Essays and Criticism
Two Female Characters
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.
The 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 entire section is 2163 words.)