1. 4.The Completion of August Wilson's Cycle: Disposition and the Dispossessed

4.The Completion of August Wilson's Cycle: Disposition and the Dispossessed

John T. Dorsey 立教大学


At the age of sixty, August Wilson has brought his ten-play cycle on the experiences of African Americans in the twentieth century to a close with what he has proposed as “bookends”: Gem of the Ocean (2004) and Radio Golf (2005). The former play is set in Pittsburgh, as are all of the plays but one, in 1904, while the latter takes place in 1997, thereby completing the scheme of one play set in each decade of the twentieth century. These “bookends,” placed at the beginning and end of the cycle, frame a discourse of “what is to be done” in regard to what has been called the major problem facing twentieth century America, the color line. And they both focus on the mysterious figures of Aunt Ester and her house at 1839 Wylie Street, which represent some three hundred and fifty years of Africans in America.

In this presentation, I would like to examine the question of closure in the cycle, in both a thematic and structural sense. As is well known, one of the problems with “problem plays” is the question of final disposition of the matter?that is, if authors raise a question, they are expected to answer it. In this cycle of plays, the matter of “disposition” has both positive and negative meanings, for “dispose” means both to get rid of and to control. In his plays and other writings, Wilson has claimed that African Americans are the “leftovers” of American history?used as slaves in building the country and then marginalized and disposed of as useless in modern times. He further claims that they have been dispossessed of their African heritage and culture and then, once again, of the culture they formed in the South over a period of some three hundred years. In this sense, “disposition” implies displacement as well. The solution or final disposition for Wilson is an open-ended one: African Americans must gain control over their own lives and culture, preserving their cultural heritage as Africans but also as Americans. Wilson has made an exemplary contribution to this project in this twenty-five year opus.