The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Part 1 of The Green Pastures begins in a black church in lower Louisiana. An old preacher, Mr. Deshee, is teaching a Sunday school class of ten boys and girls. All the characters speak in the black dialect of Louisiana. Mr. Deshee begins the lesson by reciting the lineage of Adam. Expressing his belief that the Lord expects man to figure out a few things for himself, he replies to their questions by stating that before God made the earth, there was nothing but angels, who had a fish fry every week in Heaven and Sunday school for cherubs. The lights dim as Deshee reads, “In de beginnin’, God created de heaven and de earth. . . .”

Scene 2 opens with the angelic singing of “Rise, Shine, Give God the Glory” to reveal a pre-Christian Heaven. Mammy angels wearing hats and men angels smoking cigars are enjoying a gala fish fry. After Gabriel awards diplomas to a class of cherubs, de Lawd enters, dressed in a white suit and Prince Albert coat of alpaca. Noticing that the custard needs more firmament, de Lawd passes a miracle and makes it rain. To provide a place for the firmament to drain, he also creates the earth. To dry off the cherubs’ wings, he creates the sun. De Lawd then creates humankind because he agrees with Gabriel that it would be a shame to let the earth simply go to waste.

The promise with which de Lawd’s creation begins in scene 2 changes to disillusionment by scene 7. Although Adam and Eve, represented by two farmhands, are the picture of confidence and health, the tree of knowledge at which they stare foreshadows Cain’s murder of Abel in scene 4. Cain’s attraction to a seductive girl in a tree in scene 5 causes de Lawd to return to Heaven. When de Lawd visits the earth again (in scene 7) after an absence of three or four years, his worst fears are realized. After witnessing a small boy gambling, he goes to Noah’s house in the guise of a country preacher. Once he is convinced that Noah agrees with him that humankind is “goin’ to the dogs,” he reveals his true identity and instructs Noah to collect seeds of all the plants and two of every kind of animal.

Part 1 ends with a dramatization of the consequences of incurring the wrath of de Lawd. As Noah and his family are preparing the ark, they are mocked by a sinful crowd. Just before the ark sets sail, Cain the Sixth confirms de Lawd’s harsh opinion of humankind by stabbing to death Flatfoot, his girlfriend’s lover. In scene 10, with a drunken Noah at the helm, the ark finally makes it to dry land, prompting de Lawd to remark to Gabriel that his creation of the earth has turned out to be quite a proposition.


(The entire section is 1084 words.)