Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 846
Economic Hardship A central theme of Blues for an Alabama Sky is economic hardship. Cleage set her play in 1930, early in the depression. The writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, which flourished during the 1920s, were hard hit by the depression because the struggle for economic stability detracted...
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A central theme of Blues for an Alabama Sky is economic hardship. Cleage set her play in 1930, early in the depression. The writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, which flourished during the 1920s, were hard hit by the depression because the struggle for economic stability detracted from the time and resources necessary to pursue artistic endeavors. Cleage thus focuses on the unknowns of the Harlem Renaissance, those struggling singers, dancers, and other artists who were so financially devastated by the depression that they were unable to successfully pursue their dreams. The character of Angel, in particular, is sidetracked from her goal of being a blues singer by the meager job opportunities available to her after she is fired from the Cotton Club. Angel’s approach to addressing economic hardship is to rely on a man to support her. After she is fired, Guy takes her in and supports her, even though he, too, has been fired. Angel had been supported by Nick, a gangster who paid for her apartment and nice clothes in exchange for her favors as his mistress. After Nick gets married and breaks up with Angel, he passes her name on to another friend, Tony T., who offers to support her as his mistress. Angel is vague about her response to this offer, but it seems that she accepts it, for lack of any better financial opportunity. However, when Leland asks her to marry him, she agrees, not because she loves him, but because she sees in him an opportunity for financial stability. Angel is a survivor and is not above doing whatever it takes to make her way in the world, even if that means selling her body to the highest bidder. Cleage thus portrays the ways in which a creative or artistic person, such as Angel, who is a singer and dancer, can be diverted from pursuing her dreams by the need to overcome economic hardship.
Family planning and reproductive rights are also important themes of this play. Delia’s goal is to open the first family planning clinic in Harlem. As a social worker, Delia is working with Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in women’s reproductive rights, to gain community support for the project. Delia’s primary concern is to convince the popular Reverend Adam Powell of the Abyssinian Church in Harlem to support the opening of a clinic. Delia explains that she is ‘‘trying to give women in Harlem the chance to plan their families’’ through access to birth control. She comments that, because of the inaccessibility of family planning services, ‘‘women are dying.’’ Sam agrees to help Delia prepare her speech to Reverend Powell and the deacon board of the church, but his perspective on the issue is somewhat different from Delia’s. He tells her that the issue of birth control in the African-American community is more complicated than she thinks. He explains that some African-American organizations interpret the efforts of Margaret Sanger, a white woman, as an act of ‘‘genocide’’ against the African- American community. He comments, ‘‘What does family planning mean to the average colored man? White women teaching colored women how to stop having children.’’ Sam helps Delia approach the issue as a matter of strengthening the black family through family planning. She changes her speech to focus on asking the church authorities ‘‘for their help in building strong families with healthy mothers, happy children and loving fathers all over Harlem.’’ With Sam’s help, Delia successfully convinces the church to support the opening of a family planning clinic. Later, Margaret Sanger addresses the church congregation about her plans for the clinic, successfully gaining their support. However, after Sam performs an illegal abortion on Angel and is shot by Leland, press coverage of the incident creates a scandal which causes the community to withdraw support for the clinic.
Homosexuality and Homophobia
Homosexuality and homophobia are also central themes of this play. Throughout the play, Cleage explores the issue of homosexuality and homophobia (prejudice against homosexuals) in the African- American community. She portrays both the vital gay community in Harlem of the 1920s and 1930s and the virulent homophobia, which results in acts of brutality and violence against gays. Guy, who is homosexual, is clearly established in the gay community of Harlem, attending many parties and hobnobbing with famous gay writers. On first moving to Harlem, Guy had earned his living designing costumes for drag queens. One night, friends of his and Angel’s, a gay couple, are beaten up by a group of men around the corner from their apartment building. Later in the play, a group of young men attack Guy as he is walking home from the store, but he successfully fights them off. It turns out that Leland knows these men from his prayer meeting. Angel has been lying to Leland in order to cover up the fact that Guy is homosexual. When Leland finds out, he states that he thinks homosexuality is ‘‘an abomination.’’ Guy angrily kicks Leland out of his apartment for the insult.