Seven Guitars Summary
August Wilson’s play Seven Guitars, set in 1948, is part of the playwright’s Pittsburgh Cycle, which explores African American life in Pittsburgh decade by decade.
The play is structured within the frame of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton’s funeral, which opens and closes the drama. The bulk of the story is told as a flashback to a few weeks earlier. Floyd has just returned from serving a 90-day jail sentence he received right after returning to Pittsburgh from Chicago. He has recorded a hit record and wants to take his girlfriend Vera back to Chicago with him. He is held back by his inability to purchase his guitar back from a pawn shop. In a dark scene that foreshadows Floyd’s death, a rooster crows, and Hedley describes to the group of friends in the yard that he sees roosters as similar to black men in Chicago. Then, he gets the rooster and kills it in front of everyone.
In Act 2, it is a few days later, and Ruby (the niece of Louise, Vera’s upstairs neighbor) visits with Hedley while he makes chicken sandwiches in the yard. Ruby is in Pittsburgh because she is pregnant. Her boyfriend is in prison for killing another man he thought she was involved with. Hedley sings a song by Buddy Bolden. He reveals that his father told him in a dream that this famous trumpet player would bring him money to buy a plantation.
Meanwhile, Floyd has a few unsuccessful attempts to get back his guitar from the pawn shop but is determined to get it back and make it to Chicago. The next evening, Floyd buries something in the yard and shows Vera new things he has purchased. She agrees to marry him and go to Chicago. The group of friends read about a robbery that is later revealed to have been carried out by Floyd. When Hedley sees Floyd with his money, he believes it is Buddy there to give him the money his father promised. When Floyd refuses to hand over the money, Hedley kills him, cutting his throat with a machete.
The play closes back at Floyd’s funeral. Those present do not know it is Hedley who killed their friend.
The play opens with five friends—Canewell, Vera, Red Carter, Hedley, and Louise—gathered in the backyard of a Pittsburgh house. They have just returned from the cemetery where they paid their final respects to their friend Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, mysteriously murdered at thirty-five. It is 1948.
Ironically, his death occurs at precisely the time that his first blues records is fast becoming a hit. The scene is somber until Louise, Floyd’s landlady, erupts with a ribald song, which imparts a joviality to what had been a sad event.
As the play develops, Floyd’s assembled friends recount memories of him and, in a series of flashbacks through which much of the play is revealed, elements of their lives and of Floyd’s are presented and assessed.
Some of the people who attended the funeral swear that they saw angels at the cemetery. Vera insists that she saw six angels, one for each of the mourners and one for Floyd. Louise doubts the presence of angels at Floyd’s funeral, but hers is a minority opinion.
Wilson uses the angels to represent the roles that Floyd’s friends played in his life and the role Floyd played in the lives of his friends who are assembled in his memory. Wilson points to the exploitation that African Americans suffer at the hands of white society. Floyd has been...
(The entire section is 902 words.)