Death to the King: Reaction to Ending of King Hedley II

SPOILERS AHEAD….you have been warned.

I’d just like to thank the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago for the production they put on of the August Wilson play King Hedley II. The cast were incredible, and it was definitely one of the best plays I have been to.

Since leaving the theatre, the scene that left the most impact on me has been the conclusion.

The Death

How more tragic of an ending could there be than a mother who has always wanted to be recognized as her son’s mother by her son, and then killing her son with the gun that was given to her by her son’s best friend when she meant to kill the man she was about to marry.

The Wedding

I would describe King Hedley II as a scale with tragic and comedic elements on both sides with King being the fulcrum. Towards the end of the play there was tremendous balance between both sides. It seemed to have even been sent over the edge by the “wedding” between Elmore and Ruby officiated by Mister. In Shakespeare plays, a wedding typically signaled that the play was a comedy, and August Wilson masterfully utilizes this to lead the audience into thinking that the play was going to end with a happy ending. But with the death of King and the way in which he died, completely broke the scale leaving the audience understanding that the play was meant to be a tragedy.

The “Resurrection” of Aunt Ester’s Cat

Throughout the play, the reoccurring theme of repetition of history is clearly seen. Stool Pigeon hoards news papers to always be surrounded by recorded history of mistakes other people have made so he can preach to others to not make the same mistakes again. Tonya’s fear of making the same mistake with King’s baby she made when she was 18. Ruby falling in love with Elmore as she did when she was younger. Tonya thinking that King will fall into the same cycle as others and go back to jail or get killed.

August Wilson is displaying the trap of the institutional cycle placed upon African Americans of the 1980s to the audience. August Wilson is making the argument that even though King has died there will always be another black man who wants to get on the straight and narrow, there will always be a Mister who isn’t living up to his potential, there will always be a Ruby who keeps on making mistakes when it comes to men, there will always be a Tonya who can’t trust those who love her, there will always be an Elmore who is the father figure that King needs but will continue to be absent, and there will always be just another……… alley cat.

One thought on “Death to the King: Reaction to Ending of King Hedley II

  1. Julian Bradford

    I really liked how you talked about aunt Ester’s cat, as it was one aspect of the play that I was really confused about. Your analysis makes a lot of sense, and helped clear up that part for me. I also thought it was interesting how you tied this play back to Shakespeare, and how a wedding is usually used in the opposite way that it was used in King Hedley ll.


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