Blood is a motif in King Hedley, II. It is a strong and instructive note. It signals the life and death struggle to create and maintain life in marginalized spaces. The tension between the discussion of abortions and blood feuds destined to end in blood carry us through this speeding train ride that can only end in a tremendous wreck. What else can happen when the doors are all barred and life is on the other side.
King’s desire to sit on top of the mountain — with the key given the righteous requires — he wipe the blood off his hands. He is told the key is forgiveness but he is bound by codes of honor which dictate his actions. Blood for blood is a mantra carried by his reflection in the character of Mister. Mister outlines the tenets of honor and explains that blood spilled requires the spilling of blood, especially in the defense of your blood. It is a matter of honor. If a man kills your blood you ain’t supposed to be looking at him long. Someone must die. Blood is energy, it is life, your bloodline is your most intimate legacy, you are required to defend it.
What pathology is engendered at the event of the interruption of a man’s ability to care for his blood. How then does one proceed with honor in the world? At what point is crossing the line to ensure your blood survives permissible? What would you do to insure your unborn child’s right to live in a world big enough to dream in? At what point does the world get so small that the thought of new life, rather than inspiring joy, births fear and desperation along with the consideration of killing it before it breathes? Who turned the world around like that and how do we find a way to thrive in a world where the path to life is blocked by barbed wire or something even harder to cut through?
One of Wilson’s greatest skill displays in the work of The American Century Cycle, is to show you the world-changing as the North American stands in the same place, or even more disturbing as the ground beneath him literally shrinks. The lack of work and the great difficulty encountered by those who dream of thriving in a country they helped to build with blood and sweat. Blood on the ground but no way into the dream. King remarks that he was once worth $1200.00 during slavery but in 1985 he is reduced to $3.35 an hour he says he is going backwards. Mister observes the woman with the store got a bigger store and bigger house to go with it, he speculates, if she could drive she would have a bigger car. As the country moves forward North American African’s have moved further from center.
In our current moment the ruthless gentrification of formerly affordable communities and the continued economic inequity experienced by large numbers of North American Africans coupled with a cannibalistic educational system/carceral system and an escalation of inter-group violence informed and encouraged by systemic violence perpetrated against them magnifies the moment in which our characters live. We know this dark moment goes on, gets deeper, becomes as consuming as an ocean.
King Hedley like many young men today carries a gun because he fears violence being enacted upon him. He has killed one man and is looking to kill the man’s kin to stop him from retaliating against him. He is also about to become a father for the first time. While the sooth sayer calls on him to wash the blood from his hands I wonder how he might go about that. Some of the blood on his path is older than him. The sooth sayer says he can right the house of his father even though it may be torn asunder, but even the sooth sayer calls for the remission of blood. Blood is the new life coming extending King’s blood line and ultimately his possibles in life. The question of honor may require him to shed blood in order to live long enough to help sustain this new life.
Come and see who survives and what the blood cost of honor is. See King Hedley, II now through September 6.