In The Great White Hope, Howard Sackler presents the conflict between white power and black dissidence within the context of the struggle for the heavyweight championship in the years preceding World War I. Jack Jefferson antagonizes the boxing world by mocking and beating his white opponents and by having publicized affairs with white women. The play’s themes, meanings, and conflicts emerge from its many perspectives on Jack’s character. Jack appears to fulfill the stereotype of the black man lusting after white women, but he undercuts the public roles he adopts, with sarcasm and irony, to taunt his antagonists.
Although Jack himself reveals some aspects of his personality, he is more fully revealed by the views that others have of him. For Cap’n Dan, Jack is the “uppity” black who must be defeated by the Great White Hope. To Goldie, Jack is a fool to flaunt his relationship with Ellie. According to Clara and Scipio (but for different reasons), Jack betrays his race by loving a white woman. Finally, Ellie believes that Jack is a proud and loving man who is destroying himself by his futile attempts to defeat the establishment. As she says near the end of the play, when their resources have been exhausted, “How can you be your own man, they have you! They do and you know it, you’re theirs. . . .”
Through the many perspectives on Jack’s behavior, Sackler creates ambiguities about his motivations. Does he really love...
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