Friday, April 25, 2014


This very early play is of course simple, a little bit too much so.


One of the very first plays written by Paul Green, when he was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under the guidance of Professor Frederick H. Koch.

It is supposed to draw its matter from Paul Green’s immediate social and cultural environment. Having been raised on a white farm he captures in this play the lot of some black farm workers. The landlord is the farmer. The black characters are Candace McLean, the aunt of the main character Mary McLean, the “nearly white” daughter of Candace’s sister who yielded to the sexual advances of a white man who offered her – as we are going to learn at the end – a white dress, the same way the landlord’s son has just offered a white dress to Mary. There was of course no marriage afterwards and there would be none for Mary if she yielded.

Mary is confronted to the same sexual advances from the son of the landlord. Mary is under the illusion that since she is “nearly white” she could – and should – be treated “like” or even “as” a white girl.

The father of the young man and landlord knows better and he has decided either to get rid of Candace and Mary McLean because Mary does not produce enough work to pay for her rent and to take care of herself and her aunt, or to have Mary married to Jim, a black young man who would be a second worker in the rented house, and that would solve the problem of the son who could not then go against such an important sacrament.

The girl resists this solution, due to her illusion about her color but in the end she yields and marries Jim over night and accepts to lose her racial illusion.

The idea is of course not so bad though Mary yields to prevent some hurtful situation for her old and ailing aunt. But the play is very schematic, nearly caricatural, when in about five minutes Mary, under the landlord’s blackmail, shifts from

“Ain’t I almost white? . . . He’s black and I hate him. I can’t marry no nigger. . . “


“Yes, yes, I’ll marry him. I’ll marry him. They ain’t no way to be white. I got to be a nigger. . . He’s a nigger and …yes …I’m a nigger too.”

That caricature is saved by the revelation from the aunt that Mary’s mother fell to the trick of the white dress and by her burning the two white dresses that are symbolical of a fake promise from the white man (you’ll be my wife and you’ll be treated like a white woman) and of the total illusion that what you see is what you get (white on the surface means white in depth).

In fact the play then supports the theory of racial purity defended at the time by Marcus Garvey and his popular black nationalist movement. Marcus Garvey in that perspective will come to support the theory that one drop of black blood is enough to make you black and even some time later to go and meet the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and to sign a declaration with him supporting racial purity for both white and black people.

This play is a good testimony about the early 1920s in the South of the USA, though the picture is deeply racist and one-sided, slightly too superficial in the way the girl yields to that racist vision of her society.


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