Rita Dove’s “The Darker Face of the Earth” is a poet reading that narrates the Oedipus drama, fabricated in terms of the African-American experience of slavery. Oedipus the King’s reading is enriched with the beauty and richness of ancient images and distress dynamics of Greek myths. The transcendent power drawn in Dove’s play depicts erotic, compassionate, and creative themes. The setting of the play of in pre-Civil War plantation was situated in Charleston, South Carolina. Augustus New castle is the Oedipus figure in the story, the son of a white mistress Amalia and Hector the black slave. Oedipus the King by Sophocles’ story approaches a group of unhappy citizens who are enslaved by the priest’s untruly predictions. He makes them believe that the city is dying and they are sick and poor. The murders that take place in the city are not investigating, this shows acts of slavery.
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The story begins when baby Augustus is sent away by her mother to be raised by black slave traders and the baby is sold to these slave traders that turned to be an adventurous career. The baby is later bought by Amalia. The two later become lovers but their love cannot survive the racist surroundings. Augustus and Amalia are trying to run away from issues of race and miscegenation. Their relationship trespassed the lines of color but brought confusing identities within the family. What determined the concepts of “race and miscegenation” in their life is the distortion of slavery. Augustus as a slave in barred from doing some activities as other people do, for instance, he can not occupy civic positions that is a prominent figure but he can ‘save his people’, this incident shows a slave rebellion. He is a prominent person in the movement but he can not become a leader. They don’t think he can be trusted by the leadership of the conspiracy because of his erotic ties (Goff & Simpson, 2008, p.136).
Since Augustus cannot be trusted by the leadership because of his erotic entanglements, he is made to kill the white master Louis and Amalia the mistress to prove his loyalty. The so-called political rebellion that intersected with the erotic plot to kill the masters confronted the truth about Augustus’ identity. We identify that the Darker Face of the Earth is both a plotline in the character of its hero and at the same time, serves as a hermeneutic role. Augustus who plays a major role in the play is an offspring of the plantation mistress Amalia. Since he was bought by one of the people in slavery, he is transformed into one. Since he was sent away, the parents believe that the boy was dead. He returns 20 years later to the plantation but no one knows who he is. The plantation in which he returns lies under double affliction. Slavery in the plantation is depicted as a private curse whose cause is concealed in mystery. People view him as their savior from slavery due to his charismatic and brilliant virtues but the Whites saw otherwise; they force him to kill the master and mistress to prove his loyalty. The mystical and non-rational power the plantation people had, Augustus comes in dilutes the superstitions and fears with the contempt of clear heading their logics (Carlisle, 2000, p.1).
He dismisses the Christian myths of “Sunday shouts” and replaced them with “Listen/to them sing! /What of god preaches such misery?” He gives an equal short confession to the mystic warnings and cant of the “Voodon Woman”
Women like her, hah!
They get a chill one morning,
Hear an Owl or two, and snap!-
They have received their “powers”!
They then collect a few old bones,
Dry some herbs and they’re in business. (p.3).
This shows that Augustus has seen a world beyond the slave plantation where freedom is an option. He has made efforts to the conspirators in their righteous scheme of mutiny, convincing them what in his view is right and wrong. Darker face deploys the oedipal notions of identity and tradition in the sense that the narrative contained ‘self’ and ‘story’ in order to describe the Black Aegean. The understanding of the compounded negotiations among cultures of West Africa and African America in the novel acknowledges the division and painful provenance that the people went through within the post-colonial context. The Darker Face reveals incest in the story that is concerned with distances that are not sufficiently preserved. The plantation community shows a society that is divided in terms of racial mixture. Blacks and White people share most of the spaces; Amalia’s adultery with her slaves portrays his husband’s transgressions. The story is told in a more sarcastic form in rejoicing Amalia’s adultery (Goff & Simpson, 2008, p.138).
Out of rage and sorrows over
your philandering behavior, Louis,
Amalia has responded in Kind (p.138).
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Although the novel portrays slavery, the narrative is part of black and white histories in the United States. The “blood” commonly used in the play, is exchanged among different communities of incipient “Americans”. The two races are bound together in a single body by chains of history that include sharing land, blood, and passion as well. They also share the “curse”, Augustus’ sin of incest was shared in a mixed race. Incest and parricide are the by-products of institutional slavery. Slavery is seen as a curse that settled over the land. It is seen as a vice that corrupts human society, causing tragedy and destroying life. In the Greek story Oedipus, by his incest and parricide loses the power, and the end of the story when his efforts to name Jocasta, their children, and himself in his relationship. Oedipus becomes aware that he has lost the power of naming his parents. It is this slavery that teaches them, Augustus and Amalia, the consequences of the incest taboo and the existence of human society. through the incest, he can not name his parents. He also pronounces his loss of citizenship in the human community through the incest acts. Society exclaims “Drive them from here with all the speed you can/ to where i may not here the human voice”. Augustus removal from the city was for the public and private necessity as well (Carlisle, 2000, p.5).
The Oedipus society was ruled by fore-tales of the elders that caused anguish in the society. The oracles predicted that Jocasta’s son had died and could not live to do what the Oracle had predicted he would do. The herdsman who gave the Oedipus to the Corinthians verifies that he was Jocasta’s child that proved the predictions to be false. Act of slavery is also portrayed where Jocasta was found dead. Jocasta was found hanging from a noose. Jocasta was believed to have caused the anguish in the society that led to her suicide (Sophocles, 1999, online).
He unpinned and tore away the golden brooches from the robes which she was dressed in, raised them up, and truck at his own eyeballs, yelling something like ‘You’ll not look on the disgraceful things I’ve done or have done to me. In darkness now you’ll look on those I ought to have done to me. In darkness now you’ll look on those I ought not to have seen, and not know those I yearned to know (line 1268).
Augustus’ knowledge in trying to save his community does not avail him of his Oedipus. People in the community later shun him away. He is also trapped by fate and history, precisely and the oedipal. He tries to bridge the gap between the tales of the Greeks and trying to know himself and discovers that the Greeks are so predictable, among other things, himself. But anyways, the tale of Greeks does not help his personality, it makes him become even more blinder. African culture plays into oedipal play structure as hatred of slave owners. The ritual culture practiced in the African community is portrayed where Yoruba uses phrases and is skilled in Yoruba rituals. Augustus trying to take his rituals away would diminish her power within the community, thus mocking the slave’s desire for revolution (Goff & Simpson, 2008, p.141).
Slavery also brought about social injustice. The Oedipus city is dirty, the soil is infertile, cattle pastures are burnt and babies are stillborn. The city of Thebes was plagued, homes were empty and the people were in pain. The people are meant to believe that what was causing the city anguish was the bad blood of the person who killed Laios. Laios murder was not investigated because people were preoccupied with solving the Sphinx’s riddle and they could not get to the bottom line of the case. Oedipus tries to find the man who killed his father and wed his mother but nobody wants to help him find the truth. He approaches the elders for help but all they do is ask him sarcastically what demon has taken over him. Society always overshadowed the truth that isolated Oedipus from finding out what happened (Sophocles, 1999, online).
Oedipus’ cloud of darkness is “inescapable, unspeakable, unstoppable, driven by cruel words (Line, 1314).
In conclusion, Dove’s play presents parallel involvement of incest, parricide, and language incorporated in the private and public welfare. The institution of slavery is well depicted in the narrative as well, denying marriages and family to the slave, their sexual affinity between slave and master and denies the society the power to name their family lineage. The consequences of institutional slavery resulted in Augustus’ disability to name his parents and also the power to recognize parricide and incest because he was denied the freedom to know his percentage. Slavery was part of African culture in the pre-colonial days and they have to appreciate the past and move on. Slavery was an ill thing to have happened in our past and we should not the bitterness live with us. It was horrible for Augustus to be discriminated against in his political endeavors and even made to kill his Amalia.
- Carlisle, T. (2000). Reading the Scars: Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth. African American Review, 2000, pp. 1-19.
- Goff, B., & Simpson, M. (2008). Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone, and Dramas of the African Diaspora. Oxford University Press.
- Sophocles. 1999. Oedipus the King. Web.