Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John W. Lowe


The purpose of this study is to prove that playwright August Wilson's earliest works, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, and Fences demonstrate the disabling effect of the slave past and the measures that must be taken to overcome that effect. This study seeks to demonstrate that this past can be made enabling through the acceptance of and reconciliation with it. In addition, it will demonstrate that the vehicle for this recognition is music, which becomes an embodiment of the past. This study consists of eight chapters. Chapter One provides an overview of Wilson's life and career and concludes with a detailed discussion of the study's premise and focus. It also includes brief commentary on the plays excluded from the study and the reasons for that exclusion. Chapter Two foregrounds and frames the remaining chapters. This chapter begins with a history of African-American theatre, moves to a discussion of the use of the Blues and history, which serve as the study's theoretical foundation, and concludes with a discussion of Wilson's dramatic vision. Chapters Three thru Six discuss each of the plays in length. Because an understanding of the historical nuances the characters within each play found themselves faced with is imperative to the plot, each chapter begins with a description of the time period in which the play is set then moves to demonstrate how the protagonists either accept and reconcile with their pasts or continue to deny them. In addition, in-depth analysis of each drama's major characters is included. Chapter Seven is the transcription of a personal interview with actor Charles S. Dutton. Having worked extensively with Wilson since the beginning of Wilson's career, Dutton offers tremendous insight into the Wilson protagonists he has portrayed and Wilson's dramatic vision. Chapter Eight is the conclusion of the study. In this chapter, the main points of the previous chapters are reiterated. It concludes with suggestions for further study of Wilson and his dramaturgy.