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Publisher Description

In this article, I will argue that one of the most controversial productions in American theater history, perceived largely as an event provoked by racial prejudice, ought to be re-examined in terms of the savvy political agendas behind the text. History remembers the contention surrounding Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings as a simple case of racial intolerance, bur the truth proves much different, involving personal threats, government action, and constant attacks from the press mounted by two political powers. Both participants feared political irrelevance, and the prospect of losing influence or prominence inspired them to reassert their clout by intimidating O'Neill and his cast. An exploration of the context behind the Chillun controversy reveals a story of hidden machinations concerning political ambition and desperate attempts to retain power. In early summer of 1924, the Provincetown Playhouse premiered Eugene O'Neill's newest work, All God's Chillun Got Wings. While O'Neill originally wrote the piece as a one-act play for George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken in the fall of 1923, he later expanded it into "a drama in two acts and seven scenes set in lower New York at an unspecified rime." (1) O'Neill's racial theme is rather clumsily handled at the beginning and then powerfully at the end. The first act traces the development of the relationship between Jim and Ella, beginning as childhood playmates who tease each other about the color of their skin while playing a game of marbles on the sidewalk. The act continues by charting a fourteen-year period highlighting Jim's inability to overcome racial barriers in order to pursue his desired romance with Ella. O'Neill's racially charged dialogue during this opening act unfortunately fails to provide an emotional or intellectual impact because the immaturity of the two major characters, combined with the simplistic depiction of the secondary characters who hurl racial epithets, weakens a dialogue that is based on racial tension. When the act concludes with Jim and Ella emerging from a chapel as a wedded couple, O'Neill provides little indication of the serious issues he addresses in the second half of the play.

Arts & Entertainment
June 22
Comparative Drama
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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