Major Themes in Amiri Baraka’s Home on the Range

One of the major themes that can be discerned from the short but complex storyline of Home on the Range is the Black Criminal’s desire to take revenge on the White family by plundering the White’s household. Associated with it is a sense of fear that the Black Criminal manages to create in the members of the White family by commanding on them, shouting and screaming at them as and when they falter and eventually keeping them under gunpoint. Since the plot is loosely woven it creates a sense of mystery and not much is understood about the objectives of the Black Criminal’s visit to the White household unless and until the Crowd consisting of the Black people actually ask him and makes it apparent to the readers/ audience. The revenge that he intends to take is not an individual one but a collective one. More than looting the material possession of the family, he attempts at robbing the whites of their complacency and egoistic attitude. The White family initially tries to ignore his presence and keep themselves calm and composed. However, gradually their sense of all time power and authority start crumpling down in the presence of the Black Criminal and they become the subjects of his commands. The White family is eventually silenced by the Black Criminal and soon one by one all the family members fall flat on the floor while dancing. Their falling down flat on the floor and getting into a long sleep can be regarded as their waning power control and gradual acceptance of the over bearing power and authority of the Black criminal. The father’s coming back to normal state and attempting to utter, though very faintly audible, “I was born in Kansas city in 1920. My father was the vice-president of a fertilizer company…” (111) indicate his last attempt to claim his position and status as a White. The whole scene where the White father, fallen flat on the floor endeavours to claim his lost glory in the presence of the Black criminal and other Negros also symbolically depict the fall of the Whites and the rise of the Blacks.

Another major theme that the play deals with is identity crisis. The Blacks in the American land had lost their identity as humans. They were verbally, physically and psychologically abused and were treated as things. They were even refused basic needs of human beings and in order to inflict psychological pain and force them to internalise their condition as no better than inanimate things they were most often addressed as ‘it’. There was a deliberate effort on the whites to keep the Black people nameless and call them as niggers. The Black people in Amiri Baraka’s plays continuously fight against identity crisis and hence they are identified in his plays either through their actions or their relation with the others in the play. The Whites too in this play, quite surprisingly, are depicted as nameless people. This might be read as an artistic attempt of Amiri Baraka to hint at the subversion of roles that is depicted in the later part of the play.

The play also deals with another significant theme of power struggle. The Black Criminal who takes control on the White family wants to establish his power over the White family, sort of dream come true for him. Whereas, there are indications made by the White family that speak about their attempt to resist it, they ultimately fail. The nonsensical language, the Father’s utterance about his past in his sleep amply speaks about their attempts to give up and resist the dominance that the Black Criminal was trying to build over them. However, the involvement of the white family in the nigger dance ultimately establishes the dominance of the Black over the white, a future that the playwright tries to visualise.

The play also deals, though very subtly, with the theme of despair, loss and shame on one hand and an overwhelming sense of contentment and satisfaction on accomplishing the desired objectives on the other hand. Home on the Range was written by Amiri Baraka in the late 1960s, when he had already achieved a heightened sense of Black consciousness and was almost successful in achieving a nationalistic spirit. The play through the presence of the White family and the Black Criminal and later the crowd of black people depict the despair and sense of loss of control, position and respect of the White as they encounter the Black Criminal.

The play also subverts the theme of assimilation. The Afro- American literature always focussed on the Black’s conscious efforts to assimilate the White culture. However, in Home on the Range, Amiri Baraka interrogates the concept of assimilation as understood by the Blacks and subverts it by showing the White family trying to assimilate the Black culture in their endeavour to become a part of the Black Nigger Party and dance with them. It also symbolically indicates the end of White sophisticated culture and reign and the rise of the Blacks into power where they will be dictating on the Whites as happened in the White household.

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