In the Blood by Suzan Lori Parks Analysis
In the play In the Blood by Suzan Lori Parks, there are many important and hidden historical and political messages that we can examine throughout the entire play. The play has a total of six characters, who portray a total of eleven characters making the play double-cast except for Hester who only plays one character. The play is about the main character who is named Hester, La Negrita. Hester has five children who all have different dads, who abandoned them. Because of the absence of the fathers, Hester has been left to raise her kids on her own without any help, leaving her to be in poverty. Hester and the children live under this bridge and they are so poor that Hester most of the time doesn’t even eat just so that she can save that food for the children, so they have something to eat. Keep in mind that Hester also doesn’t know how to read or write. What Parks has done with this play is that she has used the idea of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter to incorporate very similar ideas within both the play and the novel just in an African American aspect and point of view.
Back in the day when it came to African Americans working, they would typically work for longer hours and would not even get paid enough because of how they were treated by the color of their skin. And on top of that, they couldn’t work just any job, there were certain jobs that they were allowed to do, not everyone was going to hire them. Now we can only imagine how hard that must have been for them to go through that. But now imagine an African American woman working through those times. Not only would they have to work long hours and not get paid enough too, but they would even get paid the minimum wage just because they were both black and a woman. And back then as we know women would not be appreciated and they would look at women as a stay at home moms or would think that a woman only belongs in her home and should not work. And when single African American mothers had to work for their children they still wouldn't even get paid enough to be able to provide for their children. There was always a difference between African Americans working and white people working which we can also see in the play. For instance, in scene 5 where Hester decides to do sewing work for Welfare as a job and she tells Amiga Gringa. Hester says “I bet I could get you some sewing.” Amiga Gringa responds“Oh no. Thats not for me. If I work, Hester, I would want to be paid a living wage. You have agreed to work for less than a living wage. May as well be a slave. Or an animal.” Hester responds with “Its a start. She said if I do well-” Amiga Gringa cuts her off and says “If you do well shes gonna let you be her slave for life. Wouldn’t catch me doing that. Chump work. No no no. But its a good thing you are. Example to the kids.” (Parks 40.) As we can see what is happening in this scene Amiga Gringa tells Hester that she will never do “chump work” as in less than a living wage sewing work. The reason why she can say this is because she is white, she isn’t of color therefore she can get any other job because she isn’t African American and others will most likely hire her anywhere else. As where Hester can only take what is available because not only is she a Black woman but she also can’t read or write making that even harder for her to get a job that whites could get.
In the play as well, there is the theme of race and sexuality. In the play, there is a doctor who Hester goes to because she has started to feel pain. When she goes for a visit the doctor tells her “When I say removal of your “womanly parts” do you know what parts I’m talking about?” she responds with “Yr gonna take my womans parts?” He responds with “My hands are tied. The Higher Ups are calling the shots now… You have 5 healthy children, itll be for the best, considering.” Hester answers with “My womans parts.” He says “Ive forwarded my recommendation to your caseworker. Its out of my hands. Im sorry.” (Parks 25). The meaning behind this scene is that the doctor is mentioning “SPAY” to Hester, an African American woman who has already had 5 children. This is a big keyword that is being introduced to Hester because there has been this negative idea and stereotype that Black women who are single parenting and didn’t have a planned pregnancy to have a child, should get spayed. The reason for that being is so that they don’t have any more unexpected children. The doctor showing that word to Hester tells us that he thinks that the “Higher Ups” are calling her name already and her fertility shouldn’t be thought twice now that the “Higher Ups” are calling for her to get spayed.
Furthermore, like mentioned earlier in the introduction this play has a literary reference to a novel called The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. To summarize the plot of the novel there is this young woman whose name is also Hester Prynne. She is a white woman who gives birth to a baby whose father is unknown, she is later exposed and humiliated in many different ways. But she has to wear this scarlet “A” on her for the rest of her life and she also can’t read or write. Now in comparison to In the Blood, the main character Hester is an African American woman who as well as 5 children with no dad and she is poor and can not read or write but race places a big part in who she is and how she is treated, unlike Hester Prynne who is a White woman. The similarities that they both have though are that they both can’t read or write, they both have children, both single mothers, the message of the “A” which signifies Hester’s shame of not knowing how to read or write and for Hester Prynne shame of adultery, and lastly both of the play and the novel have similar character names like Hester Prynne to Hester La Negrita, Roger Chillingworth to Chili, and Minister Dimmesdale to Reverend D. I believe that Parks decided to allude to this novel because the plot and the overall novel is very similar. As well because maybe she wanted to see what difference it would make between two different characters who are in similar situations but are different races one White and one African American and notice the differences and similarities that they would go through. Race plays a big part in both of the character’s similarities and differences because for one a single African American pregnant woman would always be looked down upon than a single White pregnant woman during those times because of their skin color and how others would view Black people. For instance, in the play In the Blood Hester is called a “slut” by Reverend D (Parks 64). because of how uneducated and poor she is. It is almost like she was meant to be born into that life. People look at her like this and say that it is all of her faults for living like that. In comparison to Hester Prynne she wouldn’t be called such a thing because even though she too is illiterate, White women aren’t used to living that lifestyle it wouldn’t be predictable for her nor would anybody say that it was all her fault.
In conclusion, both the play and the novel share many similarities but still have their differences. They both stand out and show the audience the historical socio-political significance that Hester has with society. Hester goes through so much in the play and living as a single mother and raising five kids at the same time can be so challenging. But even more for her because after all she is illiterate and is trying to better herself as an individual and get a job so she can make money and provide for her kids. In the end, this makes us reflect on how hard times were for not just colored people back then but also for colored Black women. And we as well see a big difference specifically between white and black women.