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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

In King Hedley II, August Wilson uses a recently-released convict to illustrate the problems faced by both him and his community.

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When King Hedley is released from prison for murder, he doesn't know how to rebuild his life. The rage and anger issues that precipitated the violent event that sent him to prison aren't gone; rather, they're something he actively tries to cope with. On top of that, he doesn't have access to a good job that can support his family. He continues working on the wrong side of the law because it's the only avenue he can see that might provide him access to his dreams.

At the same time, King Hedley is concerned with his legacy. He doesn't feel he's leaving anything behind. Because of his academic uncertainty, he can't even complete his dream of opening a video store. When his wife—who is already a grandmother because of her pregnant teenage daughter—announces that she's pregnant, he sees the chance to leave something behind. He imagines King Hedley III and insists that Tonya not seek an abortion, even though she doesn't want to bring a child into a world where he's likely to get shot by police or his friends. King Hedley feels like his existence is all that matters.

Of course, a new baby means additional economic insecurity. Since he is unable to find work that can easily support him and his family, he turns back to a life of crime. This leads to a tragic ending that—while caused by his decisions—was set up long before by his community and the fact that life was stacked against him. This is evident in the problems of his family as well as those that he himself faces.

The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1160

King Hedley II takes place in the backyards of the title character and of Stool Pigeon and in the vacant lot between the two houses. The play consists of two acts. A prologue starts the play, with Stool Pigeon entering to give some ham to a cat. He talks to the cat about a fish market as a means of discussing the broken state of the world. He prophesies that God will make things right, and everyone must play their part in the divine plan. He also mentions Aunt Ester, a woman who is 366 years old.

Scene 1 presents King Hedley II going into his yard to plant some seeds. He is having financial problems, because his boss did not get the contract for which he was bidding. King’s mother, Ruby, enters and argues about King’s need to get money and restore their phone service. She informs him that one of her former lovers, Elmore, is coming to visit. King becomes angry at Ruby for living in his house, as he was raised by her sister Louise. Ruby has been left the house by Louise, who died of leukemia, and Ruby is waiting for the city to buy it from her.

Mister arrives to get the brochure that he and King use to sell stolen refrigerators. King talks about a dream he had in which he wore a halo around his head. He is waiting for Tonya to get ready so they can go to have their anniversary picture taken. Mister tells King that Pernell’s cousin is in town; he wants to kill King, because King killed Pernell. Tonya enters and Mister compliments her appearance. Tonya reads out loud a letter that Elmore wrote, asking Ruby to forgive him. King gets a gun to keep him safe in case he runs into Pernell’s cousin. As King and Tonya are about to leave, Stool Pigeon enters to tell them that Aunt Ester has died.

Scene 2 opens with Stool Pigeon coming to see King. They both mourn Ester’s passing, and King shows Stool Pigeon a key ring that she gave him. Stool Pigeon tells him to find the key to the promised land. Mister arrives and discusses with King their plans to open a video store.

Elmore arrives and tries to start a crap game with King and Mister, but they end up discussing refrigerators,...

(The entire section contains 1578 words.)

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