The Play

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Taking of Miss Janie begins in Monty’s California apartment. Lights come up on Janie sitting on the side of the bed while Monty, exhausted from their sexual encounter, lies beside her. She tearfully expresses her confusion and disappointment. Monty, whom she has always thought of as a friend, has raped her. He counters by stating that she always knew their relationship would culminate in sex. He calls the love and caring of their relationship wasted and, in spite of her objections, continues his sexual domination of her.

A quick shift in time shows the two characters at their first meeting on the campus of a college in Southern California during the late 1950’s. She compliments him on his “black poetry” and asks to hear more; he invites her to a party at his apartment. The tension between them is clearly indicated in this first meeting, as he refers to her as “Miss Janie,” a pejorative reference to a white woman who was mistress of a plantation. Janie is unaware of the sarcastic import of the name.

The action shifts to the party as Len and Rick, Monty’s roommates, are interrupted in the midst of a lively discussion of political strategies and philosophies by the entrance of Janie, who is soon followed by Peggy. There is immediate rapport between Rick, Len, and Peggy, but Janie is clearly an outsider, the recipient of sarcastic comments from both Rick and Peggy. Others gather, and the play’s dynamic is clearly...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982-1985. Contains an article focusing on the sources of Bullins’s work, using interviews and commentary by the playwright. Also offers interpretive comment on Bullins’s early works, stressing the importance of its relationship to the Black Arts movement and the New Lafayette Theatre.

Bullins, Ed. The Hungered One: Early Writings. New York: William Morrow, 1971. A collection of early works, short stories, and sketches by Bullins. Although many of the pieces appear incomplete, they offer insight into the more mature works to follow.

Bullins, Ed. The Reluctant Rapist. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. The playwright’s first published novel, introducing various characters and themes found in his plays.

Fabre, Genevieve. Drumbeats, Masks, and Metaphor: Contemporary Afro-American Theatre. Translated by Melvin Dixon. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. Helpful commentary on the works of Bullins and other African American playwrights.

Peterson, Bernard L. Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays: A Biographical Directory and Dramatic Index. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. Contains useful factual information about Bullins and his work. Bibliography, indexes.

Sanders, Leslie Catherine. The Development of Black Theater in America: From Shadows to Selves. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. Provides a helpful context for the interpretation of Bullins’s plays.

Sternlicht, Sanford. A Reader’s Guide to Modern American Drama. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2002. Useful overview of the American theatrical tradition that comprises surveys of movements and trends, as well as analyses of individual authors, including Bullins.