Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 707
Wedding Band depicts a tragedy involving an interracial affair. The action takes place over a period of three days near the end of World War 1, The setting is 1918 South Carolina where state law prevents interracial marriage. Julia is a black woman in love with a white man, Herman. They would like to escape the south and move to the north where they would be free to marry, but Herman is not free to leave, since he must repay money borrowed from his mother when he purchased his bakery. As the play opens, Julia and Herman are celebrating ten years together. Faced with the disapproval of her neighbors, Julia has been forced to move several times; it is clear that she is lonely and discouraged. While the law poses the very real threat of arrest and criminal punishment for any interracial couple who marry or live together, the condemnation of Julia's black neighbors is just as damaging and helps to reveal that racism is not only directed toward blacks but also toward whites.
In Act I, the audience is introduced to Julia's neighbors. Her landlady, Fanny, is a pretentious black woman who is revealed to be superficial and hypocritical. The other women who rent from Fanny, Lula, and Mattie, have been victimized by brutal husbands and have experienced personal tragedy. And it is clear that all of the women in this play have struggled against economic oppression and social injustice. In this first act, Julia's new neighbors ply her with questions about her personal life. To satisfy their curiosity, Julia tells them that she has been in love with a man for ten years but that she cannot marry him because he is white. Her neighbors cannot understand why Julia would choose a white man with no money and their disapproval is clear as they walk away from her. Next, Herman appears with a boxed wedding cake and a ring to celebrate their tenth common-law anniversary. The ring is mounted on a chain so that Julia might wear it, since they both realize that she cannot wear the gift as a wedding ring. Herman gives Julia enough money to buy a ticket to New York, and she makes plans to leave in two days. Herman states that he can repay his debts and join her in a year; in the interim, Julia can stay with her cousin. Herman and Julia begin to make plans for their wedding, but Act I ends with Herman becoming ill.
As Act II opens, Herman has influenza and has collapsed at Julia's home. The landlady refuses to call a doctor for fear of legal action directed against her for sheltering this couple; the landlady also fears that social disrepute will be aimed against everyone present, especially herself. Instead, Herman's sister and mother are sent for but Herman's mother will not move him until she has the protection of darkness. Like the landlady, Herman's mother is more interested in keeping up appearances than in saving Herman's life. Years of racial hatred explode in the room as Julia and Herman's mother shout racial insults at each other. Finally, Herman is taken away amid many accusations and much rancor.
The last scene opens with Julia dressed in her wedding dress. She seems artificially excited and there is evidence that she has been drinking wine. Julia is surrounded by her neighbors, and it is revealed that her neighbor Mattie is not legally married, since South Carolina does not permit divorce. Although her first husband had beaten and deserted her, Mattie cannot be free of him so that she can marry the father of her child and the man with whom she has lived for eleven years. At this moment Herman arrives with two tickets to New York, but Julia is unable to forget the confrontation of the previous day or a lifetime of racial hatred, and so she gives the tickets and her wedding band to Mattie and her child. As Herman and Julia talk they remember the years of love and closeness, and they finally resolve the tensions that separated them. Herman is ill, however, and dying. Julia locks Herman's mother out of her house, and the play ends with Herman dying in his lover's arms.
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