or alcohol.
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women both share an affection for the character Sam, a Harlem doctor. It is through Sam’s eyes that the audience is given a masculine point of view of the two women. Angel, upon interacting with Sam in one scene, tells him, ‘‘I’m looking for a job. Let’s get married.’’ Although her sentiment is not totally sincere, Angel makes this statement as a test, trying to pull out Sam’s feelings for her. Sam, who obviously cares for Angel, puts her down gently, telling her that she deserves a better man. The truth of Sam’s affections is confirmed shortly afterward, when he reveals that he is interested in Delia. He is attracted to Delia’s innocence, her zeal, and her independence. He appreciates Angel’s beauty and artistic talent, but he is aware of the shallowness of Angel’s motives.
While both women share the desire for a man, Delia develops a relationship with Sam that is built on mutual admiration and honesty. Angel, in the meantime, flirts with Leland, a complete stranger. Leland has been recently widowed, and Angel reminds him of his deceased wife. Whereas Delia opens herself up to Sam, exposing to him exactly who she is, Angel is aware that Leland is looking for a replacement for his wife, and she accommodates herself to his fantasy. Leland wants a ‘‘god-fearing’’ woman, so Angel plays the part.
Delia and Angel, although they have different ways of expressing it, share a passion for life. This is demonstrated, in particular, during a scene in which Delia receives a gift from her aunt. It is a fancy red dress, one that might be worn to a nightclub. Although the red dress clashes with the clothes that Delia typically wears, the stage directions state that she ‘‘holds it up against herself and smiles.’’ She looks at herself in the mirror and twirls around before placing the dress back on her bed and returning to her work. Later, when she looks over at the dress, she smiles, again. The color red and the flimsy material, which, if worn, would outline her figure rather than hide it, reflect her femininity and her latent sexual passions. Although she acknowledges these feelings, her work takes precedence over them.
As is seen later, it is through the scene of the red dress that the audience witnesses a connection between the two women. They are both women of passion. They both direct their feelings into their work: Delia focuses her feelings on issues of women’s rights, whereas Angel uses her emotions to deepen the effect of her singing the blues. Although the women both can relate to the dress (and its implications), the way they direct and use their passions is quite different. Delia controls her feelings. She is more empathetic about other people because she understands her own psychology. She recognizes her passion, but she is willing to put it to the side when a more rational focus is demanded. In contrast, Angel’s emotions are constantly bursting out of her, exposing themselves to, and affecting, everyone around her.
The red dress sets up another interesting aspect of the women’s relationship, as shown when Angel comes over to Delia’s apartment to announce that she has an audition for a new singing job. As she is talking to Delia, Angel eyes the red dress lying on the bed. When she finishes telling Delia her news, Angel asks Delia if she could borrow something to wear to the audition. Delia confirms what Angel already knows about Delia’s normal wardrobe. ‘‘Most of my stuff is . . . plain.’’ At that moment, Angel pretends as if she has just noticed the red dress: ‘‘Deal! What about this? Is it new?’’
With this exchange, the audience sees the transparency of Angel. They also see how manipulative she can be. The difference in the women’s wardrobe also portrays their dissimilar roles in society. Whereas Delia’s goal is to blend in so that she can get her message across, Angel needs to stand out to capture people’s attention. This scene also points out the giving nature of Delia as compared to the taking mode of Angel. However, the relationship works because the women mutually benefit from one another. Delia needs to give. It is through giving that she defines herself. In turn, Angel reminds Delia of her own feminine passion, and it is because of Angel’s prompting that Delia decides to open up to Sam.
In the final scenes of the play, both the similarities and the differences between these women are even more emphasized. In regard to Angel, the audience gets to witness the length to which she will go to grab at any opportunity that comes her way in spite of the consequences that might befall the people around her. She first seduces Leland and becomes pregnant in an attempt to secure a marriage. In a twist of fate, she then discovers that Guy (her roommate) has received a large sum of money and has bought Angel and himself tickets to Paris. This is a dream come true for Guy, and his first reaction is to want to share it with Angel. Guy, who is homosexual, is not physically attracted to Angel, but this does not stop him from loving her. He is disappointed and hurt by Angel’s desires to marry Leland, but he is even more disappointed when she tells him that she is willing to frivolously abort her pregnancy so she can go to Paris with him.
After the abortion, Angel faces Leland, first attempting to lie to him, then revealing her true feelings by telling him that she has been pretending to love him and now she’s tired of him. Then she announces that she has aborted their baby. In this scene, all that Angel thinks about is herself. She has decided that since Guy is offering to support her, thus giving her a way out of Harlem and, supposedly, out of her misery, she can discard all the other people around her. She has no regard for Leland’s feelings. The consequence of her insensitivity toward Leland leads to the death of Sam, whom Leland kills for performing the abortion. The death of Sam leaves Delia in mourning.
When Leland is imprisoned for murder, Angel, unable to face all the trauma she has created, runs away. The only two characters left, at this point of the play, are Delia and Guy. Their relationship is based on Angel: Guy is left with two tickets to Paris, and Delia needs to take a break to heal her wounds. Angel’s affect is apparent on both of them. Guy has grown used to taking care of Angel, of having her tag along with him as a sister. He offers the Paris ticket to Delia, as he needs someone to share his joy. Delia, under Angel’s influence, decides to be somewhat irresponsible for once in her life. When Guy asks Delia to go to Paris with him, she decides in his favor. So, in contrast to the earlier scene where Angel takes the red dress from Delia, Delia now takes the ticket to Paris from Angel. Delia has claimed a new outlet for her passions.
The play ends with a confrontation between Delia and Angel. Angel reappears just as Delia and Guy are leaving for Paris. Stage directions take over the final moments of the play, as the only dialogue spoken is Delia and Angel saying short good-byes to one another. The directions state that both women know that things have changed forever between them. Delia leaves ‘‘without looking back,’’ while Angel goes to the window to think. This suggests that both women have come to a kind of crossroads in their lives, a time to take stock and revise. They have seen the best and the worst in one another, as well as in themselves. Right before this scene, Delia had remarked to Guy that the newspaper article on Sam’s death sounded ‘‘so tawdry.’’ Guy’s response is: ‘‘It is tawdry. And so what? So are we all. Tawdry and tainted and running for our natural lives!’’ This is Cleage’s main point. All people have their own crude sides. No one is different from another, because everyone is just trying her or his own best way to live. Cleage does not offer her definitions of which way is the best. She does not judge either Delia or Angel. What she does is allow them to expose themselves to the audience as honestly as she can. The two women do this best by demonstrating their differences in relation to one another. In their relationship, they learn about one another as well as discover themselves. The attractive elements they unearth in themselves, they keep. The elements that Delia and Angel find fascinating in each other, they try on. If they stumble onto something in themselves that they don’t like, hopefully they will discard it. However, Cleage is a realist, and, just as in life, sometimes this doesn’t happen.
Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on Blues for an Alabama Sky, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Hart has degrees in English literature and creative writing, and her published writing focuses on literary themes.
An important theme of Blues for an Alabama Sky is the pursuit of dreams. While Angel is easily diverted from her dream of being a blues performer by the immediate concerns of economic hardship, Guy steadfastly pursues his dream without faltering for even a moment.
Guy’s dream is to be hired as a costume designer for the famous African-American blues singer Josephine Baker, who is living in Paris at the time in which the play takes place. Josephine Baker (1906–1975) was an African-American dancer and singer who met with tremendous popular success performing in Paris music halls during the late 1920s. As Cleage states in the stage notes, in 1930, the citizens of Harlem were suffering the ill effects of the Depression, while ‘‘far from Harlem, Afri can-American expatriate extraordinaire, Josephine Baker sips champagne in her dressing room at the Folies Bergère and laughs like a free woman.’’ For Cleage, as for the character of Guy, Josephine Baker is a symbol of freedom. Guy keeps his dream in sight at all times by placing a large photo of Josephine, as he calls her, in his workspace, a reminder of what he is striving for. Guy is intent on going to Paris to work for Josephine and sprinkles his conversation with French phrases, both real and made up, as if, in his mind, he were already there. He also sips champagne every chance he gets, as if by drinking an alcoholic beverage made in France, he is that much closer to realizing his dream come true.
But Guy doesn’t simply indulge in idle dreams. He diligently pursues his dreams. He tells Delia, ‘‘I’m going to drive Josephine crazy until she sends for me.’’ Although it seems to others like an unrealistic goal, Guy never once doubts himself. He pursues his dream by first sending sketches of his costume designs to Josephine. In response, he receives a cable asking him to send several costumes for her to try on. At this point, he tells Delia, ‘‘As far as I can see, all’s right with the world. My dreams are about to come true.’’ Finally, he receives the long-awaited cable inviting him to Paris to work for Josephine, with a first-class ticket and plenty of money enclosed.
Guy associates his dreams of creative and professional success with the idea of romance. He frequently describes everyday situations in the language of the romance novel, which indicates his view of the world as a place of infinite possibility, where one’s wildest dreams may come true. He describes Leland, a stranger who helped him to drag a drunken Angel home at 3 a.m., as ‘‘A mysterious gentleman who came to our aid and then melted back into the Harlem night.’’ Delia comments, ‘‘That’s very romantic.’’ To which Guy responds, ‘‘That’s one of the secrets of life. . . . Learn to spot the romance.’’ For Guy, spotting the romance means taking his dreams seriously and pursuing them diligently. As an example of what he means, Guy shows Delia a new costume design he has sketched for Josephine Baker. He tells her, ‘‘I dreamed it. I saw Josephine walking down the center staircase of one of those fabulous Folies-Bergère sets in this very dress.’’ (The Folies Bergère was a popular Paris music hall where many of Josephine Baker’s performances were staged.) Guy again adopts the language of a romance novel when he explains to Angel, who was too drunk to remember being helped by Leland, that the young man ‘‘saw a damsel in distress’’ and came to her rescue.
Angel, by contrast, has lost sight of her dream of becoming a blues singer and is instead pursuing immediate financial gain. As the play opens, she has just ended a relationship as the mistress of a gangster. Guy brings her home drunk and suggests she go to bed to sleep it off. But Angel replies, ‘‘I don’t want to go to bed. What kind of dreams am I gonna have, hunh? No man. No job.’’ From Angel’s perspective, the only dream possible is the dream of a man or a job to meet her financial needs. Guy suggests she come to Paris with him, pursue the dream of a singing career, and ‘‘Give Josephine some competition.’’ But Angel has no sense of romance and no sense of imagination with which to envision the ambitious dreams Guy pursues.
Angel is, in fact, disdainful of Guy’s attempts to pursue his dreams, referring to him sarcastically as ‘‘some kind of genius with a dream.’’ Guy then asks Angel, who has just accepted an offer to be a mistress of yet another gangster, ‘‘Is that your dream? Singing for gangsters?’’ When Leland passes on to Angel the message that Guy has finally received a cable from Josephine, he tells her that Guy said ‘‘it was a dream come true.’’ Angel’s response, however, is disdainful and pessimistic; she tells Leland, ‘‘I’m tired of Negro dreams. All they ever do is break your heart.’’ Angel later comments, ‘‘Guy’s a dreamer. He always was and he always will be, but I’m gonna hitch my star to somebody a little closer to home.’’ Angel considers herself a practical woman who knows how to survive in a harsh world and will not waste her time on big dreams; she tells Leland, ‘‘I know how to take care of myself! I’m not going to be a broke old woman, begging up and down 125th Street, dreaming about fine clothes and French champagne.’’
Angel’s goals, rather, are focused on the material comforts she hopes to gain through being supported by a man. She explains to Guy that, the whole time she was involved with Nick, ‘‘I kept thinking something wonderful was going to happen, but it never did. In my mind, I could see myself doing all these things with Nick—riding around in fancy cars, wearing furs, him giving me diamonds.’’ When Guy asks Angel what she sees in Leland, she responds, ‘‘A rent check that won’t bounce.’’ From Angel’s perspective, a rent check that won’t bounce is a dream come true. As Guy later comments, Angel sees in Leland ‘‘her ticket to Paradise.’’ Angel’s idea of paradise is severely limited to practical matters such as paying the rent, whereas Guy’s idea of paradise is a romantic dream of life in Paris where he will be acknowledged and rewarded for his creative genius and hard work as a costume designer.
Throughout the play, Guy’s unfailing focus on his dream is contrasted with Angel’s short-sighted focus on immediate financial concerns. When they receive an eviction notice, Angel is distressed, but Guy tells her not to worry because ‘‘I’ve been feeling Josephine in the air all day!’’ Angel, however, can think only of the immediate crisis, insisting, ‘‘Don’t you understand? They’re going to put us out on the street in seven days! One week!’’ She has no tolerance for the big dreams that prevent Guy from succumbing to such short-term setbacks. Angel insists on seeing only the concrete reality of the here-and-now and refuses to acknowledge any ambitious fantasies about the future. She tells Guy, ‘‘Whatever presence you’re feeling hasn’t got anything to do with Josephine. We’re not in Paris. We’re in Harlem. We’re not strolling the boulevard. We’re about to be evicted!’’
Rather than banking on dreams, Angel acts according to the principles of luck. She tells Guy that she wishes she could bring herself some luck, and for Angel good luck means finding the right man to provide her with financial support and economic stability. She explains that she is interested in Leland because he ‘‘feels like luck to me.’’ Leland later tells Angel that she ‘‘had a run of bad luck,’’ but that he will change her luck by taking care of her. Angel flirtatiously asks, ‘‘You gonna be my lucky charm?’’ to which Leland responds, ‘‘I’m gonna be your man.’’ From Angel’s perspective, a man with money is a lucky charm. Guy, in contrast to Angel, is farsighted in his goals and dreams big, but is also willing to do the work of taking all the babysteps necessary to realize his dreams. Angel, however, thinks in terms of luck—the idea that events beyond her control will determine her future— and so is not motivated to work toward her goals.
In contrast to Guy, who dreams big and plans far in advance in order to realize these dreams, Angel is shortsighted, seeing only her immediate needs at hand and taking whatever solution will satisfy her concerns for the immediate future. She essentially prostitutes herself to wealthy men in exchange for clothes, lodging, and other material comforts, at the expense of her dreams, her personal feelings, and her long-term circumstances. Guy points out to Angel that she is too shortsighted, unable to imagine any possibilities beyond her immediate surroundings. He tells her, ‘‘For prospects, you gotta look past 125th Street. No law says we gotta live and die in Harlem, USA, just ’cause we happened to wind up here when we finally blew out of Savannah. The world is a big place!’’ Angel, however, responds with her own small-minded vision, retorting that the world is ‘‘getting smaller every day.’’ Guy argues otherwise, telling her, ‘‘No it isn’t. I can look out of this very window and see us walking arm in arm down the Champs Elysées’’ (in Paris).
Unlike Angel, Guy is able to see beyond his immediate circumstances to imagine a bigger and better future for himself. Angel comments, ‘‘Remember how you used to take those old broke-up binoculars whenever we’d go to the beach at home? The only Negro in the world ever tried to see Paris from the coast of Georgia.’’ The image of the broken binoculars, through which Guy nevertheless looks out across the ocean to Paris, symbolizes his long-sighted vision of his dreams, despite the inadequate resources of his immediate situation. Angel, however, always focuses on her immediate financial needs—such as paying the rent—and is unable to use her imagination to envision her dreams, or anyone else’s dreams, for that matter. She disdainfully says to Guy, ‘‘The myth of the magical Josephine. She practically lives with us but so far I haven’t seen her share of the rent money!’’
Throughout Blues for an Alabama Sky, Cleage emphasizes the importance of dreams to creating a meaningful life. She further demonstrates the difference between idle dreams of material luxury, and realistic, yet ambitious, dreams toward which the individual is willing to work with diligence and persistence. However, Cleage also explores the effects of poverty and financial hardship on creative individuals, often thwarting their ambitions and consuming them with the need to ‘‘pay the rent.’’
Source: Liz Brent, Critical Essay on Blues for an Alabama Sky, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Brent has a Ph.D. in American Culture, specializing in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema.
The African-American woman—arguably the most disenfranchised individual in American history— takes center stage in Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky. Angel, the main character of the play, provides a portrait of the subjugated or enslaved. However tempted one is to characterize Angel’s problems as being a byproduct of her own selfdestructive behavior, Angel is a victim. During a time of great poverty, in the face of an economy spiraling out of control, Angel turns away from the camaraderie or goodwill and comfort of her peers to find a way out of the oppression she experiences from day to day.
Angel’s life is presented to the audience in bits and pieces throughout the course of the play. From the outset, Cleage throws her audience right into the action, as a drunken Angel weaves her way home after hearing that her Italian gangster lover has ‘‘left’’ her to get married. And, it is through Angel’s eyes that Delia learns about Angel’s days working at Miss Lillie’s as a prostitute. Delia’s reaction is one of disgust, responding, ‘‘I don’t know how you can talk about it like that . . . about what happened to you.’’ Angel accepts her circumstance as a part of life, in her comment, ‘‘It was better than living on the street.’’ Angel’s friend Guy, too, is often enlightening in his interaction with Angel. He speaks to her, reminding Angel he is, as always, willing to be her support system and protector as Angel moves out of one bad relationship or situation into another. His aim is to comfort her, to smooth over the rough spots in Angel’s life. After losing his job defending Angel’s honor, he assures Delia, ‘‘Don’t tell Angel. I don’t want her to panic. I can take care of both of us if I have to. It won’t be the first time.’’
Guy’s comments reflect the strong sense of community among himself, Angel, Delia, and Sam. All of the characters not only enjoy strong friendships but also the benefits of a mutual support system. They seem to share a relationship based on emotional affinity and mutual trust. Delia, if somewhat naïvely, good-naturedly responds to Angel’s job loss by offering her the opportunity to learn to type. And when Angel sees Delia’s new dress, the first bright spot in an otherwise drab wardrobe for the social worker, Delia does not hesitate to lend the dress to Angel for her upcoming audition, meeting her attempt to protest the gesture with, ‘‘An audition is something special, isn’t it?’’ A spirit of cooperation, one similar to that of a family unit, quickly takes shape amongst the characters. When Sam cures Angel’s hangover with some aspirin and bootleg liquor, Guy does not hesitate to tell Sam, ‘‘your reward is that you get to take us all out for Sunday dinner.’’ Sam graciously agrees, and the audience learns that Sam’s volunteer efforts to provide dinner for the group are called upon by ‘‘Big Daddy’’ Guy on more than one occasion. But Guy also has a reward for Sam at the play’s conclusion, sharing his new found success with Sam by inviting him to travel to Paris, ‘‘I will expect you [sic] to accompany me if I’m going to have any chance of returning home alive.’’
Sam also forgoes a party invitation celebrating Langston Hughes’s return to Harlem and instead volunteers his time to assist Delia in writing a speech for Reverend Powell. The speech is of great import. Facing strong opposition from the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Delia calls on Sam to help her convince the congregation of the need for a family planning clinic in their community. Her attempts at mobilizing a hostile community are brave if not revolutionary. According to Sam, in act 1, scene 3, ‘‘the Garveyites are already charging genocide and the clinic isn’t even open yet.’’ He goes on to say, ‘‘What does family planning mean to the average colored man? White women teaching colored women how to stop having children.’’ Sam is cautioning Delia against a community that sees birth control as both a form of murder and a guarantor of white supremacy in number.
In an interview with Annette Gilliam in the Washington Informer, Cleage comments, ‘‘I will always write about Black people and our efforts to build a community where we can live safely. . . . These will always be my themes, regardless of the forum.’’ The play offers the audience a chance to participate, and through Delia’s brave struggles, to experience some of the excitement and enthusiasm fueling what Sam describes as ‘‘working tirelessly to save the [Black] race!’’ Sam shares Delia’s vision of ‘‘strong families with healthy mothers, happy children and loving fathers all over Harlem.’’ Exercising birth control and participating in family planning is not a means to diminish the Black population but instead a method by which ‘‘exhausted women and stone-broke men’’ can plan for future Black generations. Sam supports Delia but not without personal risk. He doesn’t hesitate to offer to Delia the ground floor of his parents’ brownstone to house the clinic, despite dangerous threats and a fire ‘‘set to run them out’’ of the original clinic site. Via Cleage, the audience is not only given a more intimate view of the community in Harlem, but insight into the personal motivations and brave efforts of some of its heroes and heroines alike.
Angel does not share the enthusiasm of her friends nor their political convictions. Nursing a hangover, Angel responds to Delia’s enthusiasm for her mission by making a groan followed by an appeal to Sam and Guy, ‘‘Please don’t get her all worked up! I can’t take the history of the downtrodden without some aspirin!’’ It is a humorous moment but also predictable in light of Angel’s character. Although this juke-joint songstress has the support of her offbeat family—a gay tailor, a doctor, and his newfound love interest, a young ‘‘free-loving suffragette’’— Angel is a fringe element, remaining somewhat aloof from the group, absorbed by selfinterest. Nor does she seem to be concerned with the success of her friends, except as a function of her own personal gain. Although embraced by her makeshift family, one showering her with love and unconditional support, she is unable to find solace or comfort in their devotion. ‘‘Angel’’ is an ironic name in and of itself: Angel considers everyone her ‘‘little sister,’’ including Guy, yet she is a help to no one. She historically relies on the beneficence of others, leaving Guy to pick up the pieces when she runs out of options.
Angel’s failure is, according to some critics, attributable to the destructive choices she makes. These choices destroy any possible opportunities she may have to triumph over her life circumstances. This idea is particularly evident in her interactions with Guy, her longtime male companion who has promised to provide for her, to take care of her, come what may. In a conversation with Delia, Guy reveals that he was fired from his job defending Angel’s honor, his reasoning being that he ‘‘couldn’t hardly stand by and let Bobby toss her out bodily into the street.’’ Guy also reveals, in act 1, scene 1, that ‘‘it won’t be the first time’’ he’s had to take care of Angel. Guy’s actions are not enough to soothe Angel’s spirit. Delia discovers Angel’s true attitude toward Guy after hearing her rather condemning comments, ‘‘Guy’s a dreamer. He always was and he always will be, but I’m gonna hitch my star a little closer to home.’’ Consequently, when Guy’s dreams become a reality, Angel has already announced her pregnancy to Leland and has agreed to a loveless marriage. To further complicate the situation, Angel once again reacts to Guy’s news by having an abortion and announcing to her fiancé that she intends to go to Paris to recuperate from her ordeal. Her actions, in turn, set off a horrible chain of events, events that ultimately cost Sam his life and leave Angel to fend for herself at the play’s conclusion.
Angel has been shaped by her society. For Angel, experience has taught her the saddest of lessons: she only has faith in her own sexuality. Her sexual prowess is the only thing that gives her a sense of power and control over her world. The audience learns early on that Angel has worked as a prostitute. Sex was the key component of Angel’s relationship with Nick, a relationship in which she was provided for until Nick’s marriage. As further reinforcement, Angel is sent on a bogus audition, returning in disgust to report that she had been handed-off to her lover’s gangster friend, Tony T. Says Angel of the alleged meeting, ‘‘he [Tony] didn’t want a singer . . . he wanted to keep a colored woman stashed up in Harlem so he could come by every now and then and rub her head for luck.’’ Consequently, it is not surprising when Angel also resorts to using sex as a way to set her relationship with Leland in motion. In act 2, scene 1, Guy clearly recognizes this quality in Angel and confronts her with it. When Angel criticizes his ability to provide for her, he responds, telling her that she ‘‘wouldn’t dismiss it all so fast’’ if he was a ‘‘straight man’’ offering to take her to Paris. And later on in the very same scene, Cleage drives this point home again, in Angel’s own words. Angel tells Guy that she can’t go to Paris because although she knows he loves her, he doesn’t want to take her home. Guy responds by reminding her that she has and can lean on him, and Angel then betrays her own beliefs by making a distinction along sexual lines, pointing out to Guy that he ‘‘can’t get lost inside’’ her.
Angel is a victim of her own harsh surroundings. She unwittingly destroys any chance she may have to be successful, in an effort to feel a sense of power and control. To anticipate disappointment, to predict and even prepare for failure is ultimately a way to avoid the pain Angel feels concerning her own life. It is safer for Angel to engage in cynicism and distrust than to risk having faith in Guy or Leland. This fear is evident in Angel’s own remarks: ‘‘All I’m afraid of is trying to lean on one more weak Negro who can’t finish what he started!’’ Angel is part of a world in which her voice doesn’t matter, in which her success is limited by the kindness of a man. However seemingly cruel Angel’s behavior is toward both Guy and Leland, it is understandable. Angel is raging against the con- fines of the society that defines her, she is one voice struggling to be heard. For Angel, the only means of self-expression, of asserting her own authority and power, is found through rage. In her interaction with Leland, for example, for every action, there is a reaction. Leland has pursued Angel because she reminded him so much of his dead wife, rather than for any personal qualities she may have had. And when Leland hears that Angel has lost the baby, all he can think about is his pregnant wife and the disappointment he felt when she died, along with his unborn son. Leland does not acknowledge that Angel may have personal boundaries; instead, he crosses them and asserts what he needs, without regard for who she is. Angel recognizes what Leland is doing and lashes out at him in rage in act 2, scene 4, exclaiming, ‘‘you want me to lie! That’s all you ever wanted. Pretend I’m Anna. Pretend I love you. I’m through with it!’’ Through the act of abortion, Angel has taken her power back, remaining true to herself.
Says Cleage, in her interview with the Chicago Sun-Times’s Hedy Weiss, ‘‘When I got to the end of this play, I realized I was trying to make Angel do something that had not been justified by the characters and by their story. . . . I had to come to terms with what it meant for me to create a character that doesn’t triumph.’’ Despite the destructive, seemingly cruel behavior Angel engages in during the course of the play, Angel is a victim of circumstance. She is merely pushing against the invisible boundaries imposed on her by society to achieve a sense of autonomy and of freedom. It is in Angel’s defiance of authority and the rage she feels against her own society that one can realize the tragic quality that defines her struggles as a Black woman. It is not hard, then, to hear ‘‘all those crying colored ghosts’’ that so plague Angel.
Source: Laura Kryhoski, Critical Essay on Blues for an Alabama Sky, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Kryhoski is currently working as a freelance writer.