The Purple Flower

by Marita Bonner

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Although the Us's in this play are not slaves, their socioeconomic situation represents that of the
legacy of slavery in the lives of African Americans. An introductory explanation of the play states that the Us's "tilled the valley, they cultivated it and made it as beautiful as it is. They built roads and houses even for the White Devils.'' This description represents the fact that the prospenty of the United States was built in part by the labor of African-Amencan slaves and, after emancipation, by low-wage labor. This slavery and hard labor takes its toll on the Us's An Old Us, who joins the group, explains that he is blind from "building for the White Devils m the heat of the noon-day sun..." And yet, the White Devils "let them build the houses and then they were knocked back down into the valley." Just before Finest Blood sets off to confront the White Devils, the Old Man refers to the work of slavery at the expense of the slaves, commenting that "they built half their land on our bones. They ripened the crops of cotton, watenng them with our blood." Finest Blood's mission, by the end of the play, is to seek retnbution for the loss of blood that the Us's have suffered from hundreds of years of slavery.

Leadership and The New Man
The question of leadership is an important theme of the play's concern with social action. The Us's spend their time debating various ways of trying to make it up the hill Average suggests that they could succeed if they had the right leaders, but Cornerstone argues that the problem is not a lack of leaders, it's that the infighting among the Us's prevents the leaders from accomplishing anything. The Old Man with the drum emerges as one of the leaders of the community of Us's, bringing together the traditional culture of the Old Us's and the new ideas of the educated and financially successful Us's. By doing so, Old Man inspires a Young Us, Finest Blood, to step forth as a new leader in the struggle of the Us's with the White Devils Thus, old and young work together to reach the hill as the Wisdom of the Old Man helps to direct the young leader, who will emerge as the New Man.

The Us's discuss the role of religion in their efforts to achieve equality. Yet Another Old Man throws his head back and calls up into the air, ' 'Lord! Why don't you come by here and tell us how to get Somewhere*?" An Old Us claims that "he is all powerful! He will move in his own time!" But a Young Us argues that there is no use talking to God. When the Old Man begins his conjuring, he tells the other Us's that he is a servant of God and is doing what God told him to do He explains that if he does what God told him to do, then God will create a new man. The Old Man advises Finest Blood to tell the White Devils that he is an instrument of God, asserting that "this is God's decree- 'You take blood—you give blood."' Bonner thus indicates the importance of religion in the struggle of African Americans for equality.

White Privilege
The White Devils living on the hill with the purple flower clearly represent those people who enjoy the privileges of being white in a white-dominated society Although they have enslaved the Us's and employed them in hard labor to work their land and build their houses and roads, they do everything in their power to keep the Us's from reaching the hill and enjoying the purple Flower-of-Life-at-Its-Fullest. The stage directions explain that the White Devils are "artful" creatures, full of tricks, which expresses the idea that white people are sly and skillful in their efforts at keeping African Americans from achieving equality.

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