Wine in the Wilderness

by Alice Childress

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608

In this play, Childress refers to a number of different African-American leaders in politics and culture. Pick one of these figures and learn more about her or him. Write a biographical sketch of this figure. What contribution did she or he make to African-American history and culture? What obstacles did he or she overcome in order to accomplish her/his goals? In what ways can you consider this person a role model for your own life? The figures mentioned in the play include: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Frederick Douglass; Harriet Tubman; Malcolm X; Muhammad Ali; Paul Laurence Dunbar; LeRoi Jones (also known as Amiri Baraka); and Margaret Walker.

Wine in the Wilderness takes place in Harlem during a race riot. There have been a number of race riots in the United States, such as: the riots in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866; Spring- field, Illinois in 1908; East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917; Chicago in 1919; and Detroit in 1943. Learn more about the history of one of these riots. What immediate events sparked the riot? How did it get started? How did the police and government forces respond to the riot? What was the outcome of the riot (How long did it last? How many people were killed? How many injured? What was the extent of property damage? etc.)? What broader political and social concerns were being protested or expressed by the riot? How could these concerns have been addressed through effective, nonviolent action? What, if any, social or political changes took place in the aftermath of the riot?

Pick a five to ten page segment from Wine in the Wilderness to perform as a group. In what ways does your performance of this scene help you to gain a better understanding of the character you are performing and her or his motivation? How does this insight help you to gain a better understanding of the major themes of the play? In what ways is the message of the play more effective when acted out as a dramatic scene?

In this play, an artist paints a ‘‘triptych’’ (series of three paintings unified by a common theme) in order to express a social and political vision of the status of African-American women. Draw or paint your ‘‘triptych,’’ expressive of your own concerns about a particular social or political issue. In what ways is this series of images an effective means of communicating your ideas, thoughts, and feelings about this issue?

This play addresses the issue of relations between African-American men and women, touching on specific tensions, concerns, and points of harmony in male-female relationships. Write a theatrical scene expressing your own ideas and concerns about romantic relationships in your community or peer-group. With a group of students, act out the scene you have written. Discuss the ideas expressed through this dramatic expression of your concerns.

In Wine in the Wilderness, Childress addresses the issue of how African-American women are represented in art. These concerns can also be addressed in terms of other forms of visual media, such as film, television, and fashion magazines. Pick a film, television show, or magazine that includes images of African-American women. You may also find a painting representing African- American women in a museum near you, or in an art book. How does this visual representation fit into the artist’s conception of African- American women as described in the play? In what ways is this image a positive representation of African-American women? In what ways is it a negative or stereotyped representation of African- American women? Write an essay or report based on your observations; if possible, include the images you are discussing with your project.

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