Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Relatively few scholars have investigated racial representations in modern American drama. Even fewer scholars have undertaken to analyze depictions of whiteness in American letters, although “white studies” is slowly assuming legitimacy in the academy in the 1990s. “Racial Encounters in the American Theatre” therefore attempts to bridge this gap in literary and critical studies by examining the black portraiture of Eugene O'Neill and the white portraiture of August Wilson. The work of both playwrights attests to their deep and consistent involvement with their Racial Other, who resurfaces in play after play. Maintaining that the United States resembles a postcolonial society, I advance my critical analysis by employing current theories of race (blackness and whiteness) and postcolonial theory, specifically the contributions of Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi to this field, as well as those of many contemporary scholars like Edward Said, Stuart Hall, and Gayatri Spivak.

Whereas O'Neill's earlier work (Thirst, The Moon of the Caribbees , and The Dreamy Kid) promotes stereotypes of blackness, such as primitivism and cannibalism, the Anglo-American playwright has transcended these racial myths in his later work and has discovered in the Negro a tragic character rather than an entertainer. The Emperor Jones, All God's Chillun Got Wings, and The Iceman Cometh consequently draw attention to the economic, social, and political injustices affecting African-Americans while highlighting their ensuing psychological and mental anguish. Wilson's fictive black world, as seen in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running , and Seven Guitars, on the other hand, is peopled with many whites, most of whom remain off-stage, but nonetheless play a tremendous role in the lives of his black characters. Wilson's vision of whiteness is homogeneous; he stresses in play after play how whiteness is associated with economic power and exploitation, social privilege, law, and terror in the black imagination. I conclude my study by demonstrating how both dramatists confirm the colonial panorama Frantz Fanon delineates. While O'Neill explores the effects of “alienation” on colonized individuals decades before Fanon articulated his theories, Wilson turns his attention to the second stage of colonization: “nationalism.”

Included in

Psychology Commons