(Masterpieces of American Literature)

King Hedley II is the ninth play in August Wilson’s ten-play cycle that, decade by decade, examines African American life in the United States during the twentieth century.

King Hedley’s wish, now that he has returned to Pittsburgh from prison, is to support himself by selling refrigerators and to start a family. Some of the characters in this play were presented earlier in Seven Guitars; this leads to a bit of confusion, as Wilson anticipates that audiences will remember these characters from a play produced seven years earlier. If they fail to remember them, then they may at times be bewildered by a lack of information about them in the present play.

Despite this limitation, King Hedley II is a remarkable achievement. In the play, Wilson reached new pinnacles of expression, writing at times with the lyricism that he had been developing in his earlier work but that he had never achieved to quite the extent that he does in King Hedley II. One reviewer compared the structure of the play to that of a Gothic cathedral, with its intricate design, flying buttresses, and multipurpose gargoyles.

The play is set during the Reagan administration, with its emphasis on supply-side economics aimed at providing trickle-down benefits to all Americans. Most African Americans are still awaiting the trickling down that is supposed to improve their economic conditions.

The new parolee, King Hedley, has left prison with...

(The entire section is 403 words.)