A Rat's Mass Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature) - Essay

Adrienne Kennedy

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Critics who have studied A Rat’s Mass tend to see in it issues concerning race. The division of minorities into ghetto communities has been noted. Some writers have noted Kennedy’s use of animal imagery, relating it to her use of similar imagery in other plays. The idea that the rats in the play are regarded as vermin is of special importance. Other writers have discussed the premiere of this play, which, unlike most of Kennedy’s other plays, was held not in America but in Europe—in fact, in Rome. In light of the play’s use of the Roman Catholic church and the Roman Empire to represent European civilization, the locale of the premiere seems particularly significant.

Adrienne Kennedy’s work has, from the beginning of her career, attracted much interest. Her plays demonstrate her unique and innovative abilities as a theater artist, and perhaps no Kennedy play more succinctly illustrates her desires to experiment with dramatic form and content than A Rat’s Mass. On the whole, however, critics of Kennedy’s work have tended to overlook A Rat’s Mass, possibly because it is far shorter than most of her other theater pieces. Those commentators who do mention the play find it consistent with her overall vision and technique; perhaps its intensity and its intentional obscurity make it more difficult to write about. In any case, few have attempted to make sense of this challenging work.