In his play, Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris considers the nations sociological growth in the span of half a century. To achieve this, Norris uses the themes of society, territory and property, and intersects them with the themes of class and race to discern cultural and political progress, or lack thereof. At its core, Clybourne Park is fundamentally a scornful satire of contemporary race relations. From Act I, which is set in 1959 to Act II set in 2009, Norris elucidates the intricacies of race and class in the wider national context, demonstrating how language underpins racial and class conventions. Throughout the play, Norris demonstrates how characters use communication and language to mask their true feelings and views of those around them and the prevailing situations.
While watching the play, a distinct question comes to mind, why do humans hide nasty realities with labels and names? In Act I, community pastor Jim inquires, Dont we say negro now? (Norris 62) in response to Karls opposition to a colored familys impending residency in the all-white suburb. Karl and his wifes opposition stems from the belief that the entry of the colored family in their neighborhood will significantly diminish the suburbs property values. Subsequently, Act II transitions to the 2000s when a black couple (Kevin and Lena) disputes the settlement of a white family (Steve and Lindsey) into the presently all-black neighborhood. Kevin and Lenas opposition stems from the belief that the white familys residence in the black suburb is tantamount to gentrification, which greatly taints the honor of what Lena terms people of color (Norris 165). Norris understands the need to address these shifts in racial considerations. Specifically, the shift from colored to negro, and again to colored explains the middle-class hypocrisy of using language to mask unpleasant labels. Norris intended the cast to be verbal shipwrecks whose dialogue blows, through the stage in a forceful manner that inspires the audience to sift through the linguistic excitement to unearth the truth that people use words to hide their true feelings, both racial and personal.
Norris creates a community, which despite differing in terms of race and class, is fundamentally similar with regard to using language to mask true feelings. In both acts, white and black characters make an effort to voice politely their concerns for their neighborhoods. Class, race and social restrictions hamper real communication in the 1959-based Act I. On the other hand, in Act II, these restrictions no longer exist as it is already 2009, a black man is the president of America, and the society is generally accepting towards all races and social classes. In addition, in 2009, every character is middle-class, educated and distinguished. Norris demonstrates that despite this, in 2009, fractiousness takes the place of polite communication as underneath the surface, the characters dislike and distrust each other. In fact, Norris considers it invaluable to point out how society operates. Norris explains how to each race such deleterious consideration of the other is justifiable. In this regard, Karl posits that people are typically happiest within their individual tribes, implying that inter-tribe mixing is futile, and will likely result in the destruction (Norris 64).
Norris creates a group of characters who epitomize sociodynamic shifts concerning before and after the era of political correctness. Specifically, Norris exposes how communication standoffs continue to influence and dictate attitudes concerning race. Norris argues that modern liberalism has made significant strides towards creating racial tolerance, albeit mainly on the surface, but such benevolent open-mindedness has done little to obliterate peoples demeaning thoughtlessness towards other races. Norris appreciates the importance of exploring why people see the need to dance anxiously around the issue of race, or intersect it as Steve does through his imprudent insistence that rather than dancing around the issue, everyone ought to say exactly what they mean to say (Norris 178). In any case, Norris indicates that communications are fascinating indications of the lingering self-consciousness masked underneath the superficial facade of social growth or sophistication. Lindseys quip, half of my friends are black (Norris 183) in response to Steves brazen racism, and her failure to list more than one black friend upon Steves insistence reinforces Norris discussion of the characters obsession with race and ethnicity.
In essence, Norris speaks to the fact that both whites and blacks make impolite racial jokes, which act as scapegoats to their underlying feelings of resentment and disdain towards each other. In addition, Norris makes it seem like both races racist utterances indicate the existence of some degree of social equality, which was nonexistent during the 1950s. However, at the center of Norris illustration of racial relations and social growth is that the existing grim racial equality is not what people fought for, marched for, or even died for during the oppressive era of slavery. Norris allows the audience to laugh contentedly at the images portrayed by characters such as Steve, who uses implicit language to call Lena a racist without confidently saying what is on his mind (Norris 180). Ultimately, Norris portrays the plays characters as unpleasant, thereby calling to mind the prevailing racial tension in the American society in an era of financial uncertainty in which Americans seek to cling to their individual tribes, much like Karl proposes.
Norris, Bruce. Clybourne Park. New York: Dramatist's Play Service, 2010. Print.
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