Themes and Meanings
Childress identifies herself as a “problem writer,” and her play treats issues of racism and sexism in the theater and in society. She is obviously concerned with the ways in which African Americans are invalidated as persons. Manners silences his cast by ignoring them, gesturing impatiently, or telling them not to interrupt. He patronizes Wiletta by informing her that the black characters of Chaos in Belleville are human beings, although the fictional white playwright depicts them as ignorant shufflers. Manners likewise invalidates the women in his cast, mocking Judy as “Yale” and warning Wiletta, when she continues to question the actions of her character, that “you are going to get a spanking.”
Playwright-critic Elizabeth Brown-Guillory notes another consistent theme in Childress’s work, that of women making sacrifices. Wiletta is ready to risk her professional life because she must speak out against someone who threatens her human dignity. Millie also sacrifices dignity for the money she needs.
Several characters symbolically unmask. Manners, self-proclaimed friend of the Negro, betrays his own prejudice. Sheldon, who says he cannot read well yet who always knows his lines, reveals himself as an angry survivor, doing the only thing he knows how to do well. Millie, who has played the pampered darling, admits that she is desperate for a job. Wiletta drops her compliant mask and reclaims her pride, anger, and true...
(The entire section is 427 words.)