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tv   Lectures in History Playwright August Wilson Fences  CSPAN  September 22, 2019 12:00am-1:16am EDT

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about a trick from washington dc to san francisco. at 8:00 on "the presidency," herbert hoover and his relief work. >> his team of volunteers built the crv into a remarkable organization. vit had its own flag and fleet. it negotiated treaties with some of the warring european powers. its leader, hoover, enjoyed full diplomatic immunity and traveled freely through enemy lines, probably the only american citizen permitted to do so during the entire war. announcer: explore our nation's past on american history tv, every weekend on c-span3. announcer: next on "lectures in history," tulane university professor john "ray" proctor teaches a class about august wilson, his contribution to african-american theater, and his pulitzer prize winning play "fences." prof. proctor: today, we will
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look at august wilson's "fences." we will begin with a very brief discussion about who and what august wilson was, his goal as a playwright. i am going to repeat some stuff you have heard before from our in class presentation, but there is going to be some stuff i will talk about with a little more depth than we talked about last class. on thursday, you guys will look at "t-bone and weasel." i hope you read that and are prepared to do that. i will give you a brief pop quiz. it should be easy as we will be done discussing it but we will be taking it so you can get a grade for it. and you will also have the pop quiz for "t-bone and weasel." let's start with august wilson. august wilson was born frederick august kittle on april 27, 1945. his mother's name was daisy
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wilson. she was a cleaning lady. his father's name was frederick august kittle. he was a german baker. i want you guys to pay attention. race matters in a very specific way. race is always one of the things we are discussing as we look at these plays. so, his father, frederick august kittle, was a german baker, he is white european. his mother is a black woman named daisy. she is a cleaning lady. we are talking about a mixed relationship. his mixed identity is a part of what he is working on when he is writing. how he is negotiating african-american existence is a part of who and what he is as he is working as an artist and as a writer. it is part of the mission he is undertaking. he is the fourth of the six children. and they live in the hill district of pittsburgh,
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pennsylvania. a lot of what wilson is going to talk about deals with the great migration. i have mentioned that in this class before. the great migration is what happened after reconstruction in the south. when the social status of black people moved from slavery to freed to the reconstruction era to sharecropping. namecropping was this new for -- i don't think it is quite accurate for me to say slavery, but that is essentially what it becomes. we have talked in this room about what sharecropping is, right? good, thank you. it is just a system where the black people used to be the slaves on the plantation are now in a position where they are renting what used to be the slave cabins. they are renting the clothes.
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they are renting the tools to go work for the same farms on which they were enslaved. and they enter this system in which they are never actually able to pay for the rental fees for the things they are using. that's one of the motivating factors that caused a number of blacks to move northward at the turn of the century and pursue a better life in the north. i want you guys to think for just a couple minutes about what that does or what that means for black families in the south. was it whole families moving north, or was it more often than not the man who would go north or the eldest son who would go from the southern states to the northern states, and their purpose was to make money that they could send home? that's always the goal. you will find a number of people in pittsburgh, new york, chicago who have come north looking to
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make a fortune so they can either make enough money so that their families can come to the north and live with them in the north, or so they can send money home so their people could have a way of living. so, understand that one of the things wilson is talking about, one of the things that informs what wilson is talking about, is the great migration. in pittsburgh, because these rural areas are now dealing with an influx of black people, there are racial tensions that get built at the turn-of-the-century and afterwards. the racial tensions include white neighborhoods in which black presences hadn't been before. in which now you have a growing poor black populations that need
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things to live. they need jobs, they need food, they need shelter, because it is cold. it is colder in pittsburgh than it was in south carolina or georgia. -- whock people how have have now migrated north, they are like, how do we live? how do we feed ourselves? how do we clothe ourselves? these become the primary concerns. understand that all of those things are what are informing "fences," when we finally get to it. at the age of 15 he dropped out of high school and joined the army in 1962 for three years. i want to take just a second to talk about what that means. why today do we have black people -- i cannot give you the real percentages. i would be making stuff up and lying to you. but i believe there is a higher
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percentage of black people in our current military than other races. what are some of the motivating factors for joining the military? what does it give you? he is unmarried at this point. go-ahead. >> don't a lot of army recruiters go to poor black neighborhoods with people of color to go recruit like and brown kids? and push the education opportunity like hitting aid and using -- getting aid and using that? they wouldn't do it with rich white kids. prof. proctor: the point was she believes recruiting agencies go to poor black neighborhoods and recruit black people in greater numbers than they do in rich white neighborhoods. that is a fact of today. may have been a fact in the 1960's.
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but it's a job. it is a good job. it provides money. it provides an income. it provides a steady income. right? you are risking your life, yes, but that is part of this. think about the institutions that take black men away from their families. outside of prison and what will become the insane incarceration rate based around things that happened in the 1980's, but we have to go back and look at the systems that moved black men away from their families. the army was one of them. or the armed services were one of them. but it was not in a cruel way. i think they were offered this opportunity. they said, hey, here is an opportunity for you to get three meals a day, a place to sleep, training, education. you can send a check home to your family. that is one of the opportunities for employment and advancement.
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that happened when wilson was -- at this point, he would have been about 18 years old. but he's in the army for three years. after he leaves the army in the late 1960's, he comes back to the pittsburgh area and joins a group of artists, and they form the center avenue points. black he will cofound the horizon theater, a black nationalist theater company in pittsburgh, pennsylvania. he stays in pittsburgh until i think 1974 or 1975. then he begins to move westward. he spends a couple years in chicago, then he moves in 1978 to minnesota. and he joins -- he's going to concentrate on playwriting in minnesota. he joins the penumbra theater and the artistic director is lou bellamy. the penumbra theater is a black-owned, black oriented,
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and black centered theater company in minnesota. why is the name of the town in minnesota flying out of my head? my brain is trying to say fargo, minnesota. but it is not fargo. minneapolis, that would be the name of the giant town that i cannot think of. the penumbra theater in minneapolis, minnesota. she is working with lou -- and he is working with lou bellamy. understand that august wilson gets to a point in his life where what he is writing about is the lives of black people. and i want you guys to think for a couple of minutes about why that is happening. why is it significant and in what way is it significant that he is writing about the lives of black people? we have talked in this class before about the shift between white artists writing black voices. what does it mean?
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-- what does it mean when a white playwright writes a black character into a play? what does their voice sound like? is it authentic? what is the character's purpose? black characters were appearing in white movies. i will jump just a bit to talk about the popular culture that is influencing the way august wilson is thinking about plays and writing and the presentation of black people. but i am only going to jump for just a couple seconds. i want to talk for a second about the popular culture of the 1980's. so in the 1980's, what are the things informing -- i'm talking about the 1980's because august wilson will ultimately talk about -- we will talk about the "fences." but what about the things that informed the way wilson was thinking about the world? in the beginning of 1986, what are the popular images
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that are influencing what wilson is seeing? the movies include "e.t," "return of the jedi," "raiders of the lost ark", "beverly hills cop", "pretty in pink", "some kind of wonderful." most of these movies came out before you all were born. are you at all familiar with these series of movies? have you heard of them before? if you think about things like "the breakfast club," "pretty in pink," i think his name is john hughes. john hughes is making a whole genre. we talk about what ideology means. ideologies are the unspoken and sometimes less clear structures that influence the way people think about america. the way women should behave, the way men should behave. what it means to be straight, what it means to be gay, what it
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means to be a lot of things. no one says it outright. but it is unspoken, underlying structures that inform the way we think about race and identity and class and gender. does that make sense? good. if you have movies like "pretty in pink" and "some kind of wonderful," there is the movie with john cusack holding up the boombox. i can't remember what it is. but you have all of these as the biggest movies coming out in the 1980's. and the primary concern in these movies is technically the beginnings of romcom. i am not a cinema professor, i cannot tell you the truth about that. but white women, white men falling in love, those are what a lot of those stories are about. overcoming rejection, obstacles, ,vercoming blah, blah
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blah. the 1980's movies in are dealing with white folks falling in love. think for a couple seconds about how we, people of color, appear in those films. give it a little bit of consideration. notre more often than marginal or tangential. we are someone else in that story. when we finally make it to august wilson -- the things that are motivating august wilson are his desire to move black people from the margins to the center. and say, what is true about us? what matters to us? what is happening in our lives? because when we are just are on the margins, what we have to say is maybe not part of the main story. it becomes this caricature where we are saying the funny lines.
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like i said, prior to this, we've got george jefferson who began as a marginal character. it is not called "the archie bunker show," but it was archie bunker. then we have "good times." black people showing up in comedy. black people's lives in popular culture for a long time was something you laughed at. not laughed with, but laughed at. we were the joke, we were the comedy. think about eddie murphy. i don't know if any of you looked at or read his early comedy, but think about what that is rooted on. it is different. like comedians, black people for blacklack comedy people is a different experience than black people appearing in largely white structures as something to be laughed at. i want you guys to consider how that works.
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on television, you have "roseanne", "married with children," vcr's become a thing. mtv at one point in time, music television began with music. "video killed the radio star" in 1986. i was a high school student. you are all looking at me with vacant expressions like, for real? the very first song that ever played on mtv was "video killed the radio star." i can't tell you who did that song but i know that was the song. michael jackson's "thriller." think about michael jackson in the 1980's. this is how black people are represented in art. it becomes a thought that people are doing on purpose. people are really considering -- black artists, black playwrights, black songwriters, black performers -- i'm not saying that they are embracing
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black identity, but they are becoming critical and critically analyzing black identity in a way that is a response to the black's ploy to -- to the blacksploitation films of the 1970's. in response to the civil rights movement of the 1960's. we have to look at things in relationship to each other. we can go back further and look at the 1950's. we again look at emmett till's mother who realize the value of performance by keeping his casket open. that was an act of performance. she was like, this won't happen behind closed doors anymore. think about private voice versus public voice. what does it mean when we are forced to keep something in private, as opposed to when we make it public? think about the developments in technology that have happened between the 1950's and 1980's. think about the advancements we make in telephone, in recording technologies.
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think about the advancements we have made in film and television itself. for example, and the way that should make sense to you guys now, there are videos. every time something happens out there, if somebody meets you in the grocery store parking lot and they start acting funny, what's the first thing that happens? what is the first thing that happens if you are in a public space and you think things will go bad? that is not a rhetorical question. you can leave, yes. somebody pulls out a phone and starts recording. we have all of these instances right now of things that used to happen without any evidence. but now, there is evidence. there is evidence not only from local street cameras, but every individual. everybody in this room has their
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own phone so they have a way of documenting their existence and that these crazy things happen to us. because that is what african-american existence becomes for a while. we say to the public, you are treating us in this way. and often times what comes back is people will go, it cannot be that bad. you are exaggerating. well now, we get to the point where the phone comes out and we are not exaggerating, this is what is happening. what happens subsequently is this weird justification. i have to understand the context. that was taken out of context. maybe it wasn't taken out of context. when we get back to august wilson in the 1980's, the things that are informing his artistic vision and his life as a writer include all of those pop-culture references that i talked to you. he is seeing a large -- what is informing his television and movie habits, he is like, that is white people's world.
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who is writing about us? when they write about us, what are they saying? that's what's driving him as a playwright. good. -- reallytalk about briefly, i will go through the contextual is asian of then -- the contextualization of the 1980's. a lot of this is stuff that i was alive for. there is a different relationship to this. as i was putting it up here, you guys will look at a lot of the stuff i'm about to say as stuff that only ever existed in a history book. but i was in high school from essentially here on. everything i am talking about are things i have a memory of having happen. -- having happened while i was in high school. i was a little younger than where you guys are now. in 1980, mount saint helens explodes. i cannot begin to tell you what the images of the ash pouring all over those people look like. it was on my television for
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days. images of people covered in ash. we all saw it. it is what informed us. on october 10, 1980, president jimmy carter signed legislation establishing the boston african-american national historic site. it is the oldest black church in america. that happened in the 1980's. it was on the news. january 20, 1981, the inauguration of ronald reagan. the 40th president of the united states. this matters. i'm not an economics professor. but reaganomics is something you can look up and look at how it affected the world. one of the things that is the most important part that we will talk about later deals with a tax cut in which we went from a that gets dropped
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to 37% or 35%. from the wealthiest people in the country. over the course of five years, $750se as a country billion. years, we as a country $750 billion in tax revenue, based on this bill that was signed by ronald reagan. march 30, 1981, someone tried to kill ronald reagan. everybody knew about it. i am only talking about the things that showed up on the news for days. april 12, 1981, the first launch from the space shuttle in cape canaveral. january 29, reagan's tax cuts cost america $750 billion over the next five years. september 12, 1981, sandra day o'connor becomes the first female justice of the supreme court. these are big stories we couldn't not see.
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i am absolutely positive on some level these stories impacted or were in the awareness of august wilson. i don't say that it even necessarily impacted "fences," but these are some of the things he is thinking about. when you guys are thinking about what the themes are in "fences," and as we move from the deeply personal to the public, i want you to think about the way the public is becoming aware. because of the public's growing awareness of the world, nation, the national identity. march 2, 1982, the senate passes a bill eliminating busing. -- eliminating the practice of busing to achieve racial integration. busing stops in 1982. was racism fixed in 1982? no, i don't think it was. busing was born -- i think
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busing was initially built as a way to integrate blacks and whites. it had to do with equality. do you all remember -- what do you know of that from history? we talked about this a couple classes ago. the one black young woman who had to go to school in mississippi and the 5000 national guard people who went to mississippi just so she could go to school. 1954, 1955. 1954, 1955. all of these things are related to each other. black people being allowed to go to largely white institutions. being allowed to. and we in this room have to think specifically about what this means for us. tulane, looking at the racial demographics of tulane, we have to consider what that means to us. we are a part of this history. september 20, 1984, the cosby
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show premieres. we have talked about that in this room. it is one of the first times we have the representation of a black male doctor married to a black female lawyer. and they have five kids who are all successful and professional. they are living life in a way that is not abject poverty, not just a joke, that is not in constant pain. the things that concern the cosby family, we have to consider what their primary concerns are. we have to think about vanessa, who is looking for a boyfriend. it became layered. what black people are was something new because of the cosby show. 1985, bob gill dorf raised $70 million wi for relief in ethiop. he does this with a giant
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televised concert. 1986, for the first time martin luther king's holiday is officially recognized for the first time. january 28, 1986, the challenger space shuttle explodes, killing seven astronauts. it is one of those things -- i am 50 years old now. and i can remember where i was when this happened. i was in high school. this was my senior year of high school. how old were you guys? do you have a memory of 2011? of what happened to the world on september 11, 2001? do you guys remember that? do you have images of the towers falling in your head? just a generational thing. there are several things that have happened in our country and in the world that we as people have images fed to us on television. one of those for me was the
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explosion of the challenger space shuttle. we watched it launch and moments later, we watched it explode. we watched seven astronauts disintegrate. we watched it as a nation. in 2001, september 11, we watched airplanes hit the twin towers in new york. then we watched in real time the towers fall on fire. and we watched it happen. i find it interesting that you guys were too young to have a memory of where you were. and then may 25, 1986, i included this one, hands across america. the 1980's were a special, special time. at you guys should have reference of hands across america as of last week.
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what is your reference for hands across america? it is jordan peele's "us." good. think about the things that have global impact. that is one of them. so, this is the world that is informing august wilson as he is writing the play "fences." one more thing to talk about , then we will discuss "fences" as a class. i want to talk about the pittsburgh cycle. the pittsburgh cycle is a series of 10 plays that august wilson undertook to move black identity, black concerns, black lives, from the margins to the center. he did it on purpose. his goal -- it wasn't that he was necessarily -- he may or may not have held animosity for white america. but white america is not the central concern of his plays. white people are not the central concern of his plays. black lives, black identity, black existence.
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it gets moved to the center of his plays and playwriting. the pittsburgh cycle begins in -- well, it is different. he premiered with "jitney." the first play he wrote was called "jitney." it premiered in 1982. the second play he wrote was "ma rainey's black bottom." it was set in 1927 but premiered in 1984. it is an amazing play. it deals with five black musicians and one black female singer. do you guys know who big mama thorton is? have you ever heard of big mama thornton? you should look up big mama thornton. if you are hanging out listening, you might want to
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listen to big mama thornton. you can go back and go ma rainey -- go back and listen to ma butwill get nina simone, nina simone is kind of crossing over into mainstream. rainy is a contemporary reference. you need to go to the corner and listen to miss. she plays clarinet. you have an understanding if you go listen and talk to mr. during. --n we have joe tourneys after her, we have joe turner's "come and gone." this premiered in 1984 and was set in 1911. finally we get to fences set in 1957 but premiered in 1987. we will talk about "fences," in just a second.
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he also wrote several other plays. i think "clybourne park." let's talk about "fences." august wilson is influenced and in conversation with more artists than just playwrights. i know that all of these things informed him. he stops concerning himself with white representation. he specifically begins to seek out black representation. and black art. one of the artists that he
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to was here.looked let me show you. i didn't break it and i am proud of that. [laughter] >> i have a question, does it have to deal with sexuality? prof. proctor: yes, it does have to deal with sexuality. for a while, one of the other characters in the play is an opportunist. a young woman who is an opportunist. who has built a relationship with ma. the play intimates that it is of a sexual nature. yes, dealing with that is part
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of it. [video clip] >> when i first began to do collages, i had no idea i would develop such simple processes with my work. like the guitar. these are natural things that i saw. [indiscernible] these are the elements. ♪ i used a train because so many of the lives of black people had
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to do with the train. these are the elements of my environment. [end of video clip] prof. proctor: bring the african-american experience or bring the universal to the african-american experience. what is significant about bringing the universal to the african-american experience? what is significant to you about an attempt to bring the universal to the african-american experience? >> it makes it something everyone can understand. makes it easy for you to relate to it. does not matter if you are black, white, whatever. you can relate to it more. prof. proctor: how does the idea of empathy impact what you were saying? >> people feel more empathy
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towards black people. they will help out with more of the issues going on in the community. prof. proctor: ok. making the black experience understandable. we all have children. i think about trayvon martin. every time i think about august wilson. august wilson's artistic purpose, i find myself thinking about trayvon martin. i want to know why the newspaper, why the media depicted him as such a monster deserving of such treatment. when all i saw was a 17-year-old boy who had been followed home. empathy, that is what ideology has to do with. if, ideologically, we can construct the black experience as something that is hostile, aggressive,at is something that is violent, the
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the treatment of black people becomes justified by our criminal justice systems. but if we can perform the in such aof blackness way that it becomes universal, then maybe there can be empathy. maybe then we can get the rest ,f america to go, you know what this demonizing of blackness that is happening on in ideological level, let's step away from that. find out that is just a mother and just a son. when we look at rose and troy in "fences." we are hearing the story of a man and woman. they don't really concern themselves with the white world around them. they are concerned with their lives. that process of exposing or showing the deeply personal by
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showing the specific and personal. it is an attempt to make that story universal. right? oh, a husband and wife. it's not about this black has been. that is my question for you guys. is the story specifically about this black man and black woman? or, is it about men and women? do you understand my question? yes? >> [indiscernible] really symbols of african-american men and women. and how we interact with each other. prof. proctor: ok. >> shilique it probably showed more of a proper life of
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african-american experience. how african-american husband and wife interact with each other. prof. proctor: would you say "fences" humanizes the black experience? >> in a direct way i say it do. from the dialogue of the main character, the african-american man, his dialogue towards his children and wife. prof. proctor: ok. so, let me ask you guys this. yes ma'am? >> i just wanted to say that i think the play is about a shared experience of oppression that black men and women both go through, as well as what is intertwined with the relationship between black men and women at home, inside the home. the way they have their own forms of, i guess, oppression
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from a man to a woman. like, some of the things she is going through with her husband, troy, and the way he was treating her. it was very misogynistic. go get this for me, woman. there was a lot of that. prof. proctor: let's talk about this. i am not contesting you. thank you for a great comment. this is my question. we can describe the relationship between troy and rose as oppressive, right? we can describe it as misogynistic. take a couple seconds, and tell me anm the play, give example from the play of what you think or what you would describe as oppressive or misogynistic. i'm not saying you are wrong, i'm asking everybody to support that position. what were some specific examples from the play that you might describe as misogynistic or abusive?
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>> he just expected rose to wait on him and get him whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. prof. proctor: rose doing as she was told, yes. absolutely. you are 100% correct. i think that is a reflection of the state of women in the domestic sphere. so, this play was set in 1957. we have to think about things like i love lucy, leave it to beaver, good times, and the idea of the american dream. what was a woman's role in a household in 1957? what was a woman's role -- even me saying that isn't necessarily true. when i say there were broader things that happened in the
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world. when a huge number of men left the country to go fight in world war ii and then came back, women went and worked. when all the men left the country to go fight in the war, women went to work. this image that we have of the white woman with the rag on her head, that was a symbol. -- a symbol for rosie the riveter. women went to factories and then they came home. gwen what female meant and what is domestic sphere meant being questioned. women had a different lived experience because of world war ii. the other thing that happened is the mccarthy era when you could be in trouble for -- being called a communist was the worst thing ever.
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you could appear before the house of un-american activities committee. that was a thing. that was a boogie man used to scare a lot of americans into what -- i cannot even say the government -- into proper behavior. women had their place. there was an idea and american culture that women had their place. and their place was in the home. there are things that we would look at and call utterly crazy. magazines specifically for white women. about having your man's drink ready when he came home from work. being dressed nice, wearing a pair of heels and stockings and having a full face of makeup on. these things were in magazines. i have seen them. they all exist. we can go back at look at them -- we can go back and look at them. primarily this was a rhetoric being taught to white women. black women were trying to
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figure out how we fit into the american society. black women's hair is a part of that story. black women's jobs are a part of that story. going out and being domestic, caring for white people's kids, all of that is a part of the story. how black american identity fits into the fabric of american society is all a part of this story. i was just going to say i still see remnants of that and my grandmother and the way she still carries herself. her one, she put rollers in her hair every night. her miss ar seen night. i don't know how she does it and i bet that is so uncomfortable. also, we cannot have guests if the house is messy. you have to uphold this image that you are well kept. prof. proctor: right. is the public versus private.
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if your house is messy, people don't come in. i don't remember my grandmother going to bed without rollers in her hair. i remember as a boy thinking, how do you sleep on that? it is not comfortable at all. but that idea of presentation. what would you say ruth's primary concern is in the play? anybody i have not heard from. yes. >> i would say maintaining the family. prof. proctor: maintaining the family. the most important thing to ruth in this play is maintaining the family. >> i think also maintaining the image that they are a happy family, kind of. prof. proctor: maintaining the image -- are they a happy family? >> in my opinion, no. >> i would say it got to the point where they are.
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they have problems. even when the baby came about, she still tried to have the family presence. she just neglected her duties as being a wife. i wouldn't say that is a complete family. prof. proctor: backup, you said neglected her duties as a wife. which duties are you talking about? >> as far as, i guess being there for her husband in whatever capacity she was before. prof. proctor: being there for her husband. >> doing things that she would normally do. like when she found out about the baby she said, i will take care of the baby. you're not on your own but it is not the same. prof. proctor: i'm not sleeping with you anymore. >> yeah, that's no longer a thing. i guess maintaining -- prof. proctor: she was burning that bridge. >> yeah, but she still would be a mother to the child and care for the children.
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so i guess it still is like maintaining the family, but not in a holistic approach. prof. proctor: did she respond? did she say you have shown me such disrespect that i will no longer share my body with you? because that is the only thing i have. could she have left him? really? i'm just curious. where would she go? >> i don't think she had that much money. prof. proctor: she's stuck. but that is her reality. i don't know if she thought of it as being stuck. those days most people did not get divorces. prof. proctor: people did not get divorces. maybe that wasn't an option. >> a part in maintaining this perfect family image. prof. proctor: identity.
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it also has to do with her identity. my identity, the thing that tells me who i am is your wife. -- wife, troy. it is the mother. this is troy's second relationship from which he has kids. she is already wife number two. what were her options? what were her options as a black woman in 1957. >> she had few, if any. prof. proctor: i don't want to say it was making the most of a bad situation. i think it is family. >> financial situations, like you said she really didn't have much money. why leave someone that is more
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financially stable, more stable than you would be on your own. i feel like that factors in as well. prof. proctor: what does family mean? think about your own families. do you have cousins, sisters, brothers? how bad do you guys have family members i have maybe crossed the line? i have them. [laughter] nobody in your family has pushed the boundaries of what family means? >> nobody. prof. proctor: i believe you. i have relatives who are in >> -- i have relatives who are in jail. quick show of hands, how many of you know a man or woman in your family who has cheated? does cheating mean the relationship is over? [laughter]
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you figure out how to get to what happens next when you are there. rose was figuring that out. "fences," let's talk about "fences." what exactly is a fence? this is not trying to trick you. what is a fence? it is something that keeps someone in or out. it is a barrier or a boundary. what is troy's activity? jordan, what is it that troy is trying to do this whole play? build or finish a fence. good. what else? at the beginning of the play
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there is a baseball bat leaning against a tree trunk. troy has an image in his head of what he was supposed to be. remember, he says i was just born at the wrong time. what is that mean? can i ask you to speak up. >> my bad. saying basically black people weren't allowed to play baseball professionally and stuff like that. he grew up in an era where he had to forget sports, let me go work to take care of my family. prof. proctor: some of it has to do with what he perceives as a man's responsibility. i cannot remember the line exactly, but i think it is something like, his dream as i could've been a great baseball player if i didn't have to do this. he has this perception that the
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fortunes of a black man have shifted from when he was younger to where he is now. the set is described as a dilapidated front porch. back porch, i'm sorry. why? why do you think most of this play takes place on the porch? >> usually wear a lot of black people grow up. prof. proctor: a lot of black people grow up on the porch, yes. that's not me being funny, i get it. it has to do with community. right? it has to do with -- when i moved down here to new orleans i did not realize that porch sitting was an actual thing. the porch sitting is an actual thing. you sit out on the porch when it gets too hot and you say, hey. you say hey to all your neighbors walking by. if you don't say hey, you uppity.
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you must be from up north. [laughter] people sit outside, there is a sense of community. good. the porch is unfinished. troy has a way of not following through. troy has a way of not finishing what he started. troy has a way of not completing the relationship he invested in. he goes off and finds another woman and has another baby. troy has a way of not being present in his own life. do you guys have a response to that? what do you think of that idea of masculinity? what do you think of the idea of masculinity represented in the character of troy or his eldest son in the play?
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why can this family afford this house? >> he had a job. prof. proctor: he has a job, but his brother gets a disability check. he always has a shame. troy is ashamed that the only way he can get this house is because of his brother's disability check. there is an investment in his brother not moving out. there is an investment in his brother still being there and being disabled. that has to be his reality.
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he loses his house if his brother moe's out, if his brother moves into a facility, or if his brother dies even. there is that dependency on that. what else does this play say about troy? what does it say about troy's version of masculinity? >> talking about his relationship towards his son prof. proctor:. prof. proctor:which son? >>'s youngest son. he wants to play sports. troy dreamed of sports. he won't let his youngest son play sports because i feel like you wanted him to be realistic and get a job and stuff. understand the relationship, that's why i wanted to bring it up. he knows it's a different time now. he still won't let him play sports. prof. proctor: why do you guys
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think troy won't let cory play sports? >> so he won't be disappointed. troy thinks the reason he wasn't able to play sports is because he is black. really it is because he got old. it did not want to draft an old guy into the league. he doesn't want his son to face the same racism he thought he experienced. he is keeping him from opportunity. not even allowing him to have the opportunity to be scouted. prof. proctor: your hand was up? could it be jealousy? >> i thought it was. >> i was thinking that, too. >> i was thinking it's because he is getting so many chances more. the void that is being filled
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through the lack of discretion in what he is failing to do is beyond him. he can't find a way to come to terms with himself. he chooses to fight with his son, gives them strikes. at the end, when his son mentions the only way you are able to have this house because of your brother, he gets really angry and they start fighting again. it is a resentment i feel. he takes it out on others. they are able to do what he is not, or what he wishes he could have done. it is like he is aware and conscience but he is taking it that are not reasonable. >> i feel like he was trying to protect him because he didn't want him to fall in the same footsteps as him and get to that point in his life to have to
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struggle like that. prof. proctor: in your opinion , one of the things that is happening is troy is protecting him? >> yes. prof. proctor: protecting him from what? troy is protecting cory from what? >> failure, i guess. prof. proctor: absolutely possible. your hand came up. >> like a father, you have to love your children. so you'll -- so you don't want them to follow the same path you took and be in the same situation. come back and get a job and then it'll be a struggle. prof. proctor: you said something really interesting. what i said -- and i am not seeing either of you are wrong, i agree with both of you.
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thank you for adding that. when i said what is troy protecting cory from, you said -- >> america. prof. proctor: the realities of what it means to be black and male in america. that is also a possibility. >> what they were saying about masculinity, i think black men what they go through as a blackmail and america as an excuse for how they act inside the home. prof. proctor: ok. you know what, if you're going to write a thesis statement for this class, and you might, that is a really good place to start. i am just saying. yes, that is what i mean about the complexity of characters. the nature of who and what troy is his wildly complex. literally, everything you have just said fuels what makes up that character. that is what i mean by having a
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layered character. a character with depth. a character who is a fully rounded person. do you see how that might be different than the comedic character that showed up in the jeffersons? that is what august wilson is doing. he is actually allowing black existence to be a complex thing. not just allowing it, he is doing an artistic rendering of black existence that is complex, layered, not simple or easy. >> how do you think white america viewed this play? fours nominated for oscars. won. davis prof. proctor: i don't know how many people read this play. them, or is it --
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prof. proctor: one of the realities of american theater that we have to deal with is this.
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