The Purple Flower

by Marita Bonner

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Critical Overview

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The Purple Flower, which first appeared in Crisis magazine in January 1928, is the second of three plays published by Bonner. The first, The Pot-Maker, appeared in Opportunity magazine in 1927, and the third, Exit—An Illusion, was published in The Crisis in 1929. Bonner received first prize in the 1927 Crisis Contest Awards for The Purple Flower, as well as for Exit Joyce Flynn comments in Frye Street and Environs that Bonner's dramas are all "morality plays," which "continue her exploration of the black Amencan as Everyman/Every woman." Flynn refers to The Purple Flower as "Bonner's allegory of the black quest for freedom and happiness in post-Emancipation North America." She goes on to state,"The Purple Flower deals, on one level, with black aspiration and the relevance of the myth of the Amencan melting pot. On another level, the drama seems to assume the inevitability of violent racial revolution in America."

Carol Allen, in Black Women Intellectuals, describes Bonner's contribution to the Harlem Renaissance literary movement through her participation in the "S" Street Salon and the Krigwa Players, both of which met in Washington, D.C.:

Bonner's contribution to these groups can not be stressed enough as she and others like her fueled the Harlem-based cultural revival with their intense discussion, critique, and public performance (readings, plays, and lectures) We may even envision places like the Salon as modern stops on the Underground Railroad, leading toward an unencumbered expression of the diversity in black culture.

Allen further notes,"When Bonner left Washington in 1930 for Chicago, she transplanted some of the S alon' s collective appreciation for black art." Critics often focus on Bonner's portrayals of urban life in Chicago during the Depression years of the 1930s. Allen notes,"Her texts focus on how urbanization, segregation, and gender expectations impact the development of black subjects, especially women." Flynn describes the Chicago of Bonner's short stories as "a fallen world both in terms of race relations and the doomed aspirations of the city's black immigrants from the South." Allen, on the other hand, argues, "[w]hile Bonner highlights the city's danger, she also targets the resistance and pleasure created from and within urban neighborhoods by struggling black migrants and immigrants of allhues." Allen concludes, "Bonner exposed the city's oppressive side, but also found strength in the new cultural exchanges that urban neighborhoods fostered"; she "exposes the debilitating facets" of the city, "while celebrating pockets of resistance."

Flynn refers to Bonner as "one of the most versatile early twentieth-century black writers." Bonner's achievements were recognized when she won an award from Crisis magazine in 1925 for her essay "On Being Young—a Woman—and Colored' and the Opportunity magazine literary prize for fiction for her story "Tin Can" in 1933. Her works are collected in Frye Street and Environs (1987), edited by Joyce Flynn and Joyce Occomy Stricklin (Bonner's daughter). The Purple Flower is also published in the collection Black Theater U.S.A.: Forty-Five Plays by Black Americans, 1847-1974 (1974; reprinted in 1996). More recent discussion of Bonner's work includes Black Women Intellectuals: Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood in the Works of Pauline Hopkins, Jessie Fauset, and Marita Bonner (1998), by Allen. Flynn sums up. Bonner's literary influence through writing that "has kept alive an enure world—the stories and feelings of the black universe coming to consciousness in northern cities in the decades that separated the world wars.'' Flynn concludes that"for that act of imaginative deliverance, further generations will be grateful."

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Essays and Criticism