The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 862

The Great White Hope opens at the Ohio farm of Frank Brady, the former heavyweight champion who is now being hailed as the Great White Hope—the fighter who will regain the title from the mocking black champion Jack Jefferson. After Brady is convinced by his manager Fred, Cap’n Dan, and Smitty to “stick a fist out to teach a loudmouth nigger” a lesson, Jack’s manager, Goldie, agrees to hold the fight in Reno, Nevada, on July 4.

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In a gymnasium in San Francisco, Jack shadowboxes and brags that he will destroy Brady, as he is watched by his trainer, Tick, and his white lover, Ellie Bachman, who will be the cause of his ensuing troubles. Although Goldie warns him about her, Jack refuses to hide their love, even after the reporters taunt them, and after Clara, who claims to be his common-law wife, attacks Ellie. At the Reno arena, Jack soundly defeats Brady and gains possession of his championship belt. At the end of this scene, Cap’n Dan explains that it is dangerous to have a black champion and vows to find another Great White Hope.

Scene 4 presents Jack’s triumphal return to Chicago, where he is greeted by his well-wishers, who beat drums and cheer him and Ellie. The gaiety is threatened, however, by the arrival of the Salvation Army, which protests the immoral activities at Jack’s Café de Champion. After Jack suavely prevents a potential riot, Mrs. Bachman enters with her lawyer, Donnelly, and demands to talk with Ellie, who refuses to see them. Donnelly warns Jack to send Ellie home, and the beating drums now begin to sound ominous.

Smitty, Donnelly, and Dixon, a shadowy federal agent, meet with Cameron, Chicago District Attorney, to discuss how to destroy Jack. When Ellie arrives, she is cross-examined about her sexual relationship with Jack. After she leaves, they agree to arrest Jack for transporting her across a state line for sexual purposes. Their plan is fulfilled at a small cabin in Wisconsin, where policemen break in to arrest Jack. Their forced entry represents the continuing intrusion of the establishment into the lovers’ lives, which can never be private, given Jack’s prominence and their interracial affair.

At the end of the first act, Jack arrives at his mother’s house in Chicago and sets in motion his plan to escape his three-year sentence by going to England. As he changes places with his look-alike Rudy Sims, a Detroit Bluejays baseball player, Clara is prevented from revealing the plan to the officials in the street.

Act 2 has Jack in exile, wandering throughout Europe in search of boxing matches but encountering instead poverty, bitterness, exploitation, and growing estrangement from Ellie. After he is forced to leave England when a group of morally outraged people prevent him from boxing, Jack goes to France, where he savagely beats Klossowski, an arrogant Polish heavyweight. As the crowd grows ugly at the sight of the slaughter, Ellie is in the dressing room being questioned by Smitty, who wants to undermine her life with Jack.

Scene 4 moves to the darkened New York office of promoter Pop Weaver, who, along with Fred and Cap’n Dan, watches a film of the Kid, the new Great White Hope. Dixon promises to reduce Jack’s sentence if he will agree to lose to the Kid. Like Cap’n Dan earlier, Dixon describes what it means to have a black champion who thwarts the establishment: “We cannot allow the image of this man to go on impressing and exciting these people.”

In Berlin, Jack declines further as he engages in a series of pathetic tests of strength with four drunken German officers, who treat him as a curiosity. Ellie tries to persuade Jack to accept an entertainment contract with a sleazy Hungarian showman, Ragosy. Although Jack mocks her efforts, he is forced by economic necessity to appear as Uncle Tom in an ill-fated...

(The entire section contains 3525 words.)

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