Although slavery is abolished and the characters are legally free, they do not feel their freedom. The main characters are free to do what they want, but they do not let themselves do so because of their moral obligations or past experiences. The play also mentions the mill workers who are free by law but not in real life. Even though they are employed as workers rather than slaves, they are all in debt, so they cannot leave their employer, which equals them to slaves. I define freedom as a possibility to make and follow one’s own choices regarding work, marriage, education, and a place of residence, and only one’s talents should limit one’s choices rather than other people’s decisions. Hence, I define freedom as a social characteristic, while the play defines it as a state of mind. In the play, Eli says, “Freedom is what you make it” (Brodersen et al. 57). It implies that one feels free when one’s life complies with one’s definition of freedom. The characters’ perceptions of freedom diverge from reality, so they cannot be truly free.
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Aunt Ester was unfree while in bondage; later, she became legally free, but her keeping the entire African American memory did not let her feel free. Citizen Barlow was unfree in the beginning because of the burden of guilt for his crime. He wanted to regain his freedom by visiting Aunt Ester, who helped him to find his duty in life and feel free. Black Mary served Aunt Ester, and, although it embarrassed her brother, “she says she’s never been so at peace with herself since she moved in with Aunt Ester” (Brodersen et al. 3). Solly became free after the emancipation but “didn’t feel right being free while others were in bondage” (Brodersen et al. 4). To gain a feeling of freedom, he joined the Underground railroad and devoted his life to helping slaves escape. Eli helped Solly in freeing slaves, but his impediment to freedom was the desire to construct a wall to keep Caesar away. Finally, Caesar felt obliged “to enforce order at all costs” (Brodersen et al. 3). He is the only character that can be considered free, but he used his freedom to oppress others.
Brodersen, Elizabeth, et al. Words on Plays: Insight into the Play, the Playwright, and the Production – Gem of the Ocean. American Conservatory Theater, 2006.