Themes and Meanings
In the published edition of Purlie Victorious, Davis gave his justification for the play:Our churches will say that segregation is immoral because it makes perfectly wonderful people, white and black, do immoral things. Our courts will say segregation is illegal because it makes perfectly wonderful people, white and black, do illegal things. And, finally, our theatre will say segregation is ridiculous because it makes perfectly wonderful people, white and black, do ridiculous things.
In Purlie Victorious, whites and African Americans do many ridiculous things. The play is a comedy, a farce, and a satire, and its characters are stereotypes. Purlie is the traditional African American preacher, ever influential in the black community, with a great gift of language. Gitlow “gits low” in his acceptance of the system. Among the whites, Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee symbolizes the historical reality of racial intolerance in the white-dominated South. The Ol’ Cap’n’s bullwhip is the force that underlies the entire system of segregation. The author argues that these stereotypes were rooted in history.
Although Purlie Victorious is comedy, satire, and farce, Davis’s choice of humor was, he argued, a realistic portrayal of the African American experience. “We told jokes . . . but we weren’t telling jokes for the sake of getting off fast quips and gags. That stream of humor had to carry our sense of self, our sense of...
(The entire section is 429 words.)