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Theatre / In Abraham's Bosom

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In Abraham's Bosom is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1926 play written by Paul Green.

Abraham McCranie is a black man living in North Carolina in 1885, 20 years after the end of slavery. He is the illegitimate child of a white landowner, Colonel McCranie. The Colonel's legitimate son, Lonnie, despises his half-brother. Abraham has dreams of elevating the black race and is striving to found a school that will serve to educate the black children of the area. He faces resistance from not only the white power structure, but some of his fellow blacks, including his carping mother-in-law Muh Mack and his dissolute son Douglass. The only person who supports him is his beloved wife Goldie. Abraham's stubbornness and defiance in the face of white supremacy eventually leads to a tragic outcome.



  • As You Know: Every act starts with a big helping of this, starting with the opening of the play, in which some of the laborers in the turpentine woods go on at length about how Abraham has been studying books and how he once pulled a lynching victim down from a tree and how his book-reading has been distracting him from work.
  • Cain and Abel: The rivalry between Lonnie and Abe ends with Abe murdering Lonnie, after the local KKK chapter puts an end to Abe's hopes of a school and Lonnie says he's confiscating Abe's cotton crop. (Abe has been reduced to sharecropping on Lonnie's land.)
    Abe: Oh Lawd God! I'm anuder Cain!
  • Call-and-Response Song: The song "Jonah's Band Party" that Douglass sings with his grandmother is called this, even though the racist stage directions of this play describe it as "Call" and "Sponse".
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  • Funetik Aksent: The attempts to replicate the dialect of latter-19th century black laborers make the play nearly incomprehensible. It does not help that the printed text is pretty racist, using incorrect spellings like "blaspheam" that sound exactly the same as the correctly spelled words.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Bud is horribly jealous of Abe, who has won the affections of beautiful Goldie.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: The central theme of the play. The rather gross and racist message seems to be that Abraham's half-white, half-black ancestry is his problem; that his whiteness is making him raise himself up above his station and try for things that black people have no business trying to achieve.
    Lije: Abe is bad mixed up all down inside.
    Bud: White and black make bad mixtry.
    Lije: Do dat. (Thumping on his chest) Nigger down heah. (Thumping his head) White mens up heah. Heart say do one thing, head say 'nudder. Bad, bad.
  • I Have No Son!: Abe proclaims this after Douglass drops out of school and turns to a life of drinking and dissolution. ("He ain't no longer mine, and that's the end of it.")
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Abe is in the middle of lecturing the KKK lynch mob at his door about hope and freedom when they shoot him to death.
  • Meaningful Name: The man who has ambitions of raising up the black race is named "Abraham". Played for bitter irony when Abe names his son "Douglass" after Frederick Douglass, and hopes for him to be a leader of men as well, only for Douglass to turn out lazy and shiftless.
  • My Beloved Smother: "Muh" Mack, Goldie's mother, who is whiny and bitter, and constantly undermines and mocks Abe and his talk of a school. She is most unpleasant.
    "Time you's learning day white is white and black is black, and Gohd made de white to always be bedder'n de black. It was so intended from the beginning."
  • Neck Lift: Abe does this when his son Douglass, who has turned out to be a bitter disappointment to Abe, shows up at the family cabin.
  • Time Skip: Several long ones between scenes, including a 15-year time skip that finds Abe and his family in the city, mired in poverty after Abe lost the family farm.