Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701

When Anna Deavere Smith first began her On the Road series of plays in 1983, the Soviet Bloc had begun disintegrating, and the Cold War was quickly winding down. It officially ended during the administration of President George Bush. Anticipated peace benefits did not really materialize, however, even though an economic recovery from a recession had begun by 1993, the year in which President William Clinton entered the Oval Office and Smith completed Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Domestic violence, drug trafficking, and other criminal activity continued to plague the United States, as did global disasters affecting foreign policy. Not all the problems were man made, however.

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Natural Disasters Take Toll in U.S. and Abroad
In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the Homestead area of South Florida, killing 15, leaving 250,000 homeless and causing $20 billion in property damage. In the same year, flooding in Chicago and a violent Nor'easter striking East Coast states caused considerable damage and loss of life.

In the next year, another violent storm struck the Eastern Seaboard in March, claiming 240 lives and causing extensive property damage. In the summer, flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers took 50 lives and destroyed an estimated $12 billion in property and crops.

Abroad, by 1992, famine in Somalia had killed over 300,000 people, and the ensuing anarchy prompted President Bush to send U. S. troops into Somalia under a United Nations mandate. Civil wars in Sudan, Angola, and Mozambique also created mass starvation. The next year, violent rains and earthquakes took over 20,000 lives in areas of India and Bangladesh.

Terrorism Hits America's Homeland
At home, the United States got its first serious taste of the kind of terrorist activities that have plagued many foreign countries. On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by Islamic fundamentalists at New York's World Trade Center killed six and forced 100,000 persons to evacuate the twin towers. Unlike the violence of the Los Angeles noting, arising from domestic problems, the attack on the World Trade Center was prompted by the foreign policy of the United States. It was also premeditated, not a spontaneous reaction to a specific perceived injustice.

Many Americans Remain in Poverty
The plight of the "unheard" inner-city minorities for whom Smith provides a voice in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is reflected in the fact that in 1993 over ten percent of all Americans had to depend on food stamps to get enough to eat. The total number, 26.6 million, was the highest in the program's history. Clearly, the improving economic picture was not helping the nation's poor, many of whom lived in urban slums like South-Central Los Angeles.

Efforts to Control Gun Sales Continues
In an on-going effort to reverse the growth of violent crime, including urban drive-by shootings, the federal government passed the "Brady Bill," signed into law on November 30, 1993. The law requires a five-day waiting period in the purchase of handguns. Earlier in the same month, the Senate passed a bill banning the manufacture and sale of assault-style automatic weapons, despite a major campaign launched by the National Rifle Association to prevent its passage. Demands for controls increased in the wake of the Long Island Railroad train attack by Colin Ferguson, who, on December 7, 1993, gunned down several commuters, leaving five dead and eighteen wounded.

Abortion Issue Continues to Divide America
Domestic violence in the United States was hardly limited to the economic and racial problems contributing to the upheaval in Los Angeles. America was divided over the issue of legalized abortion, for example. On March 10, 1993, during a demonstration outside a women's clinic in Pensacola, Florida, an anti-abortion advocate shot and killed Dr. David Gunn,...

(The entire section contains 2687 words.)

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