Date of Award
Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D.
John Wargacki, Ph.D.
august wilson, black, african american, trauma, oedipus complex, lacan, freud, blackness, fanon, dubois, double-consciousness
August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is a series of ten plays that aims to “amend, to explore, and to add to our African consciousness and our African aesthetic” (Wilson qtd. in Gantt 5). Each play is set in a different decade but all share incredibly similar protagonists; all of them are African American men in their mid to late adulthood. The stories are separated by years but all articulate the generational trauma embedded in the African American consciousness in the twentieth century. Wilson’s plays span between the generations of African Americans living in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation to a group of men living at the start of the new millennium. Each character deals with the struggles of his given time period, but they all experience some form of generational trauma.
An essential part of each characters’ psyche is torn between their African and their American identities, a psychological phenomenon W.E.B. DuBois calls “double consciousness.”
Their American identity pushes them to fulfill their role as the provider, embracing notions of masculinity and the capitalist influence of the “American Dream,” but it is their African identity that prevents them from flourishing in the white American society. They must work to succeed in spite of their identities, crafting their mannerisms and behavior in the form of the “White Man.” These men are also deeply traumatized by their relationships with their fathers. Each man struggles with what Freud would call an Oedipal Complex, attempting to fulfill the paternal role that their fathers failed in. To their own dismay, the generational trauma has already been transposed upon them: they cannot fulfill their fiscal role as the American man because of their blackness. In turn, these men become frustrated, paranoid, anxious, and deeply sad; their self-imposed deficiency separates them from their family, pushing them away from their sons and wives, thereby perpetuating the generational cycle. The Pittsburgh Cycle is truly a cycle of the effects of DuBois’s double-consciousness, demonstrating that these men are always tied to their blackness and the discrimination that is embedded within it.
Stellingwerf, Kaitlin, "Stepping Beyond the Veil and Breaking the Pittsburgh Cycle: The American Dream, Otherness, and Generational Trauma in August Wilson's Cycle Plays" (2019). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 2657.