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J. Christopher O’Brien

Breaking the Cycle: The Forgiving Blues in August Wilson’s King Hedley II

This essay argues that Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott (2015) and In King Hedley II, his sequel to Seven Guitars, August Wilson presents a bleak picture of life for African Americans living in the inner cities in the 1980s. King, the titular protagonist and nowgrown son of characters from Wilson’s previous play, struggles to build a future in a world that constantly reminds him that he doesn’t count. Wilson uses King, a character thoroughly enmeshed in the inner-city hoodlum culture of “blood for blood” violence, to dramatize a way to break that cycle and navigate American reality. Although King is ultimately sacrificed at the end of the play, he learns his own and his community’s history and adopts a “bluesman” mentality, which allows him to learn forgiveness and, thus, transcend cycles of violence. 

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