Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719
Race and Racism Paul is the only African-American character in the play. He recognizes that his race is a detriment in the society in which he wants to immerse himself, so he makes the best of it by claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son. Paul draws on the appeal of...
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Race and Racism
Paul is the only African-American character in the play. He recognizes that his race is a detriment in the society in which he wants to immerse himself, so he makes the best of it by claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son. Paul draws on the appeal of one of the first African-American actors who successfully challenged the race barrier, much as he is attempting to do now.
Paul makes pretensions to that world. He tells the Kittredges "I never knew I was black in that racist way 'til I was sixteen and came back here [to the United States]. I don't even feel black." He claims not to experience the typical problem of "being black in America" while he pretends to be of their world. Once the truth about his background has emerged, however, and Paul faces arrest, he admits the falsity of his earlier words. He asks Ouisa to take him to the police station because "I'll be treated with care if you take me.... If they don't know you're special, they kill you." When Ouisa protests, he says, "Mrs. Louisa Kittredge, I am black," which is his first admission that race has had its effect on his life, his actions, and his choices.
Paul's primary motivation in tricking the Kittredges and their acquaintances is to win their "everlasting friendship.'' Most important to Paul is creating a family for himself. Although his claim that Sidney Poitier is his father is calculated to win the trust of the liberal, wealthy Manhattanites, the lie also plays into Paul's sublimated desire for a family. Similarly, when he claims to be Flan's neglected son, his yearning to forge a relationship with his father is quite real. Paul's fantasies all surround familial ties, but significantly, those that he describes to others are all broken relationships. Paul reveals nothing about his past, but his isolation is physically and symbolically indicated by his first introduction to any member of Manhattan's upper class, when Trent Conway finds him standing alone in a doorway.
Paul preferred the Kittredges to the others because they paid attention to him and welcomed into their circle. Kitty and Larkin as well as Dr. Fine all left him alone, but at the Kittredges, "We all stayed together."
The final conversation that takes place between Ouisa and Paul shows his desire to belong to them. He wants to live with them or take over Flan's business. He has started to call himself Paul Poitier-Kittredge. For her part, Ouisa understands what Paul wants and she seems to demonstrate some willingness on the telephone to make it happen. As she tells him, "We'll have a wonderful life." Despite this, and for reasons that are somewhat inexplicable, she tells the police Paul's whereabouts instead of taking him down to the station herself. In so doing, she loses all connection with him. As she tells the audience, although she tried to track him down, she was unable to do so, for "I wasn't family."
Imagination is an important theme in the play. Paul has an active and vivid imagination. For one thing, it allows him to assume easily and convincingly the role of an upper-class young man. He uses his imaginative talents to persuade others to trust him and like him. With Rick and Elizabeth, Paul spins a story of being forsaken by his father, and the couple feels so badly for him that they invite him to stay with them. In a sense, they become a surrogate family, standing in for the Kittredge family that denies itself to Paul. He appeals to the Kittredges and their acquaintances by allying himself with theater royalty and also by promising bit parts in the movie rendition of the Broadway hit Cats.
Paul shows his interest in imagination through his talk about The Catcher in the Rye. Later in the play, it becomes obvious that when Paul says, "I believe that imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world," he is speaking literally. Paul has created a persona for himself to bring him into the upper-class world he wants to join. Paul's imagination makes him want to be a part of the Kittredges' family, and he comes up with a very imaginative plan to make his dreams come true.