Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Ed Bullins was among the most prolific playwrights of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. As the principal writer for the New Lafayette Theatre, he created a panorama of characters never before seen on the American stage. These were not upwardly mobile blacks who struggled to present their frustrations in Standard English but people of the street, whose every gesture and utterance expressed the intense anger of the disenfranchised and powerless. Bullins, however, was not content merely to show black lives made to seem unimportant by racism; he challenged his audience to view itself through them.

The plays of this early period include In the Wine Time (1968), The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971), and Goin’ a Buffalo (1968). Some critics, black and white, were affronted by the harshness of Bullins’s vision and his use of profanity. Others described his work as powerful and uncompromising in its criticism of America’s political and social issues.

The Taking of Miss Janie is, in some ways, a departure from those early works. The New Lafayette plays were very definite attempts at mirroring the lives and concerns of black Americans in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but The Taking of Miss Janie expands its focus to attack those issues facing the whole of America during that period. When viewed in relation to Bullins’s earlier work, The Taking of Miss Janie demonstrates the author’s continued commitment to theater as political statement.