Jitney (1977, 2000)
by August Wilson

Study Guide

Act One (11-60)

  • What is a jitney?
  • What are Becker's rules? (Note the number of ways that Becker's Rules have started to come apart among the jitney drivers. What other social institutions are fraying under the stress of economic circumstances?)
  • Describe the characters who appear in Scene One. What do we find out about them over the course of the twelve hours enacted in the first half of the play?
  • Youngblood:
  • Turnbo:
  • Fielding:
  • Doub:
  • Shealy:
  • Philmore:
  • Becker:
  • Rena:
  • Booster:
  • Even though this play only has nine characters in it, the whole Hill District in Pittsburgh bustles off stage with countless characters who come to life in the stories the jitney drivers tell. That's good playwriting. Describe the following off-stage characters and the places where they hang out. What portrait of the neighborhood is Wilson presenting?
  • Pope and his new Buick Impala
  • Shealy's girls: Rosie and that 'that little yellow gal'
  • The Workingman's Club (where Kenny Fisher is playing)
  • Mr. Pease (Pittsburgh Urban Renewal Council)
  • Old Lady McNeil's son:
  • Becker's wife, Lucille:
  • Shealy's nephew (who hangs with Jenkin's boy):
  • Cigar Annie
  • Crazy Jasper:
  • Peaches
  • Think about the particular day on which August Wilson has chosen to set the action of his play. This is not any day.
  • Today's the day that Becker will announce to his drivers that the Urban Renewal is moving in, he's moving out, and he's not sure that he wants to keep the business going.
  • Today's the day that Fielding finally gets himself fired.
  • Today's the day that the feud between Youngblood and Turnbo breaks wide open.
  • Today's the day that Rena confronts Youngblood with her suspicions about his running around with Peaches.
  • Today's the day that Becker's boy, Booster, gets out of prison and comes home to meet his father.
  • As you read Jitney, think about the ways that August Wilson is weaving the different strands of action together to build towards catharsis.
  • What has pushed Turnbo over the edge today? (Look at his rant about respect. (30-31)) What does he tell Rena?
  • Why has Rena run out of patience with Youngblood? What was the straw which broke the camel's back for her? (32-35)
  • Why is Becker thinking about giving up after the city let him know that they were gonna board up the place the first of the month? (36)
  • Who did Booster kill? Why? (39)
  • How does the fight between Youngblood and Turnbo break out? (43)
  • Describe the way Becker functions in this neighborhood: what makes his presence essential?
  • How does Fielding get himself fired? (51) Who does he dream about twenty years later? (53)
  • Becker and Booster:
  • Re-read Turnbo's story about how Becker's boy wound up in prison. (40-41)
  • Then re-read the confrontation between Becker and Booster (53-60).

Thesis: How are the strands of the action inter-related? (ie, is it just an accident that each of these thunderheads breaks simultaneously?)

Paragraph: Think about the contrasting strategies of Booker Washington and Malcolm X. Which response to racism does Wilson support?