74 pages 2 hours read

August Wilson

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1984

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Essay Topics


In his Century Cycle series, August Wilson wrote a play exploring the black experience during each decade of the 20th century. What does Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom say about what it means to be black in the United States in the 1920s? Where does the play fit into the historical timeline of the struggle for civil rights? Does the play foreshadow what will happen in the ensuing decades?


Choose one of the characters in the play. How does that character work to fight, maintain, or encourage racism? Which characters are working against the character you chose? Use evidence from the text to support your argument.


How does music function in the play? How do different characters define the purpose of music? How does the actual performance of music in the play create meaning?