Funnyhouse of a Negro

by Adrienne Kennedy

Start Free Trial

Characters Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 939


Sarah, also referred to as Negro, a student and poet who has retreated to the room that contains her treasures. She is a pale black woman who wants either to deny her black heritage or to die. Wearing black clothes and an executioner’s rope, Sarah has masses of frizzy hair, one clump of which she carries with her, but only blood for facial features. She verbalizes the internal conflict between her ancestries as a trap from which she cannot extricate herself despite surrounding herself with white friends to guard against recognition of her black birthright. Sarah sees her father as God but cannot reconcile his rape of her with her image of him as Christ and believes that she split her father’s head with the ebony mask. Sarah’s “funnyhouse” is the only safe place she knows, and her “selves” are the only ones with whom she interacts lovingly, but they are deceptions. Finally, her father overcomes her, and Sarah is found hanging in her room.

Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba, also called Man and Wally, one of Sarah’s selves. He sees himself not as the murdered savior of the black race but as a now-crucified Judas who has betrayed mother, wife, and child. A large black man with a shattered head, Lumumba has no identifiable face; the area of his face is covered by blood and skull fragments. He carries an ebony mask. Like Sarah, Patrice Lumumba wants to barricade himself with friends and externals against his black heritage. He is Sarah’s father, who raped her mother because she would not voluntarily consummate the marriage. Lumumba, although in conflict between his guilt and fear and his need to fulfill his mother’s expectations of him as a savior, pleads with Sarah to accept him and to help him save their race. Sarah’s escape to her mother exacerbates the denial of her African ancestry. Sarah’s father has died violently but continues to return. He appears to embody the part of Sarah that relates to the time she spent with her family in Africa.

Duchess of Hapsburg

Duchess of Hapsburg, one of Sarah’s selves, mirrored by both Victoria Regina and Jesus. She empathizes with Sarah’s fear and challenges the father’s right to return. The duchess reinforces Sarah’s belief in her room as a safe place. Concealed behind an alabaster facial mask, she carries a red paper bag of her kinky hair and futilely attempts to return it to her head while simultaneously reflecting Sarah’s need for Raymond to hide her so that she can escape the suffering of her father’s world. Failing to resolve the conflict, the duchess, hanging from a chandelier and decapitated, is discovered by an impotent Jesus. She is the female embodiment of white European tradition.

Queen Victoria Regina

Queen Victoria Regina, one of Sarah’s selves, who denies her place in the black world she believes to be evil. In facial appearance, she is a twin to the duchess. Queen Victoria is dressed in a royal but poor-quality white satin gown. The queen is interested in the motivations behind events. With understanding, she unmasks pieces of Sarah’s essence for the duchess and for Sarah herself. Ultimately powerless, Victoria Regina represents the repulsiveness of a white-distorted reality, and she witnesses Sarah’s death.


Raymond, the Funnyhouse Man, a tall, anorexic-looking Jewish poet dressed in black. He initially displays a dispassionate attitude toward Sarah, whom he sees as a sadistic, suffering liar. He opens and closes the blinds in Sarah’s bedroom just as he opens and closes insights into her life. Raymond first states that her father shot himself but contradicts himself...

(This entire section contains 939 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

after Sarah’s suicide with the statement that Sarah’s father is “married to a white whore” and living as Sarah’s selves have fantasized. Raymond has the insane laugh of a funnyhouse greeter. He may be Sarah’s boyfriend. He appeals to the part of Sarah that denies her African American background.

Sarah’s Landlady

Sarah’s Landlady, called the Funnyhouse Lady, whose real name is Mrs. Conrad, a lanky white busybody who increases her own sense of importance by revealing intimacies about Sarah such as details of her hair loss when traumatized and of her father’s suicide. The Funnyhouse Lady also has the insight to know, however, that Sarah sees only her room and her own perceptions as truth and that she has defined the rest of the world as “they.” Mrs. Conrad responds with false sympathy and genuine hostility to Sarah’s suicide. The landlady’s identifying characteristic is the inappropriate laugh of an insane funnyhouse greeter.


Jesus, one of Sarah’s selves. He reinforces her internal conflict by being caught between the white mother and the black father. An impotent, hunchbacked, pale Negroid dwarf, he carries a red paper bag containing his hair. Jesus, betrayed by his own spiritual belief system and his need to deny being black, decides to kill Lumumba in the name of white royalty because God cannot be his father if his father is black. He is the embodiment of Sarah’s religious background.

The Mother

The Mother, Sarah’s mother. Once symbolized by a dove but now consumed by rage because of her rape by a man she loved, Sarah’s mother mumbles and sleepwalks in a white nightgown while she holds a bald head. She is bald, has been institutionalized, and has died because she allowed a black man to touch her. Even though Sarah shows her constant devotion, her mother denies Sarah’s existence because Sarah is black.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 102

The Landlady is a white woman who runs the boarding house where Sarah lives. She comments on the action and Sarah’s life, providing a needed perspective on what is happening. She believes that Sarah has hidden in her room ever since Patrice Lumumba was murdered and her father hung herself in a Harlem hotel.

The Landlady also says that Sarah’s hair has fallen out because of her suffering. She offers insight into Sarah’s father’s background, and recalls incidents in which he tried to reconcile with his daughter. It is the Landlady who discovers that Sarah has killed herself.

Patrice Lumumba

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 76

Patrice Lumumba is one of Sarah’s inner selves. He is a black man whose head is split in half; his eyes have blood and tissue in them. He carries an ebony mask.

Patrice seems to represent Sarah’s father, though he describes himself in the exact same words that Sarah uses to describe herself. Yet he also introduces the theme of self-hatred in the play. Like all the inner selves, Patrice has lost his hair.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 68

Raymond is a Jewish poet who lives above Sarah in the rooming house. She describes him as a boyfriend who is interested in African Americans.

At the end of the play, Raymond is present when the Landlady discovers that Sarah has killed herself. He informs the Landlady that Sarah’s father is a doctor married to a white woman. It seems that Sarah’s father never committed suicide.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

Sarah is the protagonist of the play and is represented on stage by four of her inner selves: Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Hapsburg, Jesus, and Patrice Lumumba.

Only a few facts are clear among the many versions of her ‘‘reality.’’ Sarah is the product of an interracial marriage: her mother is white and her father is African-American. She studied English at a college in New York City, writes poetry, and works as a librarian. She lives in a brownstone rooming house in New York City.

Sarah’s primary problem relates to racial identity and related issues: she is conflicted about her heritage, especially concerning her father. By the end of the play, it is clear that Sarah has killed herself.

What is not clear is her real relationship to Raymond, who also lives in the rooming house. She may or may not have been involved with him. Similarly, she may or may not have been born in Africa, and her mother may or may not have been committed to an insane asylum. Sarah’s inner con- flicts form the heart of the play.

Other Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

Mrs. ConradSee Landlady

Duchess of Hapsburg The Duchess is one of Sarah’s inner selves, arguably the closest to Sarah’s true self. She represents the aspect of Sarah’s subconscious that is racist. She blames her father for her mother’s death. Like all the inner selves, she has lost almost all of her hair.

Funnyhouse LadySee Landlady

Funnyhouse ManSee Raymond

Jesus One of Sarah’s inner selves, Jesus is a hunchbacked dwarf with yellow skin. Sarah describes him as the son of Queen Victoria. He shares the Duchess of Hapsburg’s disdain of Sarah’s father. Jesus decides to hunt down and kill Patrice Lumumba. Like all the inner selves, he loses almost all of his hair.

ManSee Patrice Lumumba

The NegroSee Sarah

Queen Victoria Regina Queen Victoria is one of Sarah’s inner selves; she looks exactly like the Duchess of Hapsburg. Sarah describes her as the mother of Jesus. She describes how Sarah’s father searched for her. Like the other inner selves, Queen Victoria loses most of her hair during the play.




Critical Essays