Freedom is a word that is used quiet loosely here in America. Freedom is something we as American citizens know that we have but the reality is that most of the population is not aware of what it has cost those who are fighting to secure it. Speaking personally, My father served as a major in the Air Force and has participated in every War that has taken place from the time I was born in 1993 up until the day he retired in 2007. I have known war. I have known what it is like to watch a family member leave for war and try to create a sense of normalcy when he returned. My generation is a generation of children born in war, and have never truly lived in times of peace. War changes soldiers, but it also changes families and the people who are left behind to pick up the pieces.
In Suzan Lori Parks new play, Father Comes Home From War (Part 1, 2, 3) Parks was inspired by her own fathers participation in war and created a story of a young Hero who sets off to fight in the Civil War for a chance at freedom. For Hero, Freedom is complex as he himself is a slave fighting for the Confederacy at a chance of freeing himself from bondage. After watching this play at the A.R.T. this weekend I was lucky enough to stay for a Talk Back with playwright Suzan Lori Parks, Host of PBS show “Find Your Roots” and Director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University Henry Louis Gates, and Historian Eric Foner for a discussion on the play and it’s historical ties. While listening to the discussion a topic that came up was the ties the played had to Greek Mythology and in that, the relationship that every character in this play had to freedom. The main character Hero (who later becomes Ulysses) along with his friend Homer, his wife Penny, and his dog Odyssey all parallel the tragic stories from Greek Myth. This prompted the moderator to ask Parks “Is anyone free in this play? What contribution is it making to our debate about what it means to be free?”
Parks: “I used to think that the dog was free but he’s just the first run away. Homer is free until he falls in love with Penny, then he’s not free he’s tied. Penny’s not free. She’s in love with two men. I don’t know. Maybe the Colonel is free cause he’s dead, that’s what the Mrs’s. says. But he’s not free, he can’t imagine his life without Hero.”
This comment got me thinking about what freedom really means to those of us who have never had to fight for it. Even those who are free are still bonded to people, land, promises etc. For the characters in this play, Freedom has many different meanings. For some, freedom is something that they can grasp onto, for others, freedom is a hope or a figurative promise of better days. Even in our own society when we see the American flag or the Bald Eagle, representations of freedom in this country, I begin to wonder what that truly means. Most in this country have never had to die for freedom. We’ve never heard the bombs go off, the guns fired, or the physically loss that Wars for freedom bring; but we too are still fighting for a figurative hope of freedom. Freedom in this country is the idea that we have choices and we can choose our own path.
Growing up in a military family where all of the “Choice” in my life was dictated, this play opened up a discussion within myself about how does one truly achieve freedom? Is that even a quest that can be won? In the first 3 series of parks larger 9 part series play “Father Comes Home from the Wars” explores the idea that freedom, may not be what we all assume.