The Play

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Seven Guitars is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, shortly before Mother’s Day, 1948, in the backyard of a three-story tenement. The tenement is old, with rickety wooden stairs up its side, and it is home to Vera, Louise, and Hedley. The stage setting is cluttered, with a small, brick-lined garden, an occasional card table, and a makeshift slaughtering station where Hedley kills his chickens and turkeys.

The first scene of the play occurs in the narrative present, shortly after Floyd’s funeral. Floyd’s friends are sitting around drinking, eating a sweet-potato pie, and talking about the funeral. Red and Canewell have a brief comic spat over a conspicuously large piece of pie. Vera believes she saw angels at the cemetery take Floyd to Heaven, and the characters discuss whether the six men in black hats and ties who attended the funeral were angels. Canewell tells them that he pushed past the gravediggers and scooped a handful of dirt into Floyd’s grave, signifying the bond between friends in the black community. Vera plays Floyd’s hit record, “That’s All Right,” which continues playing into the next scene. Red Carter concludes the scene by contemplatively saying Floyd’s name.

The bulk of Seven Guitars is a flashback that reveals events leading up to Floyd’s death. In the flashback, Floyd has recently returned from Chicago, and he struggles to convince Vera to return with him on the heels of his successful record. He has already left Vera once, but he sees himself as a new man. Like Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Fences (pr., pb. 1985), Floyd’s dreams are myopic and self-centered, and they distance him from Vera’s real needs.

Hedley has tuberculosis but refuses to go to the hospital, despite Louise telling him, “It ain’t like it was...

(The entire section is 745 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Elam, Harry J., Jr. The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Full-length cultural analysis of Wilson’s drama, analyzed from a social and historical perspective.

Shannon, Sandra. “A Transplant That Did Not Take: August Wilson’s Views on the Great Migration.” African American Review 31, no. 4 (Winter, 1997): 659-666. Describes Wilson’s highly controversial views on the African American migration from the South. Outlines a theme central to all of Wilson’s plays.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. August Wilson: A Literary Companion. London: MacFarland, 2004. This reference guide comments on the major characters, motifs, and themes that permeate Wilson’s drama. Includes family genealogies and a useful study of the role of women in the plays.

Üsekes, Çidem. “’We’s the Leftovers’: Whiteness as Economic Power and Exploitation in August Wilson’s Twentieth-Century Cycle of Plays.” African American Review 37, no. 1 (Spring, 2003): 115-125. Study of Wilson’s use of white characters as peripheral influences on the African American community.

Wolfe, Peter. August Wilson. New York: Twane, 1999. Employs an in-depth, formalist approach to the plays, focusing on symbolic meaning and its implications.