Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1646
During World War II, the military finally succumbed to pressure to create black combat battalions. For most of the war, these units were largely for show and had very little role in the war effort, but near the end of the war when the need for more men surfaced, a few of these units were finally mobilized and sent to Europe. Some of these men, who had anticipated they would finally engage in battle, instead helped to liberate concentration camps at Buchenwald, Dachau, and Lambach. What they saw shocked them. These black soldiers, who had come from the segregation of 1940s America, were face to face with the effects of Hitler’s racism. But there are other effects of racism, as Charles Fuller proves.
In A Soldier’s Play, Fuller presents one possible effect of the racism that divides the United States in the 1940s. The black soldiers at this small Louisiana post are anxious to be sent across the ocean to fight Hitler, whom they are confident they can beat as effectively as any white soldiers can. But, as the war drags on, black soldiers sit and wait while whites are sent into battle. This is the racism of exclusion, which breeds hatred and ultimately leads to murder. In his play, Fuller demonstrates that sometimes racism can be turned inward. In A Soldier’s Play, American racism is juxtaposed against the dark shadow of Hitler’s racism. By the time the play ends, Fuller leaves the audience questioning their own prejudices and wondering if racism can be quantitatively judged.
Much of the shock that Americans felt at the end of World War II, derived from Hitler’s ghastly extermination of more than 11 million people. This outrage is couched in an awareness that American society could never engage in racism is such an ugly way. But that ignores that effects of systematic racism, which dehumanizes people and consumes them slowly, over time. Sergeant Waters is an example of how racism can destroy a man. Waters readily admits that during World War I he participated in the murder of a young black man. The murder occurred in France when white soldiers took an ‘‘ignorant colored soldier. Paid him to tie a tail to his ass and parade around naked making monkey sounds.’’ Waters and other blacks slit the black soldier’s throat. He tells Wilkie that blacks must turn their backs on ‘‘fools like C.J.’’ who would cheat their own race out of the honor and respect they deserve. Earlier, Waters tells C.J. he has gotten rid of five other soldiers at previous posts. And Waters explains that he did it because he does not want blacks cheated out of the opportunities that he thinks they will derive from fighting in World War II.
This proud admission reveals the hatred that Waters has for his fellow blacks. In his eyes, blacks must meet a higher standard that will help ensure their escape for the oppression of racism. Southern blacks, like C.J., recall stereotypes of black minstrels, who sing, dance, and clown around. Men who look like fools and behave like fools will negate all that a few good blacks can accomplish, according to Waters, who believes that all blacks must be superior to whites if blacks are to become equal to whites. But then C. J. does the unexpected and kills himself, and suddenly Waters is forced to question what he has become. He finally understands that he has willingly destroyed another man and turned his back on his people and has achieved nothing. Whites still do not like him, and they still refuse to accept him as an equal. And the audience must finally admit that they are complicit in this tragedy because they too have tolerated racism.
In constructing this play as a detective story, Fuller seeks to involve the audience in the action on the stage. Suspects are introduced and motives explored in an...
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