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Cultural Context of the Play “Poker” by Zora Hurston Essay

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Updated: Jul 15th, 2019

“Poker” is a play that was written around the 1930s. The Play was written by Hurston an African American woman and a trained anthropologist. Around the time she wrote the play, she was living in a town near New York. The play is set in a shotgun house in New York.

It revolves around a group of men who are playing poker. The play opens with Nunkie playing the piano. He is then called over by Tush to join in the poker game. Nunkie seems to be the most outspoken of them all and dominates most of the conversation.

At one time, he likens a succession of cards to events in his life. When the men are playing cards, Aunt Dilsey enters the room and takes a moment to express her disapproval of the poker game. She then tells the men that if they do not stop it, they will all go to hell for it (Hurston 1).

While she is speaking, the men are pulling out aces they have hidden in their sleeves. Hell breaks loose when Sack turns up four aces and a king and claims to have won the game. Several of them turn up other aces of their own and it then becomes clear that this has not been a fair game.

The commotion ends up in a shooting that wakes up Aunt Dilsey. After witnessing the bloodshed, she laments that they did not listen to her. This play is reflective of the cultural context of the time in many ways.

During the time this play was authored, America was going through the great depression. This was a time when money was hard to get. This is probably why almost all these men were prepared to do anything for money.

Even though the poker game was supposed to be a simple affair, several men came with hidden aces just so they can outsmart their counterparts. They do this without any emotional difficulty as portrayed by their normal conversation.

During the time of the great depression, many Americans could barely afford food (Goldston 5). Any extra dollar earned was a welcome relief. These men were not leaving this eventuality to mere luck. This is why they all come prepared not to lose any of their hard-earned cash.

The play was most likely set in Harlem New York. This neighborhood was predominantly an African American neighborhood at the time. It was also a crime hub and that is why most of these men carried concealed weapons. The weapons are for either protection or perpetration of crime.

Nunkie implies in his conversation that his pretty Mama wants to cut his throat (Hurston 1). This further indicates that violence is a common occurrence in this neighborhood. Even to date, Harlem New York still has high instances of crime and violence.

The portrayal of men in this play is undoubtedly negative. The author of this play was a woman born in 1891. By the 1930s, the tensions between men and women had taken several dimensions. First, women used to be paid lower wages than men were, and for the same amount of work (DuBois 26).

In addition, the society was largely dominated by men with women having little to no say when it came to family affairs. Finally, during this civil rights era most African American men were heavily burdened therefore seeking solace in drinking and gambling dens.

This did not sit well with the African American women who had to stay at home and wait for a share of the meager earnings the men made. These tensions may be the reason for the negative portrayal of men by the woman playwright.

She probably felt that even though women knew better, men did not take time to listen to them. When Aunt Dilsey tells the men to stop playing poker, they reply by telling her to go back to sleep and get some rest (Hurston 1). This implies that the women were to get out of men’s way when they did their business.

The language used by the characters in the play is colloquial. This language also passed as the slang of the day. It was associated with the lower class and uneducated members of the society. This class of people was associated with poverty, ignorance, crime, and violence.

The event at the end of the play where one of the poker players is shot is itself another crime. The “smack” talk used throughout the play lacks any substance neither does it address any tangible issues. Just from their language, one can be able to assign these men a social class.

The author was herself an educated woman therefore; one does not expect her to have an in-depth understanding of the class she portrays in the play. This is because throughout the play she shows no such efforts. Moreover, she probably had never spent any time with members of this class.

This play was set in the 1930s and it revolves around the culture of African Americans at the time. It is also influenced by several cultural attributes of the time. These attributes can be witnessed throughout the play.

Works Cited

DuBois, Carol. Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1997. Print.

Goldston, Robert. The Great Depression: The United States in the Thirties, Hoboken, N.J: Wiley & Sons, 1968. Print.

Hurston, Zora 1931, Poker!. 4 April. 2012. PDF file. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Cultural Context of the Play “Poker” by Zora Hurston." July 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cultural-context-of-the-play-poker-by-zora-hurston/.


IvyPanda. "Cultural Context of the Play “Poker” by Zora Hurston." July 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cultural-context-of-the-play-poker-by-zora-hurston/.


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