Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Photograph: Lovers in Motion, as the title suggests, is about capturing and preserving the essence of life, which is, according to Ntozake Shange, a belief in oneself. Shange places a high value on the wholeness that results when a person learns to accept and love himself. With the exception of Michael, the characters in this play suffer from a lack of self-esteem. Sean is an emotional cripple who sleeps with and abuses three women in an attempt to ease the pain caused by his father. He recalls that his father had a habit of bringing women home, getting them drunk, sleeping with them, and then beating them mercilessly. However, when Sean speaks of arranging for a gang rape of Claire, wrestles with Michael when she threatens to leave him, or verbally abuses Nevada, he does not seem to be aware that he is perpetuating his father’s treatment of women. Sean’s past incapacitates him, making him unable to love himself or anyone else.

It is not until Michael instills in him a sense of pride in his race and in himself that Sean becomes a whole person. The motion or progression of his relationship with Michael then begins to take on a focus. She serves as a catalyst for his growth by conjuring up ancestral ghosts whose very lives serve to empower Sean to seek a better life, a life that does not involve manipulating women for the sake of survival. He comes to realize that he no longer needs Nevada’s money and prestige or Claire’s nymphomania to...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Relationships between friends and lovers inevitably are complex. When they are complicated further by ambitions, the effects of artistic aims, racial heritage, class structure, and gender identity, the complexity is often overwhelming. Ntozake Shange, building upon African American and feminist traditions, argues for life-sustaining sources of art and for relationships based on honesty, independence, and a sense of community.

In A Photograph: Lovers in Motion, the characters reveal the complex sides of their African American heritage. Sean and Earl symbolize what some would suggest are the troubles of many black men. Sean perpetrates the neglect, self-abuse, and inability to nurture learned from his father. Unwilling to commit to a relationship or to conceive of a friendship not based upon exploitation, he exists as a stagnant and destructive force. Devoid of “healthy” male role models, Sean and Earl construct their present out of the chaos of the past.

Only Michael is able to use the past as a healthy tool for constructing the present. Her links to strong matriarchal black women who held families together and fought adversity when men were rendered helpless contrast with the past offered to Sean and Earl. Her heritage is filled with examples of self-sacrificing, independent women able to take care of themselves and others. While Sean allows his past to tear him down, Michael embraces the experiences of women who preceded her and...

(The entire section is 524 words.)