Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1059
Trouble in Mind takes place on a Broadway stage where a group of actors are rehearsing a predictable southern melodrama, Chaos in Belleville, written and produced by whites and filled with racial stereotypes. Wiletta Mayer enters, speaking kindly to an elderly doorman who recognizes her from a musical in which she played years ago. A moment later John Nevins appears, thrilled with this opportunity. Wiletta advises the young man from her experience in white-dominated theater: He must not acknowledge he has studied drama, which might sound presumptuous, but should say that he appeared in Porgy and Bess, although he did not. She tells John to play the role of subservient black in order to succeed, and never to let director Al Manners know how much he really wants this job. The play, she admits, “stinks.” John, however, is sure that he will be a star, and she realizes that her advice is wasted.
Other cast members drift onstage. Millie Davis enters in a mink coat, commenting that she does not care if she works or not. Sheldon Forrester and Judy Sears follow. Sheldon has been ill and laments his loss of work. Judy, who is white, has just graduated from Yale; this is her first professional role, and she is enthusiastic but awkward. To demonstrate that she is not prejudiced, she ventures her belief that “people are the same,” unaware that others see this as a denial of their experience as African Americans.
Manners, who directed a Civil War film in which Sheldon and Wiletta appeared, enters. He exhibits unconscious racist and sexist attitudes by ordering coffee and Danish for the cast but ignoring Sheldon’s request for jelly doughnuts. Noticing Judy, Manners moves too close to her; when she backs away, he takes offense. He praises John for his dramatic training (which has not been mentioned), but Judy, who volunteers her Yale background, is dismissed. When she makes a mistake, he parades her forcibly around the stage, then throws paper on the stage in a tantrum. Although others jump to retrieve the paper, Manners orders Wiletta to pick it up. Wiletta, startled, responds, “I ain’t the damn janitor!” Embarrassed, Manners tries to pretend that all of them have been acting.
In Chaos in Belleville, Wiletta and Sheldon play John’s sharecropper parents. Wiletta tells Manners that she knows what he wants from her song (Ruby, her character, sings whenever she is worried), but he insists that she probe Ruby’s motivation and think about what she is feeling. Ruby’s son Job is about to be lynched because he dared to vote, and Ruby refuses to help him, which seems unnatural to Wiletta. Soon she can neither sing nor read the way Manners wants. He forces her to get angry, then is appalled by the depth of her emotion.
After Manners leaves the stage, Wiletta struggles with a headache from the tension. Sheldon tries to comfort her, saying that they should not mind humiliation because they are trying to accomplish something. However, Wiletta insists that she does mind. “Yeah, we all mind,” Sheldon admits, echoing the play’s title, “but you got to swaller what you mind.”
In act 2, Bill O’Wray rehearses his big speech as Renard, the white landowner. His plea for racial tolerance sounds impressive, but it is filled with platitudes. Job’s parents wait anxiously for his arrival. Wiletta, as Ruby, sings and prays for her son; Sheldon, as Job’s father, whittles and prays; both are symbolically impotent. Ruby orders Job, who has voted against her wishes, to kneel: “Tell ’em you sorry, tell ’em you done wrong!” She directs him to give himself up to the oncoming mob.
Wiletta, still trying to make her role work, questions why a black woman would knowingly send her son to his death. Why can’t the boy escape? “We don’t want to antagonize the audience,” Manners explains. “We’re making one beautiful, clear point . . . violence is wrong.” Then Sheldon, the only person who has actually seen a lynching, talks about it in simple and terrible detail. Wiletta reverses herself: “John, I told you everything wrong.” Passive agreement is no longer possible for her.
After a lunch break, Manners charges Wiletta with deliberately sabotaging the play by showing anger. Ignoring the stage directions, Wiletta as Ruby tries to raise John as Job off his knees. She challenges Manners: “Tell me, why this boy’s people turned against him? . . . I’m his mother and I’m sendin’ him to his death. This is a lie. . . . The writer wants the damn white man to be the hero.” She demands, “Would you do this to a son of yours?”
Manners responds with self-pity, telling her that the American public is not ready for what she wants. He suggests that making the white audience feel sorry for the black characters is a worthy goal. When Wiletta repeats her question, he flares, “Don’t compare yourself to me! . . . Don’t compare [John] with my son, they’ve got nothing in common,” and rages off. Millie tries to make peace, urging everyone to go out for coffee and talk.
Wiletta is consoled by the doorman. She knows there will be no phone call for her for tomorrow’s rehearsal, but, she says, “I’m gonna show up. . . . He’ll have to fire me.” At the play’s end, the doorman listens admiringly as Wiletta quotes Psalm 133 in a ringing voice: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” There has been chaos on the stage this day, but now Wiletta stands firm and steady.
There are at least three versions of Trouble in Mind. The two-act published version discussed here incorporates material added after the original performance, specifically references to the 1955-1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, and the 1957 school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Critic Doris E. Abramson also cites a three-act manuscript that Childress considers “definitive.” The three-act version ends on a more hopeful note as Manners comes to negotiation: “I, a prejudiced man, ask you, a prejudiced cast, to wait until our prejudiced author arrives tomorrow. I propose that we sit down in mutual blindness and try to find a way to bring some splinter of truth to a prejudiced audience.” This speech also gives him more depth and complexity.
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Trouble in Mind is set on a Broadway stage as the characters rehearse “Chaos in Belleville,” a play written, directed, and produced by whites which is saturated with stereotypes of African Americans who respond to oppression with subservience. Act 1 opens with Wiletta Mayer, a middle-aged veteran actor, accepting accolades from the doorman, who recognizes her from past performances. Wiletta is joined by John Nevins, a novice actor. Wiletta admires John, particularly when she discovers that he is the son of her girlhood friend. Sensing John’s eagerness to excel in the theater and to please the director, Wiletta takes it upon herself to coach John in the art of deception. She gives him advice on how to survive and succeed on the American stage, which popularizes stereotypes of African Americans. Wiletta admonishes John to do his very best to anticipate the white director’s wishes and moods. She tells him that he must laugh, cry, or shuffle on demand in order to keep a part in a play and to earn a pittance. She boldly informs him that he must play the Uncle Tom, the servile black person who flatters whites in order to secure favors. She says that twenty years in the theater have taught her that any demonstration of assertiveness on the part of a black actor may result in unemployment. When John proudly asserts that he intends to succeed in the theater without compromising his integrity, Wiletta essentially tells him that he is a fool and abandons her efforts to serve as his mentor.
The two actors are joined by Millie Davis, a thirty-five-year-old black actor who has become disillusioned by the Aunt Jemima roles she has had to play. While Millie is flaunting her mink coat and boasting that her husband really does not want her to work, Judy Sears and Sheldon Forrester enter. Judy, a young white actor who has recently been graduated from Yale University, is optimistic that the American stage will embrace women. Sheldon, an elderly black actor who is accustomed to settling for any role he can get, wants all other black actors to make as few disturbances as possible about characterization.
While the group waits for the director to arrive, the black actors speak freely about the plight of African Americans both on and off the American stage. They discuss causes of racial unrest, including the Little Rock school desegregation incident and the protests in Montgomery, Alabama (the play is set during the 1950’s). Wiletta and Millie tease each other about the limiting roles, as either mammies or ladies of the evening, they have played. They remind each other that they have played every flower (Gardenia, Magnolia, Chrysanthemum, Petunia) and every jewel (Crystal, Pearl, Opal, Ruby). Sheldon, afraid that the whites will overhear the two malcontents, cautions them to keep quiet and allow him to put food on his table.
Tension mounts when the director, Al Manners, arrives—praising the script for its brilliant portrayal of African Americans. Scenes which Manners interprets as realistic, Wiletta, Millie, and Judy find offensive and completely unnatural. Wiletta, the most vocal of the three, offers suggestions that would present the black person as he is and not as whites perceive him to be. Sensing Wiletta’s hostility, Manners instructs her to deliver specified lines and begins to badger her about her character’s motivation. Manners forces Wiletta into a word-association game, presumably to make her understand the importance of motivation when delivering lines. What results is an epiphany for Wiletta, wherein she realizes that she has degraded herself—and all African Americans—by accepting stereotypical roles. Act 1 ends with Wiletta announcing that she wants to be the best actor she can be without having to demean herself.
Act 2 of Trouble in Mind opens with a full-blown rehearsal of “Chaos in Belleville,” a play which centers on whites in an imaginary town who form a mob to lynch a young, poor, southern black man, Job, because he dared to vote. The more Wiletta reads, the more irritated she becomes with the gross inaccuracies in characterization. She disrupts the group by asking for script changes, particularly a rewriting of the climactic scene, in which the parents of Job chastise him for not knowing his place, refuse to help him escape, pray for God’s help, and tell him to give himself up to the law for safekeeping. She vehemently argues that these poor African Americans are inaccurately portrayed as being too underprivileged and uneducated to come to the aid of their son, who will meet certain death. She begs Manners to try to persuade the playwright at least to allow Job, since it seems he must die, to be killed while running away or to be dragged out of the house with his parents battling to the very end. Manners, angered by Wiletta’s dissatisfaction, tells her to stick to acting and to leave the writing to the author and the interpretation to the director.
When Wiletta refuses to be silenced, Manners tells her that since no one in the cast has seen a lynching, each must imagine one, as did the playwright. Sheldon, however, vividly recalls a real lynching which left him silently screaming. Manners, embarrassed and infuriated, remains unwilling to request script changes and insults Wiletta by telling her that she thinks that she knows more about black life than does the author. Wiletta truly forgets her place and shouts to Manners that he is racist.
A break is immediately called, during which Wiletta recants her earlier advice to John. She tells him that she was a fool to tell him to cater to white directors in order to secure degrading roles. John, who during the course of the rehearsal has internalized Wiletta’s advice and has become a carbon copy of Al Manners, ignores Wiletta and moves closer, spiritually and physically, to Judy. He looks to Judy and Manners for positive reinforcement. Wiletta, however, helps to recover John from Manners’s influence by asking Manners if he would send his son out to be lynched. Manners tells the cast that neither Job nor John can be compared to his son because they have nothing in common with his son. John is humiliated, realizing that Manners sees him as inferior. Manners retreats offstage, leaving the cast to wonder if they will be fired.
The play ends with the cast being told that rehearsal will resume the next day and that they can expect a call. Wiletta announces that she probably will not be called but that she will appear anyway and force Manners to fire her. They play ends with Wiletta, alone with the doorman, reciting Psalm 133, a fulfillment of her dream of doing something grand in the theater.
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The main ideas of Trouble in Mind are conveyed through Alice Childress’s manipulation of metadrama—drama about drama. The play-within-the-play is constructed so that its performance is set apart from the main action, with the cast of the primary play recognizing the existence of the inner play—the cast members of Trouble in Mind know that they have come together to rehearse the play “Chaos in Belleville.” Childress links the inner world of the secondary play, “Chaos in Belleville,” to the inner world of the primary play, Trouble in Mind, both of which mirror the outer world as one laden with racism, sexism, and poverty.
The world of “Chaos in Belleville” is one in which poor African Americans are lynched for trying to exercise their rights. The characters in “Chaos in Belleville,” which is set shortly after the end of slavery, are depicted as poor, dejected, submissive people who relinquish any semblance of power in favor of protection from the law. Similarly, in the world of Trouble in Mind, African Americans discuss segregated housing and schools, racial violence, boycottings, riots, and stereotypical theatrical roles. Like the house servants in “Chaos in Belleville,” John and Sheldon are docile and obsequious. All the characters, during the course of rehearsal, alternate back and forth so frequently between the primary and the secondary play that it becomes difficult for the audience to separate the drama from the metadrama. The characters are able to break and resume character so smoothly because the issues in both plays are the same: the presumptuousness of white liberals and racial and gender stereotyping.
The worlds of the primary play and the secondary play are meshed largely through humor. When Al Manners runs around waving his hands to silence the cast (particularly Wiletta), the audience recognizes his redundance, as his very presence and manners stifle the characters. The exaggerated force that he uses to keep them quiet seems ludicrous. Manners’s behavior toward Judy is equally ridiculous. When she cannot recall the various stage directions, Manners rushes to her and pulls her quickly around the stage as he shouts out the positions. Whenever Judy offers suggestions, Manners sarcastically shouts that “Yale” should please keep quiet. Manners’s insistence on belittling Judy implies his belief that women do not belong on the American stage.
Childress suggests that just as women, black and white, were unwelcome on the stage, so were black men who wished to play serious roles. She magnifies the limitations placed upon black men in the theater by depicting Sheldon as a man who is content to secure any part in a play. He grins and shuffles on cue, and Childress holds him up as an object of scorn. As much as he ingratiates himself to Manners, he alienates himself from Wiletta and Millie. He tells them that it is no myth that “colored women” wake up in the morning eager to fight. The humor, alternating between light and sardonic, propels the play along even as it reminds the audience that Childress believed that very little is truly humorous about the conditions of African Americans and women in America.
Form and Content
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Trouble in Mind presents a play within a play, pointing out ironic parallels between the frame story of the actors rehearsing and “Chaos in Belleville,” the play being rehearsed, a naturalistic portrayal of Southern lynching. In reality, “Chaos” acts out the racist stereotypes it seems to be protesting. It presents civil rights struggles in the late 1950’s in which a young black man named Job, played by John, wants to register to vote, although his mother, Petunia, played by Wiletta, tries to restrain him for fear of racist reprisals. Meanwhile, Carrie, the plantation owner’s Southern belle daughter, played by Judy, urges her father to let the “darkies” have a “stomp” to celebrate her maid Ruby’s birthday (played by Millie). The scene does nothing to advance the plot but plays up the playwright’s assumptions about black/white relations in the South. When Job faces racist reprisals, Carrie begs her father to protect him by carting him off to jail and away from a lynch mob. Predictably, the mob lynches Job, while his mother, Petunia, croons sentimental spirituals. Throughout the crisis, Job’s father (played by Sheldon) sits on the porch whittling a stick and uttering nonsense in theatrically garbled black dialect.
In the opening scene, the actors express delight at landing roles in a Broadway play. Before the other actors arrive, Wiletta tells John that she thinks the play is worthless both from an artistic and a political perspective. She plans to praise Manners for choosing it, however, to laugh when expected to, and to do exactly what he asks. John calls her survival strategy “Tommish.”
When Al Manners and Eddie Fenton arrive, Wiletta finds it difficult to act out the hypocrisy she has been promoting. In order to illustrate the value of “method” acting, a psychological technique by which the actor gets inside the character, Manners demands that Wiletta pick up a scrap of paper that he tosses on the stage. Her spontaneous fury and grudging compliance draws applause from the director, who congratulates her for her display of genuine unmediated emotion. Although shaken by the director’s manipulative power play, the cast begins rehearsing the scene in which Carrie petitions her father. The scene reveals the playwright’s subtle racism through his depiction of African American servants fawning like children on their white masters. Millie’s character utters fawning, self-deprecating lines straight out of the movie Gone with the Wind. When Wiletta sings a dirge at the end of the first act, which Manners and the whole cast find moving, he tries to get Wiletta to verbalize her motivation. Whereas he expects her to describe her “natural” feelings of a mother worrying about her son, Wiletta’s acting comes from craft. When Manners forces her through a word association game to get at her “true” feelings, he and the others see that Wiletta is truly angry at Manners and the whole white racist world. She can, however, act a convincing version of the “Mammy” stereotype the white world expects. When Manners has Wiletta sing the spiritual after he gets her to “loosen up” through word association, she sings in a voice powerful enough to lead people to march against their oppressors with pride. Shocked, Manners dismisses the cast for the day.
In the second act, Wiletta tries to get Manners to listen to her critique of the play and her character. She argues that the third act is not the logical outcome of the first, that her character would never send her son out to a lynch mob, and that the play is designed to make Job’s parents look ignorant and irresponsible and to make the white man the hero. In other words, she demonstrates that the script lacks psychological realism. The more intelligent her analysis, the more condescending Manners becomes: “Make me a solemn promise, don’t start thinking.” Continuing his attempt to draw “natural” acting from the cast, Manners has them imagine a lynching. Sheldon, whom Wiletta and Millie consider a “Tom,” announces that he witnessed a lynching. He describes a scene of horror from his boyhood more vivid and credible than anything in the script they are rehearsing.
In the final climactic scene when Manners refuses to hear Wiletta, she calls him “a prejudiced racist.” “Would you send your son out to be murdered?” she asks. His “natural” and unrehearsed reply, “Don’t compare yourself to me!” proves her point to the shocked cast. Manners walks out. At the final curtain, Wiletta stands alone in the lights on stage reciting a psalm about brotherhood while Henry turns on the applause machine.
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Trouble in Mind is the first full-length play produced on the professional New York stage with a middle-aged black woman as protagonist. Childress began her career in theater as an actress. Like Wiletta, she was discouraged by the lack of substantial roles for actresses such as herself and by having only sexist and racist stereotypes to choose. Her first play, the one-act Florence (1949), set in a Jim Crow train station in the deep South, features a middle-aged black woman. Her two most famous feminist plays, Wedding Band (1966) and Wine in the Wilderness (1969), which have been frequently anthologized in collections of women’s drama, along with Trouble in Mind, present intelligent, courageous, self-educated, working-class black women as heroes. In all three full-length plays, the protagonists stand up to racists and sexists who see the women only through their own prejudice.
Childress often compares her diversely oppressed, solitary, middle-aged black female heroes with other black female characters who have similar problems but who make different choices. In Trouble in Mind, Childress presents both Wiletta and Millie as working artists. As Wiletta’s foil, Millie mentions her husband, who works as a dining car porter; but Wiletta has no outside life or family. Both Millie and Wiletta work to support themselves as other working women do. Throughout the history of Western drama, female characters rarely appear except as mother of, daughter of, or wife of a more significant male character. To create isolated heroic female characters (regardless of race, class, or age) is an act of feminist courage. When Wiletta argues with the dishonest creation of the character she plays, she speaks out against mother-blaming with no reference to her own maternal status. By contrast, Judy regards her first Broadway role as a means of escape from the stultifying suburbs. Whereas Judy’s situation is less severe than that of the black women, Childress invites spectators to applaud Judy’s flight from bourgeois boredom. She also shows Judy learning about racism and developing a social conscience that conflicts with the ready-made answers of racist white America.
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In the mid-1950s, the United States was a world leader on several fronts. Home to many scientific and technological innovations, America was also one of the principal players in the high stakes arms race with the Soviet Union. The so-called Cold War with the Soviets and their allies continued to escalate throughout the decade. This war deeply affected the American people. Many feared atomic bombs would be used and that there would be world-wide annihilation. Some went as far as to build fall-out shelters in their backyards. Americans also feared Communists and Communism. People like Senator Joseph McCarthy made careers out of accusing people of being Communist spies.
The United States was also the world’s economic leader. American consumer demand increased rapidly after World War II, leading to a strong economy and the growth of labor unions. Though labor unions thrived gaining new benefits for their members they were also suspected by some as harboring communists. To feed the growing economy, American industries spent a significant amount of money on research and development for the first time. One industry that exploded in the 1950s was television. At the beginning of the 1950s, less than 20% of American households had televisions, but by 1960, they were found in 90% of American homes. These televisions were black and white, as were nearly all broadcasts by the burgeoning networks. Color television sets were not available until 1954 and were very expensive. The growing economy also led to the expansion of suburbs, a cheap, safe place to live, primarily for white families.
Despite such prosperity and international leadership, the United States was still racially segregated in many facets of society, especially in the South. For the most part, African Americans did not bene- fit from the consumer boom. The so-called ‘‘Jim Crow’’ laws found in parts of the South dictated that blacks were separated from whites in fundamental ways. There were separate drinking fountains, restaurants, hotels, churches, and seats on the bus. An African American attempting to cross racial lines and eat in a white restaurant could be prosecuted and sent to jail.
By the mid-1950s, these laws were being challenged and the modern civil rights movement was born. Two significant related events occurred in 1955. In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was fined for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. A bus boycott was organized, and by 1956, Alabama’s segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional. The events in Montgomery led to bus boycotts in other cities in the South. Even more controversial was the desegregation of public schools. Throughout the 1950s, there were a series of law suits that forced the integration of schools from the elementary to the university level. Until this time, the schools that students in many areas attended were based on race. Black schools were almost always poorer than their white counterparts. Indeed, in this time period, all schools faced problems because of a shortage of teachers, an increase in the number of students attending school, and the pressure to turn out better educated students to compete with the Soviets.
The most significant law suit was 1954’s Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Supreme Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional, and schools were ordered to integrate. The actual implementation took nearly 20 years because of the huge public debate and sometimes violent resistance, especially in the South. To ensure its ruling was followed, the Supreme Court and other government officials had to step in repeatedly to force change. African Americans were not the only ones suffering from racial discrimination. In New York City, there were charges that public schools discriminated against Italians and Puerto Ricans.
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Trouble in Mind takes place in New York City in fall of 1957. By the author’s own estimation, the play is a drama-comedy. All of the action is con- fined to the stage of a Broadway theater where the rehearsals for Chaos in Belleville take place. The stage is littered with props from previous productions, including tables and benches where the characters sit. Because the play is set in a Broadway theater, some of the black actors, especially Sheldon, feel that they must act the way they believe white people want them to. It is clearly a white man’s theater.
Play within a Play
Trouble in Mind focuses on the rehearsals for a Broadway play, Chaos in Belleville. In Chaos, Job (played by John) is a young man living in the South who has been called up for military service. He wants to vote, and his actions in this matter lead to a lynch mob coming after him. His family work as sharecroppers. His mother Ruby (played by Wiletta) sends him to his death, believing a lynch mob will show him mercy. Sheldon plays Job’s father, Sam, while Millie’s character is named Petunia. Some members of this family work for the white Renard (played by Bill O’Wray) and his daughter Carrie (played by Judy). Renard and his daughter treat the blacks as lessers, like children who need the guidance of whites. Renard offers to house Job in jail to protect him, and Ruby lets him go, which ultimately leads to Job’s death. Though ostensibly an antilynching play, the racist undertones of Chaos offend the black actors. Because they need the work, however, they quietly put up with things like the demeaning language and action, until Wiletta cannot take it anymore and speaks her mind. The white characters, especially Judy and Manners, believe Chaos will do good and hopefully change their audience’s feelings about race. The divergent attitudes towards the play within the play show how far apart both sides really are.
Stereotypes are used in several different ways in Trouble in Mind. Many of the black actors feel that the characters they portray in Chaos in Belleville are stereotypical. These characters are naive and child-like, wearing cheap clothes and using cliched language. Sheldon’s character Sam just sits and whittles a stick in several scenes. Ruby does not protect her son but listens to the advice of Renard and his daughter. Only Job seems strong and more original, but he is murdered by the end of Chaos. The white characters in Chaos are also cliched. Bill’s character Renard is the benevolent father and guardian of the sharecroppers. Judy’s Carrie tries to be their friend and help them. She puts herself at some risk by doing this, but no harm comes to her.
On several occasions in Trouble in Mind, the black actors accuse each of other of being stereotypical ‘‘Uncle Toms’’ and ‘‘Jemimas.’’ Early in the play, for example, Wiletta advises John to always laugh and pretend to be happy in front of the white director. When John says that this behavior seems ‘‘Tommish,’’ Wiletta admits it is, but that being a ‘‘yes man’’ is necessary for survival. Indeed, for much of the play, most of the black actors act this way. Critics have also noted that Childress’s characterizations of whites are somewhat stereotypical. They especially point to Judy, as a stereotypical idealistic young white Northern liberal.
Compare and Contrast
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1955: Marian Anderson is the first black singer to appear with the Metropolitan Opera.
Today: There are many black opera singers appearing on stages across America. One of the most famous is Jessye Norman.
1955: The first woman is admitted to the Harvard School of Divinity.
Today: The first woman graduates from one of the last gender segregated institutions, the Citadel.
1954: The Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that public schools should be integrated. To follow this order, many schools resort to bussing students.
Today: There is a movement away from bussing students and letting them attend their neighborhood schools. This sometimes means that schools are racially segregated once again.
1955: While riding a bus, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white person. This leads to the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and a firestorm of controversy.
Today: Rosa Parks is still regarded as a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. She is often lauded for her courageous act, which is considered by many to have been one of the primary catalysts of one of the most important social movements in American history.
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Trouble in Mind was filmed by the BBC as a television movie.
Bibliography and Further Reading
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Abramson, Doris E. Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre, 1925-1959, Columbia University Press, 1969, pp. 188- 205.
Austin, Gayle. ‘‘Alice Childress: Black Woman Playwright as Feminist Critic,’’ Southern Quarterly, Spring 1987, pp. 53-62.
Childress, Alice. ‘‘Trouble in Mind’’ in Black Theater: A 20th Century Collection of the Work of Its Best Playwrights, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971, pp. 135-74.
Keyssar, Helen. ‘‘Foothills: Precursors of Feminist Drama,’’ in Feminist Theatre: An Introduction to Plays of Contemporary British and American Women, Macmillian, 1984, pp. 22-52.
Killens, John O. ‘‘The Literary Genius of Alice Childress,’’ in Black Women Writers (1950-80): A Critical Evaluation, Anchor Books, 1984, p. 128.
Messud, Claire. ‘‘Roles of Thunder,’’ Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1992, p. 18.
Raymond, Harry. ‘‘Alice Childress Play at ’Mews’ Sparkling, Witty Social Satire,’’ Daily Worker, November 8, 1955, p. 7.
A review of Trouble in Mind in The New York Times, November 5, 1955, p. 23.
Sommer, Sally R. ‘‘Black Figures, White Shadows’’ in The Village Voice, January 15, 1979, p. 91.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. ‘‘Alice Childress: A Pioneering Spirit’’ in Sage, Spring 1987, pp. 66-68. An interview with Childress which focuses primarily on biographical information and professional inspiration.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America, Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 28-34. Discusses many playwrights, including Childress. The analysis of Childress includes a discussion of Trouble in Mind.
Bryer, Jackson R., editor. ‘‘Alice Childress,’’ in The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists, Rutgers University Press, 1995, p. 48. This interview, which took place about a year before Childress’s death, covers her life and career.
Dugan, Olga. ‘‘Telling the Truth: Alice Childress as Theorist and Playwright,’’ The Journal of Negro History, Annual 1996, pp. 123-37. This essay discusses Childress’s theories about drama and African Americans in her essays as well as some basic biographical information.
Jennings, La Vinia Delois. Alice Childress, Twayne, 1995. This book considers Childress’s entire literary career, including Trouble in Mind. Some biographical information is also included.
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Abramson, Doris E. Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre, 1925-1959. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. A good overview, by decade, of African American playwrights and plays produced in New York’s professional theater. Includes an analysis of Trouble in Mind. Abramson praises Childress for refusing to compromise her ideals but regrets her tendency to sermonize.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. An extensive study of the pioneering work of Childress, among others, and of the unique vision of black women playwrights. Brown-Guillory views Childress as “a writer of great discipline, power, substance, wit, and integrity.”
Childress, Alice. “A Candle in a Gale Wind.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. Discusses her early life, motivation (“the Black writer explains pain to those who inflict it”), themes, and subject matter. Childress notes that being a woman does not present as much difficulty for her as being black does.
Hay, Samuel A. “Alice Childress’s Dramatic Structure.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. An analysis of the structure of four of Childress’s plays. Notes that she uses a traditional structure of beginning-middle-end in Trouble in Mind but allows theme rather than character to dominate, and she reveals this theme not through her characters but through argumentation.
Mitchell, Loften. “The Negro Writer and His Materials.” In The American Negro Writer and His Roots: Selected Papers. New York: American Society of African Culture, 1960. Reports comments made by Childress in a panel discussion. She expresses the general resentment against being told to write universally, without regard to race or controversy. African American writers “have much to say about white society ’and we must say it. . . . For they cannot write what we see.”
Washington, Mary Helen. “Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Claudia Jones: Black Women Write the Popular Front.” In Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States, edited by Bill V. Mullen and James Smethurst. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Traces Childress’s activities as a radical activist and the importance of her organizing for her writing (and vice versa).