Analysis of Violence in “King Headley II” Book


The problem of racial disparities, discrimination, and the resulting rise in the vulnerability of the African American population has been the source of continuous concerns and discussions within a broader sociopolitical and sociocultural context; however, few results have been achieved so far. Although the phenomenon of segregation is no longer practiced on an institutional level, there has been a clear divide within American society, which is rendered accurately and vividly in August Wilson’s King Headley II. Although Wilson does not hesitate to paint the protagonist as a deeply flawed person, the writer captures the hostility and coldness of the environment in which the lead character has to survive. Therefore, while being an undeniably complicated character, King leads the life that represents the effects of violence against African American people, specifically the violence fueled by racism and ingrained deeply into American society due to institutionalized prejudices.


To convey the atmosphere of threat and fear in which African Americans were living on the described time slot, Wilson uses one of the main plot tools as the essential element that contributes to the somber nature of the violently racist reality that King is facing. Specifically, although King’s aunt does not die of physical violence, her death becomes the gloomy reminder of the fragility of human life and the vulnerability that characterizes the African American community due to the presence of racism-induced violence within it. Specifically, the line “They won’t give back the body, the coroner trying’ to figure out what made her live so long” lingers between the realm of naïve humor and bitter sarcasm (Wilson 91). The idea that living to reach a comparatively old age is considered unusual for a Black woman indicates that the extent of violence experienced by Africa Americans is exceptionally high.

However, the novel also portrays the violence that African American people face due to their race and people’s biased attitude toward it in a very clear and even visceral way, depicting the scenes of physical aggression with great detail. For example, in the scene that sparks a significant amount of controversy due to the portrayal of uninhibited bling rage and the violence that ensues, Pigeon, Elmore, and Mister discuss their recent murders with the air of nonchalance and the col attitude that indicates their complete lack of remorse or, at the very least, any sense of moral reprehensibility for their action. Quite the contrary, King mentions in a very matter-of-fact way that “Life without pain ain’t worth living,” which suggests that he has internalized the idea of violence to the point where it seems normal and even inevitable to him (Wilson 77). Namely, the continuous experience of brutality, as well as being forced into exerting it onto others, has desensitized King, leaving deep scars in his psyche and contributing to the profound experience of the legacy of trauma and suffering that the history of his community carries.

Wilson expands his analysis of the violence that African American people face to consider how they internalize it and direct I against each other. For instance, the relationships between the main characters, particularly, King, the leading one, and Mister, as well as Elmore, are quite strenuous and filled with inherent tension, which is finally released in a major conflict: “There now… you a dead man twice” (Wilson 108). On the surface, the specified strain in the interactions between the characters arises due to the illegal nature of King’s activities and the involvement of the rest of the characters in a similar business. However, on closer assessment of the novel and its meaning, one will recognize the inherent biases that the characters have toward to each other, having internalized hatred to themselves, each other, and virtually everyone who comes their way.

Finally, the portrayal of violence in the novel reaches its peak when King accuses Elmore of playing an unfair game with his dice, which leads to a raw, quickly transitions to a fight, and ends in the tragic death of the protagonist. The fight is described in accurate detail, allowing the reader to visualize its raw brutality. However, Wilson makes the specified stylistic decision not for a cheap shock value, but to encompass the brutality and the violent nature of the oppression and prejudice that African American people must encounter every day of their lives. In a sense, the scene in question serves as a metaphor for King’s entire life, him attempting at dodging the punishment for his illegal business.

Therefore, the problem of violence becomes a ubiquitous theme in the novel, with every part of it being drenched in the idea of brutality being in some way utilized to portray the problem of power imbalance. For example, the phantasmagorical scene at the end of the novel contributes to the impression of surrealism that the excessively violent setting creates. Specifically, the following line: “Stool Pigeon suddenly recognizes that the sacrifice has been made. There is blood on the cat’s grave! He is joyous!” is drenched with metaphorical descent into the primal state of uncontrollable rage (Wilson 109). Thus, the author warns that once violence is fully internalized, it will set the humankind centuries back in progress, specifically, in the opportunities for creating a healthier and happier community.

Therefore, the brutality that King Hedley II, as well as other characters in the novel, have to oppose every single day of their life is visualized in the novel clearly to convey the explicit message of the harm that prejudices and institutionalised racism have done to African American people. Having deprived them of equal opportunity and the chance for a fulfilling life, society exposed African America people to ostracism and societal contempt, making them particularly likely targets for violence and brutality. Moreover, the described setting filled to the brim with hostility and contempt has made a number of members of the African American community, such as King, emotionally numb, having contributed to the community trauma, Although the exposure to violence and brutality has made King more resilient to an extent, it has also maimed his life, causing him to experience injustice and pain.


Although as a protagonist, King is deeply flawed and struggling with his shortcomings, his life and character development across the plot exemplify how horrendously normalized violence against Africa American people has become in American society due to institutionalized racism and persistence of racial bias. Thus, the novel remains exclusively somber as the character must undergo significant suffering merely to live his life. Therefore, Wilson’s portrayal of violence against African American people, be it physical or emotional, has tremendous power and evokes the sense of dread for vulnerable African Americans.


Wilson, August. King Hedley II. E-book, The Indiana University Catalog, 2007.