Florence (1949)
by Alice Childress

In Childress's first short play, Florence, a middle-aged southern Negro woman, "Mama" arrives at this rural train station in South Carolina, ready to make the trip to New York City to visit her daughter, Florence, who is living the life of a poor actor. Through some interactions with her other daughter, Marge, and an acquaintance, a local porter, we are given some insight into her life, her values and her desires. Through some economical and enjoyable exposition, we see where she is coming from. Just as we anchor ourselves in Mrs. Whitney's point of view, our foil enters, a white woman, herself an actress from the north, one who considers herself an ally and yet we cringe at her indecorous assumptions and her parochial treatment of Mrs. Whitney. There is not necessarily room for complexity in her character because we are riding along with Mrs. Whitney and this woman, Mrs. Carter, is a walking irritant, saying, doing, thinking all the wrong things out of that toxic cocktail of arrogance and ignorance, that pride and privilege and the purblind ignorance. We experience the annoyance, displeasure and shock of Mrs. Whitney's hopes being raised then dashed.

In virtually all plays, we gain dramatic irony by seeing more than the characters see. By virtue of Childress's dramatic structure, we perceive the situation from the double awareness of the black female central character. There is one scene of this in "Raisin," but with Childress, who strove to integrate the stage, it is the focal point of dramatic action. She did this to unburden the African-American community by heaping this weight on the lever/fulcrum/scale of the stage, to validate, to alleviate, and, according to Elizabeth Guillory brown, to educate her unwitting foils of allies. Childress is unrelenting in bringing conflicting points of view to a head just shy of violence to reveal staggering differences of viewpoint:

  • White feelings  :  Black perception/reality  :  Example from play
  1. Wisdom, advice  :  patronizing assumption of foolishness or lack of wisdom, paternalism  :  "tell her no"
  2. Sympathy  :  superiority, deep racial beliefs, projection of despair exaggerated inferiority or ugliness  :  "Jeff's suicidal character"
  3. Helpfulness  :  Return to slave mentality, assumption of limited capacity/station  :  "offering her to be maid"                  
  4. Closeness/alliance  :  Disconnect, estrangement, weak ties and allegiances  :  "brother's situation/ black friend"
  5. Insistence on sincerity/ conviction in the face of perceivable ripples in the mask of complaisance  :  disbelief in blindness at repeated manifestations and shallowness of understanding/renewed or perpetual surprise/shock when hopes are constantly undercut  :  (no examples)

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(Further Reading: "Who's Afraid of Alice Childress?")