How does Jacobs-Jenkins explore identity in terms of individuality

Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

How does Jacobs-Jenkins explore identity in terms of individuality, family, and race?


In “Appropriate,” Jenkins, who is known to be a subversive writer, explores identity and questions what is it means to be dubbed as a black playwright. In the play, he appropriates the American family drama with outcomes that are mordantly funny and very serious. The play focuses on Lafayette’s family gathering at their late dad’s old and crumbling plantation-based at Arkansas to solve their inheritance issues. The professional standards of the families presented by Jenkins in the play are dysfunctional. Toni, the eldest son, is disillusioned, foul-tongued, and rancorous. Bo, the middle child, has an insatiable love for money, and Frank, who is the youngest son, is described as a rehabilitated addict with pedophile habit. The family argues about their father’s property, which is suddenly superseded by a photo album which they discover in the house, suggesting that their dad, who was a liberal lawyer, was a racist obsessed with pictures of dead black individuals. The thesis of this paper is to explore identity in the play “Appropriate” in terms of individuality, family, and race. What the play asks the audience to consider, complications, and hypocrisies revealed will be discussed in the paper.

In the play, Jenkins pushes individuality, family, and race to the limit as he explores the theme of identity.  The author well studies identity through individuality through the characters of Toni, Bo, and Franz. The three siblings assume a different identity through their distinct individuality. Toni Lafayette is the oldest sibling who is identified as white in her late 40s or early 50s. Toni assumes the personality of an embittered, foul tongued, and rancorous person. The conversation between Toni and Franz indicates this after his arrival. He is bitter with Franz for disappearing for more than ten years, and he does not understand how he got to the plantation. Toni tells Franz that; “then you are out of your mind? Dont you know what is happening here? This is not some sort of crash pad/party house” Jacob-Jenkins, p 16).

This reveals his foul-tongue and embitterment individuality of Toni. Identity is also revealed through Bo’s individuality. Bo is indicated as a character with a huge appetite for money. Bo’s individuality is that of a person who loves money up to the extent that he cannot spend his for along family trip (Jacob-Jenkins, p. 21). He also thinks that Toni has been bankrolling their father’s convalescence.  He complains about financing his dad’s healthcare bill terming it as an investment with hopes of getting a large share from his deceased father’s property (Jacob-Jenkins, p. 15). He can also complain that he afford a three last-minute plane ticket as his family prepares to leave (Jacob-Jensen, p 71).

The author also explores identity through the individuality of Franz. He is identified as the last born in Lafayette‘s family. He is a reformed addict, and he also possesses pedophile tendencies. Franz’s pedophilia tendencies at first are indicated by his fiancée River, who is at her early 20s even though she looks to be younger than that. Even though he is in his early 40s, his individuality is portrayed as a person with pedophilia habits. Also, he is recovering from his addiction, which explains his disappearance for almost ten years. That is also the reason Toni his bitter with him. He asks Franz, “How is anyone supposed to tell you anything when no one knows where you’ve been for the last umpteen years – ten years?! There are lawyers trying to find you, Frank! Where have you been!?” (Jacob-Jenkins, p. 16). Through the individuality of the three siblings, identity is deeply explored by the author to illuminate how misappropriate the Lafayette family was.

Identity in terms of family is explored through the appropriation test of the Lafayette family. The Lafayette family identity is white and made of three characters Toni, Bo, and Frank, who belong to the same family. The family is identified as dysfunctional with lot dust-ups from the past. Identity in the family is further revealed by the fact that the deceased father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which was an organization belonging to the white people only. Lafayette’s family identity is also revealed through their former plantation in Arkansas. River, Franz fiancée tells him that “…Besides, you have a right to be here. Plus, you grew up here. You lived with him. And you deserve what you’re asking for. You deserve it” (Jacobs-Jenkins, p 14). The author has presented the house as a symbol of identity was Tina and Bo and Franz can associate their family and ancestors. Tina, Bo, and Franz, as the surviving members of the Lafayette family. They are fighting for the fortunes accumulated by their ancestors by exploiting slaves.  This was used by the author to explore identity since every member of the family is fighting for his share since he belongs to the family.

Identity through the family is also explored by the author through the graveyards found in the found at Arkansas home. The graves are two where one was used to bury their family members, and the other was used to bury slaves who died while working on the plantation. Franz also points out that the family graveyard presented five generations of their family; Franz says, I guess it sort of looks like a – What? It’s true! The tombstones are just knocked over. See? Five generations of us are out there. That’s how long this place has been in the family” (Jacob-Jenkins, p. 1). From this evidence, it is clear that the Lafayette family identity is explored using a graveyard where their ancestors were buried differently from the slaves who worked in the plantation. Due to the presence of the two cemeteries, Bo complains that it will make it hard for them to sell the house “with all the red tape and historical ordinance crap”(Jacob-Jenkins p. 21).

Through the race, identity has been explored mainly by Jacob-Jenkins in his play Appropriate. The play is entirely about race in America. The author is identified to be from a different race from Lafayette’s white family, which he talks about in the play. The author of the play, Jacob-Jenkin’s identity is linked to the black races who were slaves to the white race. Through the family, which is identified as white, Rubio-Licht, np points out that it is dealing with racism issues while people of color are absent. The people from the white race are identified to have had more privileges during the era of slavery. The black people were subjected to hard work by the people from the white race. Critics argue that Jacob-Jenkin’s work indicates extreme white supremacist, therefore, forming whiteness ideology in the context of slavery, which took place in Arkansas plantation (OBENLAND, p 51). The Lafayette family is also identified as having deep-rooted racial discrimination. Their father is defined to be a racist through the photo album found in the house. The race is further used to explore identity through graveyards where black people were buried at different sites with their white counterparts. The white people, as rulers during the slavery era they were ruthless, as evidenced by the lynching pictures. Allen points out that: “Fact is, if you are even half-way colored and male in America, the deadheads hanging from the trees in these pictures, and the dead eyes or grins surrounding them, it’s not too hard to imagine how this is your life too, as it were” (Allen, p. 2).

Jacob-Jenkins, in the “Appropriate” play, asks the audience to consider the issue of racism and its impacts on society.  Even though Lafayette and his great grandparents were racists who were involved in enslaving the black people, the present family finds it disturbing about their racist backgrounds. The author, therefore, asks the audience to avoid such racist activities since they will have grave repercussions on the next generation.

Jacob-Jenkins also reveals various complications and hypocrisies in his play Appropriate. This is illustrated through the Lafayette family. Despite the family enjoying supremacy associated with their white race, the family is dysfunctional, coupled with numerous complications. The author reveals that being identified with a white family does not mean that the family is united and happy. The three siblings have undesirable individualities, which complicates the unity of the family, which is identified as white. The author also reveals hypocrisies in the play. Bo, hypocrisy is exposed when he tries to argue out that he was the only one taking care of his sick further, yet this is not true since Toni spends most of her time taking care of their father. Toni’s hypocrisy shown where she initially pretends to be concerned about the welfare of his brothers, which is not the case. When the play is about to end, she reveals how she hated her family members and how being around them family made her sick hence exposing her hypocrisy (Jacob-Jenkins, p. 75)

Works cited

Allen, James, et al. Without sanctuary: Lynching photography in America. Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms, 2000.

Jacobs Jenkins, Braden. Dramatists Play Service Inc. Appropriate. 2016<>


Rubio-Licht, Natalie. The Beacon: Fall play “Appropriate” to address racism and white privilege 30 2017<>

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