"Acting Out 'Cool': 'Coolness' as a Mask in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"

Yaşayan V.

Monograf Journal, no.15, pp.114-136, 2021 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Journal Name: Monograf Journal
  • Journal Indexes: EBSCO Education Source
  • Page Numbers: pp.114-136
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


Traditionally, men construe their sense of masculinity through their roles in the society as the provider, the protector as well as the breadwinner. However, many African American men cannot fulfill these normative norms and are doomed to fail. In order to formulate some strategy to cope with, and stay grounded in challenging and unstable times, they have developed and performed a “cool pose” or “tough-guy” image to conceal their anger and disappointment. While the cool pose has its advantages on behalf of black masculinity, it can also be destructive to African American manhood when taken to the extreme. In light of Richard Majors and Janet Billson’s “cool pose” theory, this article analyzes “coolness” as a gendered practice, and its destructive consequences in Levee’s actions and thoughts in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1985). Levee, the protagonist, desires to succeed in the world of whites by abandoning his African sensibilities. Because of his desire to perform hegemonic masculinity, he is deformed to varying degrees for his “coolness” that turns into the black rage. In other words, he transfers his own identity struggle with “normative masculinity” onto others, i.e. women and friends. Thus, acting “cool” is presented by Wilson to be the method by which African Americans try to cope with the reality imposed on them yet not being able to create an alternative state.