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Dr. Sherine Mostafa El Shoura :: Publications:

The Identity of the Tragic Mulatta and Cultural Trauma in Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro
Authors: Sherine Mostafa El Shoura
Year: 2014
Keywords: Not Available
Journal: حوليات كلية البنات فكر وإبداع بجامعة عين شمس نوفمبر
Volume: مجلد 89 -2014
Issue: Not Available
Pages: 25
Publisher: بجامعة عين شمس
Local/International: International
Paper Link: Not Available
Full paper Not Available
Supplementary materials Not Available

Many young African-American women playwrights, hybrids and non-hybrids, have been provoked to write and produce plays of identity, exploring and questioning the hierarchal socio-political system of patriarchal white legacy and other monolithic ideologies. Despite their having very little chance of success because of the double difficulty of both racism and sexism, these women still write to know more about themselves and to educate others about their unique history, which has been stereotyped and distorted by patriarchal Euro-centric sources for a long time. Here, writing is an urgent illuminating process, rather than being simply literary. Recent studies in the field of trauma theory and literary studies claim culture forms collective identities. According to Cathy Caruth, early work in the field of trauma and literary studies emphasized "learning to listen and the need to recognize trauma" (Caruth viii). Later scholars have focused instead on the broader category of cultural trauma and on public reenactments of cultural trauma. They seek to arrive at a truth that explains the collective trauma experienced during events such as the Holocaust and the Transatlantic slave trade. It is reflected in the black feminist theatre as an effort to establish a collective identity for African American women affected by cultural trauma. It also explores how black feminist drama addresses and seeks to offer a chance at recovery to victims of racism and sexism. Adrienne Kennedy (1931- ) is probably one of the most significant landmarks in American playwriting. This contemporary hybrid and extraordinarily hardworking African-American woman has been studying, writing, and teaching drama for a long time. Her many plays honestly reflect her hybrid and female experiences. The goal of this study is to shed light on the complexity and difficulty of the existence of the multi-layered identity of the hybrid African-American female in Adrienne Kennedy's crisis-identity play Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964). The study is also to focus on how the language of trauma is articulated. Neither European-African-American playwright, Adrienne Kennedy, nor her female-mulatta protagonist Sarah of Funnyhouse of a Negro, could melt into the Euro-American melting pot. They both "cannot believe in places"( Funnyhouse 10). It seems that there is no place for them but their own funnyhouse. Adrienne Kennedy first emerged as a major African-American dramatist during the Black Arts Movement (BAM) of the 1960s, and she provided a different voice for the African community. At the time, many mainstream critics failed to recognize her contributions to BAM because her works did not advocate hard-core black nationalism. However, the racial identity crisis existing during the 1960s is evident in Kennedy’s surrealistic play, Funnyhouse of a Negro. The play reacts a painful part of African-American history: the struggle for acceptance into and recognition by hegemonic cultural and political arenas. During the Black Power Movement (BPM), African Americans rallied for their civil rights in America alongside a desire to return to their roots in Africa. Kennedy radically addresses issues of identity in her plays, which defines her as contributor to the BPM. Funnyhouse is not apologetic in its portrayal of the tragic biracial woman; Negro-Sarah portrays the consciousness of many black women who tried to pass for white during the twentieth century and have experienced rejection based on colorism. In her plays, Kennedy works on deconstructing negative stereotypes launched by monolithic hegemony and media against African-Americans. In an interview with Bryant-Jackson and Overbeck, she confesses, "I have been more haunted and obsessed in recent years with how media treats blacks…...blacks have become very much identified with drugs and a lot of negative things". She recalls "I don't remember that being [so] in the forties or fifties or sixties" (7). The average black family, she insists, is hardworking and has a very high morality. Kennedy is best known for offering rich expressionistic and surrealistic images of the interior landscape of the human mind. Employing images from her dreams and memory as well as figures from the mythical and historical past, she brings unusual impressionistic insights to human and American experience. In a surrealistic theatrical style, unique to her, Kennedy's characters subvert the line between dream and consciousness, between reality and the surreal fantasies of the subconscious. This very unique employment of the surrealistic mode of theater, Margaret Wilkerson argues, established Kennedy's work as a "unique voice in the avant-garde theatre of the 1960s" (68). That accounts for the fact that her plays are highly spiritual and deeply psychological, and, thus difficult to explain. Interpreting Kennedy's plays, therefore is neither easy nor safe. This is true because of the highly surrealistic and extremely impressionistic nature of Kennedy's plays, leaving the door open to many interpretations, some of which could be entirely false. bell hooks in Critical Reflections warns the audience "Kennedy is continually playing with us-making a play within a play-challenging the audience to expand its vision of what is dramatically possible" (185). No doubt, Kennedy is a distinguished playwright of the avant-garde who has a rich dramatic experience, because she has been studying, writing, and teaching drama for decades. With an exquisite sensitivity and a remarkable style that extraordinarily combines myths, symbols, historical figures, she draws racist, sexist, and monolithic images that reflect the true suffering of the hybrid American woman of color, in general, and the mulatta of the Afro-American origin, in particular. She does all that in a poetic dialogue and in a grave mood of surrealism and expressionism. Her plays, hence, are short but intense, characterized with the density of poetic language. Kennedy asserts that playwriting for her is a psychological process in her continuous search for her own identity and that is deep rooted in her Funnyhouse: "I struggled for a long time to write plays in which the person is in conflict with inner forces, with the conflicting sides to their personality, which I found to be my own particular, greatest conflict ( A Growth of Images 218 ).

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