Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Birmingham in the turbulent 1960’s becomes the stage upon which issues of social significance are played out. Incidents of personal, local, and national importance are compounded as are issues of gender, class, and race. The overarching premise of the play is that the personal is the political. Cloud examines the search for an authentic and autonomous female identity and the need for equal rights for women. This search occurs in tandem with the bloody fight for civil rights for African American citizens, suggesting that legally mandated rights are necessitated by gender inequality as well as racial prejudice.

The role of the wife is narrowly defined in this play: It suggests that the ideal wife is submissive, silent, and stationary. Spatially, Jessie is “kept” in her backyard “pen.” She abandons the house of her husband to take refuge outdoors, a movement which, in the end, does not make her any freer. The red dresses she hangs from her clothesline attract the attention of her neighbors. In the microcosm of their neighborhood, her declaration of independence is perceived as an act of defiance, the formation of a renegade state: the erstwhile emancipated woman. Outfitted in KKK attire, the militia arrives to subdue this woman. The fact that she is rescued by other stick women is no victory, only a reprieve. Big Albert and Tom’s wrath is unleashed on their wives, who simultaneously suffer for Jessie and appease their husbands. When Ed returns to...

(The entire section is 411 words.)