Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

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Trouble in Mind, like other plays by Alice Childress including Florence (pr. 1949), Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (pr. 1966), Mojo: A Black Love Story (pr. 1970), Wine in the Wilderness (pr. 1969), When the Rattlesnake Sounds (pb. 1975), Sea Island Song (pr. 1977), and Moms (pr. 1987), seeks to illuminate the condition of poor women for whom the act of living is sheer heroism. Her characters generally include domestic workers, washerwomen, seamstresses, and the unemployed, as well as dancers, artists, and teachers. Childress portrays emotionally mutilated heroines who are morally strong, sometimes vulnerable, but resilient. She portrays these women honestly as they fight daily battles not simply to survive but to survive whole.

Childress’s experiences as a poor Harlem, New York City, resident shaped her attitudes about society. She came to the theater with the aim of telling unvarnished truths about America. Trouble in Mind cemented her career in the theater. Running for ninety-one performances, Trouble in Mind won for Childress the Obie Award for the best original Off-Broadway play of the 1955-1956 season. The first black woman to win an Obie, Childress is the only woman playwright in the United States whose plays have been written, produced, and published consistently since 1950. Having had plays produced in New York City, across the United States, and in Europe, Childress bequeathed a legacy to the American theater that is monumental.

Alice Childress wrote plays that incorporate the liturgy of the black church, traditional music, African mythology, folklore, and fantasy. She won acclaim by writing sociopolitical, romantic, biographical, historical, and feminist plays. Striving to find new and dynamic ways of expressing old themes in a historically conservative theater, Childress also opened the door for other black playwrights, such as Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun, pr., pb. 1959) and Ntozake Shange (for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, pr. 1976), to make advances in the theater.

Alice Childress’s intense and microscopic examination of life matches such great dramatists as Anton Chekhov, August Strindberg, Jean Anouilh, Sholom Aleichem, Sean O’Casey, Noël Coward, Tennessee Williams, and the Nobel Prize-winning African dramatist Wole Soyinka. Trouble in Mind, like the plays of many great American dramatists, depicts society both as it is and as it should be. Trouble in Mind has made an indelible mark on American theater because it addresses the struggles of the downtrodden and yet offers hope.

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)


Critical Overview