74 pages 2 hours read

August Wilson

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1984

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Character Analysis


Irvin, Ma Rainey’s manager, “is a tall, fleshy man who prides himself on his knowledge of blacks and his ability to deal with them” (9). Irvin is one of the two white characters in the play. He is the good cop to Sturdyvant’s bad cop, believing, condescendingly, that he can communicate with black people in a way that they can understand. Of course, Ma Rainey sees through this, knowing that for all of his talk about the two of them as a team, Irvin is only interested in her as far as her talent. Irvin tries to soothe Sturdyvant and Ma Rainey, taking on the role of the mediator. Although Irvin tells Sturdyvant at the beginning of the play that he will “handle” her, he largely just presents her demands to Sturdyvant and sees that they are met. He doesn’t actually have any negotiating power since he technically works for Ma Rainey. He orders sandwiches to feed the band and keep them happy as they wait for Ma. Irvin is the one who must send someone to get a Coke so that Ma will continue singing. However, Ma gives him the illusion of small victories, as when she agrees to give him 15 minutes to repair the studio setup instead of walking out or at the end when she acquiesces to his pleas that she sign the release forms before leaving the studio.