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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Belief that plays must present two opposing points of view

Green describes his perspective on drama, and perhaps the secret to his success. He believes that the playwright must present two opposing points of view. This belief made it difficult to write plays about the labor movement: he thought the good guys were all on the side of labor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Well, if I may, I'll speak about that in a minute, but to go back to this Cabin in the Cotton, one thing that I learned early in trying to write plays, and I don't know where I learned it, maybe it was just sort of natural, but I knew that if you are going to get the truth between two antagonisms and usually in a play, you have a protagonist and antagonist point of view, one against the other, and I bet that I have half a dozen labor protest plays half finished out there, scenes of rioting and all, and maybe I should have stuck and finished them …but I learned that if you are going to do a good job basically, you must explain how the … how each one got to be the way that he is. For instance, I wrote a one act play and made it finally into a long play about a Negro educator. Well, how did this fellow, where did he get an idea to try to teach school? He is a mulatto. Well, some of the colored fellows are talking and say, "That Abe fellow, he is mixed up. he's a white man up here, and a white man will say one thing and a Negro will say another. He's mixed up. He's a mulatto." One of them says, "He's got them damn books." The other one says, "Yeah, ever since that time that they hanged that Charlie fellow on the telegraph pole and shot him full of holes, ever since Abe seen that, he's been different." The other one says, "Yeah, the fool. You know what he done? He went down there in the night and he cut that Charlie boy down and helped bury him." "Yeah, he ain't never been the same." So, I tried to derive his difference and so in the Cabin in the Cotton, I knew darn well that this boy, this tenant farmer, I could do his case, but there was the landlord. I've got to explain how the landlord is the way he is. Otherwise, you get a melodrama and in a lot of the protest plays, the factory owners or the landlords are just sons of bitches and they are just like that. You have to let each side have its voice and say its say. I've got to corroborate it.
That's the difficulty that you ran into when you tried to shape your plays that had to do with the labor protest?
It has something to do with that and each one … that's one of the drawbacks, say, in a play .. a Shakespeare play like Othello. This fellow Iago is just as mean as he can be and Shakespeare never explains how he got to be so mean. So, when Verdi made an opera out of Othello, he got a man to write the libretto, Boito, and Boito gives Iago an aria in which he sings and explains why he hates Othello so and it is a better job. Of course, Shakespeare was working so fast that he couldn't take the time. And that is one of the drawbacks that I found in Mike Gold and John Howard Lawson and a number of those protest writers. The landlord or the factory owner or the politician are always just mean, and the good guys are the labor people.