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Book Chapter


Africana Studies

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August Wilson’s Pittsburg Cycle: Critical Perspectives on the Plays


McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers


Sandra G. Shannon


Jefferson, NC

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At the helm of the August Wilson 20th century cycle is Gem of the Ocean (2003). On the surface, this play chronicles the first generation of the post-emancipation era and the first family of the Wilson Cycle-Aunt Ester and her protege, Black Mary; the formidable Eli and Solly Two Kings, the harbinger of justice; Caesar Wilks, the town constable; and the determined Citizen Barlow. The year is 1904 and the black heirs of the Constitutional promissory notes entitling them to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are attempting to cash out. The search has begun for the fruits of freedom (King). After 250 years of enslavement, notions of liberty meant non-restricted movement and access to education. It represented the reuniting of families, the acquisition of land, and labor that produced a living-wage. However, in Gem Wilson argues that "so far, [freedom] doesn't mean very much" (Dezell 254) describing its injustices and resultant grief as "a mighty big ocean" (Wilson, Gem 60). Despite the abolish,111•111 of slavery, African Americans continued to suffer from discrimination and destabilization. Anti-black violence and quasi slavery legislation formed the basis of an ensuing tide of white-supremacy which demoralized newly freed African Americans. Structural injustices-sharecropping, merchant liens, peonage systems, and Jim Crow-prevented many African Americans from migrating North and West in the hopes of escaping legal, political and economic subjugation.



Resurrecting ‘Phantom Limb[s] of the Dismembered Slave and God’: Unveiling the Africanisms in Gem of the Ocean