Historical Context

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Racism and Racial Intolerance
In 1966, Alice Childress addressed the lack of freedom that defined the lives of black Americans. In an essay published in Freedomways, Childress noted that immigrants arriving in the United States have more freedoms than African Americans: ''We know that most alien visitors are guaranteed rights and courtesies not extended to at least one-fifth of American citizens." Childress argued that the story of the black woman has not been told by Hollywood or the popular press. It was the need to tell this story that motivated Childress's writing. In the 1960s blacks were still denied equality in education and in the right to vote. Neighborhoods, towns, and cities were segregated, and black Americans who wished to marry white Americans had to be able to pass as whites or face the punishment of laws that regulated marriage between the two races. Childress noted that children born to mixed couples were required to be registered as such at birth, and so a child's very existence provided the means to imprison his or her parents. Childress reminded her audience that the lives of black people were still controlled by a legal system dominated by white society. This was the reality of the world in which Childress composed Wedding Band in the early 1960s.

Although the action of Wedding Band takes place in 1918, the topic of interracial marriage was still so controversial in 1966 that Childress's play proved difficult to produce. It was not until 1973 that the play was performed in New York. Yet even then the controversial content of Wedding Band resulted in the refusal of several ABC affiliates to broadcast the production. Childress stated in the Negro Digest in 1967 that her play serves as a reminder that, for black women, the world of 1918 had changed little by 1966. That producers were so reluctant to produce Wedding Band and so sensitive to public opinion that the play languished for seven years before its New York debut lends credence to Childress's statement.

Miscegenation Law
The inspiration for Wedding Band was, in part, the miscegenation law that forbid the marriage or cohabitation of two individuals of different races. Yet even though interracial marriage was forbidden by law in the south, Julia could not have escaped segregation by fleeing to the north. In spite of the fact that her marriage to Herman would have been sanctioned legally in the north, social pressures and racism would still have served to ostracize Julia from the community. In fact, in 1966 laws forbidding interracial marriages were still on the books and being enforced in South Carolina.

Role of Women
After the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, laws were passed in southern states proclaiming that all children born to black women were the responsibility of the mothers only. The purpose of this law was to provide protection for slave owners from black women who might seek support for their children fathered by white slave owners. The result was that black women were abandoned to raise their children alone without any assistance from either black or white fathers. In the years following the war, women were free to find a black man willing to marry them and assume responsibility for their children; however, most African American men were in no position to support a family, having no access to education or well-paying jobs. With laws designed to keep the African Americans separate from white society, access to parks, neighborhoods, education, and even drinking fountains ensured the subordination of blacks. Consequently, the first fifty years after the end...

(This entire section contains 761 words.)

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of the civil war saw a series of laws enacted that served only to enslave African Americans with invisible chains forged out of prejudice and hatred. This lack of opportunity and the devastating poverty that ensued is dramatically illustrated in the opening scene ofWedding Band, in which the loss of a quarter represents the loss of significant income for Mattie. It is further depicted when Nelson's marriage offer is rejected because he has no future. Although he will risk his life defending his country as a soldier, he will return to South Carolina after the war and once again assume the position of subservience that has defined his behavior. His mother, Lula, asks Julia to reassure Nelson that he will return to a different world, one in which he will have opportunity and equality, but both Julia and Nelson recognize that his future after World War I is as limited as it was before the war. In short, he had no future and no opportunity in the American south.

Literary Style

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Wedding Band is a two act play with prose dialogue, stage directions, and no interior dialogue. The two acts are also subdivided into scenes. There are no soliloquies, and thus, the thoughts of the characters and any action off stage must be explained by the actors. The actors address one another in Wedding Band and not the audience.

StructureWedding Band a two act play. The exposition and complication are combined in the first act when the audience learns of the love between Julia and Herman and the issues that prevent their marriage. The climax occurs in the second act when Herman's mother confronts the two lovers. The catastrophe also occurs in this act when Julia and Herman are reconciled.

Conflict
The conflict is the issue to be resolved in the play. It usually occurs between two characters, but it can also occur between a character and society. Conflict serves to create tension in a plot, and indeed, it is often the motivating force that drive a plot. In Wedding Band, there is a clear conflict between Julia's love for Herman and the expectations of a society that forbids and even punishes the love between black and white partners. There is also conflict between Herman and his mother who disapproves of her son's love for Julia. And finally, Julia's isolation from her own race also represents the conflict between the expectations of black society and Julia's choice in loving a white man.

Empathy
Empathy is a sense of a shared experience and can include emotional and physical feelings with someone or something other than oneself Empathy, an involuntary projection of ourselves, is different from sympathy, which denotes a feeling for someone, rather than an understanding of his or her situation. For example, Mattie and Lula can sympathize with Julia who loves a man who cannot offer her marriage and protection, but they empathize when they reveal that they share the same experience, despite the fact that Julia is involved in an interracial relationship.

Setting
The time, place, and culture in which the action of the play takes place is called the setting. The elements of setting may include geographic location, physical or mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place. The location for Wedding Band is South Carolina in 1918. The action occurs over a period of three days near the end of the war. The women characters live in poverty, which is depicted by the circumstances of their homes.

Compare and Contrast

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1918: Private Alvin York leads an attack on a German machine gun nest that kills 25 of the enemy. He captures 132 prisoners and 35 machine guns, is promoted to sergeant, and is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. York was drafted m spite of his status as a conscientious objector.

1966: International Days of Protest in many world cities criticize U.S. policy in Vietnam.

Today: Twenty-two years after the end of the Vietnam war, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C. has become the most popular tourist attraction in the city.

1918: A resolution providing for a U.S. Women's Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution passes in the House of Representatives, but the Senate rejects the measure for the third time.

1966: Governor Wallace signs a bill forbidding Alabama's public schools to comply with the Office of Education's desegregation guidelines.

Today: Oprah Winfrey, an African American television personality and actress, is one of the highest paid performers and richest women in the United States. She is one of many African Americans who have been able to succeed, despite the fact that racism remains a prevalent American societal problem.

1918: Nearly twenty-five percent of all Americans fall ill from the Spanish Influenza; 500,000 die, including 19,000 in New York. Coffin supplies are exhausted in Baltimore and Washington.

1966: Inadequate health care and poor nutrition among expectant mothers in low income groups are responsible for an infant mortality rate m the U.S. that exceeds that of Britain and Sweden.
Today: Health care continues to be a problem for the nation's poor who have little access to health insurance. New welfare reform laws have further eroded the ability of the poor to seek medical attention and thus the U.S. continues to have the highest infant mortality rate of first world countries.

1918: Al Jolson sings "My Mammy" at the Winter Garden Theatre in the opening of the production of Sinbad.

1966: The television drama Star Trek has its debut on NBC with a cast that included a black woman in a role of the communications officer. Nichelle Nichols provides young black women with one of the few positive role models in television.

Today: The movie Rosewood opens in theatres with a story of racism and the destruction of a small town in post-World War I Florida.

Media Adaptations

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Wedding Band was adapted for television by the American Broadcasting Company in 1973. Childress wrote the screenplay for the ABC production.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Further Reading
Bloom, Harold, editor. Modern Black American Poets and Dramatists, Chelsea House, 1995, pp 51-63. Bloom assembles excerpts of critical discussions and reviews of Childress's work.

Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. "Black Women Playwrights-Exorcising Myths" in Phylon, Vol. 48, no. 3, Fall, 1987, pp. 229-39. A critical comparison of Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange, three black women playwrights.

Sources
Austin, Gayle ''Black Woman Playwright as Feminist Critic" in Southern Quarterly, Vol. 25, no. 3, Spring, 1987, pp 53-62.

Childress, Alice "The Negro Woman in Literature" in Freedomways, Vol. 6, no.l, Winter, 1966. pp 14-19.

Curb, Rosemary. "An Unfashionable Tragedy of American Racism: Alice Childress's Wedding Band" in Melus, Vol. 7, no 4,1980, pp 57-68.

Holliday, Polly. "I Remember Alice Childress" in Southern Quarterly, Vol 25, no. 3, Spring, 1987, pp. 63-5.

Jordan, Shirley, editor. Broken Silences: Interviews with Black and Women Writers, Rutgers University Press, 1993, pp. 28-37.

Wiley, Catherine. "Whose Name, Whose Protection. Reading Alice Childress's Wedding Band" in Modern American Drama The Female Canon, edited by June Schlueter, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990, pp. 184-97.

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