Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Santa Barbara

Refracting Ipseity in African American Drama


This dissertation interrogates multiple tensions between group identity and personal identity in African American drama. Borrowing from Kwame Anthony Appiah’s and Paul Ricoeur’s theorizations about group identity and self-formation, I propose two conceptual tools of analysis based on an understanding of identity as interaction and drama as a refractive medium of experience: ipseity and aesthetic refraction. I develop these concepts by applying them to the analysis of six African American plays: Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro, Suzan-Lori Parks’s The America Play, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, and June Jordan’s I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky. In each play, I problematize essentialist readings of group identity, disclosing the singularities of the characters’s interactions in relation to the structure of the works and the authors’s personal perspectives. My dissertation discloses how singular interactions can recast the image of a group, how interracial characters can be torn apart by different narratives of belonging, how history acts and is acted upon in relation to individuals, how interaction rather than inheritance determines belonging, how communities are dynamic processes in lieu of fixed products, and how a diverse social milieu provides different affective value to different groups without absolutely determining the agency of the individual. I argue that ipseity and aesthetic refraction allow for a methodology that problematizes essentialist perspectives over identity-formation based on group identity. I conclude with a discussion of possible applications for ipseity and aesthetic refraction beyond dramatic criticism.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View