The play “Gem of the Ocean” expresses realities that can be linked to various historical events. It touches on slavery, a problem that engulfed the whole world in the 18th century. The central theme in of this play is connected to the effect of the turn of the 20th Century. It was set in 1904, the time when there was the massive migration of labor both from Eastern and Southern Europe and the American South regions to the Industrial Revolution’s centers of industry such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Detroit (Wilson, 2003).
Migration to industrial towns in 20th century and its challenges
The arrival of Barlow in Petersburg is informed by the search for opportunities and better living. The African-American migrated in masses to the industrialized town in the United States during the 20th century (retrieved from GloriousEssays.com on June 13th ). The growth of these cities created the upsurge in the need for unskilled labor. The immigrants and Americans from underdeveloped states offered the cheap labor that is needed to drive industrialization. The migrants were subjected to heavy manual labor with little pay. The worker, the White, the Black, and former farmworkers of Europe and former slaves from the South raised against steel mill owners and the mega-rich (Johnson, 2011).
In this play, Barlow and Sheriff Caesar remind the society of the challenges that the slaves and the immigrants went through during industrialization (Wilson, 2008). Their life was hard, characterized by sustained suffering. In the play, the reality about life during the civil war is conveyed through the journeys of Citizen Barlow and his host Sheriff Caesar. The latter represented the slave owner while the former the slaves. It was the nature of slavery for Barlow to be submissive to his boss. The children of slaves were slaves, there rights and privileges were limited.
The effects of the American civil war
The American civil war led to a massive release of the slaves. Barlow is a young African-American man who arrives in Pittsburgh as part of the strong wave of freed slabs in 1904. He came from the southern part of America, places where slavery thrived. The northern region had abolished slavery, thus offered a safe haven for the freed slaves. Moreover, their children too had to migrate. The American civil war had marked a turning point in the history of the US. The persecuted minority groups such as African. The massive migration from the south to the north was triggered by the effects of the civil war (Wilson, 2003).The migration of the peasants to the industrialized towns led to the development of some challenges, which included security. Immigrants boarded ships across the international waters (Johnson, 2011).
According to Johnson (2011), slaves experience dreadful journeys across the ocean. The mention of Gem of the Ocean rekindles the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slaves were captured and forcibly shipped across to the United States, where they worked on plantations and the industries. The hard conditions on the ship left many dead, the story of the captain and water shortage in the middle of the journey overboard reminds us of the trouble that slaves faced in the journeys across the ocean. The life of the poor did not matter a lot, they would rather be left to die to have the ship steward alive than offer them enough water and food.
Mistreatment of industrial workers in 20th century
The tough life of the workers is also illustrated by the riots of steel metal industries and their arrest. Caesar, the face of inhuman treatment of the laborers captured over two hundred people and shot one. In the 19th century, employees in the industries were subjected to a lot of challenges. The city of bones is the demonstration of the magnitude of torture that the slaves and workers. Citizen stole to make ends meet, an act that leads to his fellow worker becoming a victim of the crime he never committed. High-class conspiracies among the employees were inevitable (Wilson, 2008).
Theft is highlighted through Citizen stealing of a can of nails at a mill, where he was working in Petersburg. Moreover, another man is accused and opts for suicide rather than face the arrest (Johnson, 2011). Life was cruel and any offence could lead to an individual being labeled a thief. The burden that comes with guiltiness drives Citizen to feel sorry for the accused person. Consequently, he tries the services of his aunty, Ester, who is famed for healing people suffering from various challenges as a way to relieve himself from the guiltiness he feels.
According to Wilson (2008), the living conditions in which Ester, Black Mary, and Eli endure is a true reflection of the hardships that freed slaves underwent. Their life was full of misery and struggling. In this respect, their hope was wrapped in the belief in magic powers. The levels of hopelessness were full of unending suffering. Hatred between the slaves and their masters was very high, strikes and evil plots can be seen in the setting of the mill ablaze. The incidence offers a reflection of the troubles that characterized frosty relations between the employees and slaves.
Caesar plays the role of a slave owner, a brutal and exploitative person. It was the nature of slave owners to use maximally them to gain more wealth while paying them very little or nothing at all. Self-interest is the major guiding principle to this kind of persons. The poor are sentenced to paucity as the bourgeoisie progressively accumulate more wealth. Furthermore, the growth of the industrial sector is linked to the expansion of capitalism, an economic system that is individual centered rather than communal (Johnson, 2011).
The exploitative capitalist nature of economic system is highlighted by how the steel mills at Pittsburgh were drastically growing by paying the workers poorly (Wilson, 2003). The cost of rent is extremely high, which makes the life of the workers hard and rough. Solly sees evidently observes the biggest social and economic challenges that African-American, who had just arrived in Petersburg for employment. The brutality of life forced one to choose death rather than arrest. Life was too brutal to the poor. In this respect, the life of the worker was terrible to the extent that a person who committed suicide to evade apprehension was thought to be a martyr among the workers.
The trouble that the workers went through at the mill is a clear indication of the horrors that employees in early industries went through. The city of bones is a symbol of torture chambers that slave masters incarcerated those who were found to be guilty. It is a treaded place, but an option to one who is not ready to die, an epitome of the severe suffering that lower economic class had to endure (Wilson, 2003).
Massive deaths were registered on the sea vessels due to lack of water, food, and medical support. The slaves were hurdled in unvented rooms, rendering them vulnerable to disease, suffocation, and hunger. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a horrible experience in the history servitude. Many died, those who survived the journey were traumatized, but still had to work as slaves in the new lands. The coastal towns thrived on international trade, which included slavery.
Slaves and peasants were a major cause of insecurity in the urban areas, the case of Solly smacking Caesar with the walking stick illustrates the level of insecurity that was there at that time. The cities were gated and secured from intruders, a common phenomenon during the early 1990s.
The conspiracy between Aunt Ester, Citizen, and Rutherford Selig, leads to Solly away. The poor had solidarity in their quest to defeat the oppressor, slave owners, and capitalists. The attempt by Caesar to arrest Ester for helping and hiding a fugitive to try and escape fails after the judge sets her free (Johnson, 2011). However, Caesar shot Solly, making the life of the less fortunate family unbearable and full of suffering. By good luck, Black Mary rejects Caesar, making the advent of freedom of the downtrodden workers, who are akin to slaves. The ending of this play is a reflection of the labor and human rights movements that swept America in the 19th and 20th century, leading to the end of slavery and racial discrimination as well as betterment of the working condition of the laborers (Johnson, 2011).