Privied Readers Make an Engaged Audience

Plays are not meant to be read, but to be staged. Of course, in the process of staging a play, or studying text for academic analysis, the play must be read. This reading provides a different, clearer understanding of the playwright’s intentions. Instead of wondering about the director’s or designer’s work, we as readers are able to read the stage directions and notes. We read character descriptions, not cast lists. When reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Color Struck, one of the first things we come across is a character list. The only descriptions attributed to each character are their respective skin colors, other than the characters who receive no physical descriptions (other than the Railway Conductor and Doctor.) Interestingly, most of the characters with physical descriptions are named, with one exception: Emmaline’s daughter. Ultimately, the readers come to know the daughter’s name (Lou Lillian), but that name doesn’t appear in the list of characters. Lou Lillian is only known as “Emmaline’s daughter… a very white girl.” Emmaline’s name, listed above, describes her as a black woman. Already in the character list, before any action has begun, the reader is presented with a contradiction. We are presented with what is to come before anything happens. Thus, the reader knows that Emma, a black woman, will ultimately have a white daughter, regardless of what happens in the middle of the play. Emma’s colorism and her insecurity and jealousy of John’s love are made all the more powerful, because the reader knows of the change to come. 

How does the audience’s understanding through the  present tense action of the play affect their understanding of Emma’s character?

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