Shakespeare
35 Topics | 35 Quizzes
19th Century Novels
25 Topics | 25 Quizzes
Prose
25 Topics | 23 Quizzes
Poetry
45 Topics | 45 Quizzes

Themes in The Princess and the Hustler

Race

Odimba presents a society filled with systemic racism. The characters talk of the “colour bar”, which signifies that Black and Asian Britons are not given access to the same opportunities as their White counterparts. Wendall makes the point:

“When de last time yuh see somebody brown inna senior position inna hospital or classroom?”

This discrimination led to the Bristol Bus Boycott. This was a real-life protest that lasted for four months in 1963, around which much of the story revolves.

Even Margot, who is very close to the James family, embodies much of the casual racism and lack of understanding about the difficulties faced by the Black community. She talks to Wendall about “your lot” and argues, “you start giving those hours to other people, foreigners like, then well it’s not going to go down well is it?”

Here, Odimba is demonstrating how ingrained racism is throughout this society. It’s particularly shocking for the audience to hear these words from a character who had seemed very likeable.

Princess experiences racism at school; not being invited to a birthday party and being made to feel unattractive because of her race. Her parents help her to feel proud of her race and culture, and this restores her confidence and hopefulness.

Family

Support, loyalty and responsibility are shown to be important family values in the play. Wendall has detached himself from the family due to his selfish behaviour in starting a relationship with another woman. Also, he got involved with crime rather than getting a stable job. Margot tells him he needs to change his ways:

“That’s what you do for family. You look after your family. You go out. You get a decent job.”

This is the model of fatherhood that he becomes at the end of the play, allowing him to rejoin the family.

Wendall Junior displays protective behaviour over his sister and mother, which is why he fights his father for much of the play. He also points out that biological ties are not the same as being a family, saying:

“It takes more than a word to make a father.”

Wendall Junior

Wendall Junior also adds that Leon’s father has been “more of a daddy to me” than Wendall. Similarly, Margot is seen as being like a family member. This is because of her supportive and loving behaviour, as illustrated when Princess introduces her as her sister.

Dreams and Ambitions

All the members of the James family have dreams and ambitions, which are fulfilled in unexpected ways:

  • Princess dreams of winning the Weston-Super-Mare beauty pageant. In the final scene, she is crowned the winner, not by judges, but – more meaningfully – by her father. Mavis restores Princess’s sense of beauty by saying, “you are the prettiest of them all because you are my girl.”
  • Wendall wants to get his family back, and he achieves this through activism and becoming more responsible.
  • Mavis dreams of “surviving long enough for my children to feel like this their home too”. The victory of the Bus Boycott fills Mavis with huge joy and hope as it feels like an important step towards racial equality.
  • Wendall Junior has ambitions to become a photographer. Significantly, the photographs he hangs proudly on the wall are not of the outside world, but of his family members.
  • Lorna dreams of gaining a sense of belonging within a family. She isn’t able to see her mother, as she longs for, but she comes to feel part of the James family. In particular, when Wendall Junior hangs her photograph on the wall.

Identity

The James family are dual nationality, with Wendall and Mavis having grown up in Jamaica, and the children all being born in Britain. Odimba uses language in the dialogue to demonstrate this duality. Mavis code switches (adjusts her language depending on who she is talking with):

  • She speaks in Standard English with Margot and her children
  • She speaks in Jamaican patois when conversing with Wendall

This blending of cultures and language is also demonstrated when Wendall says, “I juss need to tark to one man ‘bout ar dog”. Here, he combines a traditional English idiom with Jamaican speech patterns.

Lorna also feels part of two different cultures because of being mixed-race, and this leads to confusion over her identity. Her English sensibilities are demonstrated in her table manners and etiquette, such as not wanting to say grace and leaving the table before everyone finishes. The family are taken aback by this, and Wendall explains, “Juss de way harm odder bring har up.”

She struggles to feel a full part of either her mother’s or father’s cultures, saying that she is “only half” of either. Through being a member of the James family, she eventually comes to feel more secure about her identity.

Activism

The personal and the political are often intertwined in the play. For example, Wendall finds salvation in his activism for the Bus Boycott. Through this community-minded work, he proves his newfound responsibility to his family. The political victory brings them closer together and, most significantly, the wounds are healed in the relationship between Wendall Junior and his father.

Odimba shows that activism will encounter a lot of resistance and challenges. This is demonstrated in the physical assault by the racist gang on Wendall Junior, and the breakdown in friendship between Mavis and Margot. But the joy and sense of having created a better world at the end of the play gives the message that moral causes are always worth fighting for.

Childhood

Princess embodies childhood excitement and innocence at the beginning of the play. Her imagination-filled world allows her to transform the bland storage cupboard into a magical stage for her fantasy beauty contest.

She is too innocent to understand the adult drama taking place around her. This is demonstrated when she and Lorna “become engrossed” in looking at pictures of a beauty contest, and they “whisper excitedly” while the adults nearby are talking with seriousness about Wendall’s return.

Princess faces an early disappointment in her excitement when the Christmas dinner is delayed, and her mother slaps her when she continues to nag her about this. Not understanding the cause of her mother’s emotions (Wendall’s return) Princess explains the slap as “she hates me and she’s going to give me away to the Salvation Army.” Her brother comforts her, but tells her, “You’re going to have to start understanding things different soon.”

Princess faces further disappointment and rejection through racist abuse at school. For a while, she loses much of her innocent optimism. However, with help from her parents, she not only regains her joyful imagination but also develops a deeper understanding and appreciation of her race and culture.

You’ve used 1 of your 10 free revision notes for the month

Sign up to get unlimited access to revision notes, quizzes, audio lessons and more

Sign up