August Wilson (1945-2005)
In a sense, the 10-play series (one for each decade of the 20th century) written by August Wilson covers a much longer period because one of the characters, Aunt Ester, was born in the first year of American slavery, 1619. He kept her alive down through the centuries because she was to him “the corporeal connection to the spiritual roots of all African-American people.” She lives for 367 years until 1986 when Wilson became distraught at the prospects for African-Americans. “[By] the 1980’s, when blacks were killing blacks for drug money and sneakers, Wilson sadly concluded this bond was forever severed.” Wilson himself died in October 2005 after completing his epic chronicle of the unique experience of what it meant to be “black in America” in each of the last ten decades.
The struggle of being black in America is only one aspect of the story of universal suffering—the struggle to maintain contact with the soul and to wake up in a narrative characterized by unconsciousness. In other words the American story grows ever more unsustainable and therefore more toxic and all Americans strive to keep from falling into an even deeper sleep that spells disaster for all.
True, the struggle for people of color, the poor, single mothers, women in general, religious minorities, gays and lesbians, etc. face formidable challenges but no-one is immune from suffering. That is because all of humanity possesses the same fundamental human characteristics. We are all unaware of the true nature of reality; we all have an identity that is illusory, and we are all unable to find a profound meaning in our lives. This deep lack of awareness leads to self-destructive behavior. We all perform our own version of “killing for sneakers.” Driven by the deep-seated need for power and security, influenced by a shadow which we are unaware of, and contained in a worldview narrative that ends in tragedy, we are all engaged in basically the same struggle with only varying details.
August Wilson is able to end the play that is chronologically the first in the series on a positive note. “‘Gem’ does not end in a justifiable angry diatribe. This is a redemption song, a reminder to all the oppressed that the source of strength and survival is within. How else to interpret this terrible tragic story that nonetheless ends with the hopeful final charge, ‘So live!’”
Wilson was to a remarkable degree in touch with the transcendent truth of the human experience. Despite the unconscious destructive behavior in the realm of “relative” human existence, there is the deeper truth beyond this illusion. Among the ultimate and “absolute” truths of creation are included that of beauty and perfection. If humanity could begin to awaken to the wisdom to be found within each person we would indeed experience a profound redemption.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.