Playwright’s choice of major characters within “Short eyes”

First I will begin with a short profile on the characters in “Short eyes”:

Julio (cupcakes) Mercado-Puerto Rican. 21 years old. Youngest jail member and because of this he is the one that is longed for the most by the prisoners.

Ben Jefferson (Ice)- Black man in his late 20’s.

J.J. Johnson (El Raheem)- Gets through jail through religion. When I say religion I do not mean any established religion, but what he defines as his own reality about the “original black man”. Brings in human kindness into the jail setting when he does not kill Clark Davis.

Omar Blinker- Black Amateur boxer in his mid-20’s. Has been in jail for a long time. Likes to benefit from people’s stuff such as cigarettes.

Charlie “Longshoe” Murphy- Tough, white Irishman. Mid 20’s. Drug dealer within the jail “in order to survive in a world of Puerto Ricans and blacks” (xii, Camillo) Has a lot of bitterness towards Clark Davis.

Clark Davis- Alleged child rapist. Early 20’s. Emotionally disturbed. Incorrectly identified by accuser and was placed in jail.

Paco Pascual- Puerto Rican. Early 30’s. Drug addict, flamboyant, longs for love to help him get through jail.

Mr. Brown- Officer in house of detention

Sergeant Morrison-Officer in house of detention.

Juan Otero- Puerto Rican. Early 30’s.

Mr. Frederick Nett- Old white prison guard. Late 40’s.

Captain Allard-Officer in the house of detention.

The variety of races and point of views of the jail members present in the play is interesting. Here we have Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and an Irish. The members of each racial group also do not all act the same as the others within their racial group do. For example, we have Juan who is a Puerto Rican, serious and sympathetic jail member, while Paco is a carefree, flamboyant Puerto Rican jail member. Within the African American group we have El Raheem who does not kill Clark Davis out of humaneness, while we have Omar who is holding Clark Davis captive and is inciting Longshoe to kill him. We have characters with different yearnings, which include yearnings for sex, youth, religion, material goods, freedom, and love. This polarity of characters very much reflects the polarity of people in grand society. The differences in the jail mates also contribute to their survival because each person contributes what their personalities and uniqueness have to offer whether that is characterized with fighting, insulting, entertaining, educating, and caring. It is also interesting that Captain Allard assumes that the only white jail mate (besides Clark Davis) would not kill Clark Davis when in actually Longshoe did do so. It is also interesting that while jail members have done crimes that range from drug trafficking to stealing to murdering, they see rape as the lowest of the lowest crime to possibly commit. I wonder what sets rape apart from murder etc and who creates this hierarchy?

“Short eyes” is a great play that has allowed me to see an example of a prison culture and prison life, and the way that jail members interact as a community. I have always thought of prison as a place empty of culture and morals and just filled with anger, sadness, and violence with no community. Many times the media and society makes it seem as if prisoners have completely lost all humanness and are just undeserving of living in society. But the fact of the matter is that prisoners are also humans. Camillo states that Clark Davis’ death comes from “the rigidity of social values and morals in the prison world, because the values we witness in the play are the same as those of the outside world, but more intensified” (xii, Camillo). One would think that a prison would be the last place to foster morals since many of the prisoners don’t abide by social values, but like Camillo says, a prison “is a society within a society” (xiii, Camillo). “Short eyes” is a tragic play about jail members who decided to take matters into their hands and take away the life of someone who they thought committed the worst of the worst crime, although they come to find out that the person they killed did not actually commit the crime. It is also about corrupt power in the case of Captain Nett and Captain Allard who hid the crime committed against Clark. Even through it all, the jail members, especially Cupcakes, question the violent act they committed which demonstrates the presence of morals even in a hostile environment like a prison.




2 thoughts on “Playwright’s choice of major characters within “Short eyes”

  1. Hey Mary,
    I also was thinking about the prison hierarchy. Because rape is horrific, but murder is as well. Perhaps it is because often the victims of a man’s rape are women and children and especially in the case of children, they are innocent and they cannot defend themselves against a man who is forcing himself on them. However with men it seems to be another story because the play makes it seem as if in the prison, men can be pursued in this way.
    This can be really seen with Cupcakes. Paco is after him, threatening that if he doesn’t give it up, he’ll just take it from him. And the other prisoners know that Paco is after Cupcakes and making advances on him. Even Omar tells him that if he’s going to give it up, he “wants some.” However, no one treats Paco the way they treat Clark, even though Paco is threatening to basically rape Cupcakes. The obvious difference between these two situations is that Clark’s victims are young girls while Paco’s is Cupcakes, an adult man. It might be because Cupcakes is a man and therefore he’s on an “equal playing field” as the other prisoners (even though Cupcakes is really feminized by the prisoners)? Perhaps what is looked down up is not just rape but taking advantage of someone who not on the same playing field as the prisoners i.e. women and children. However, a man is expected to be able to “defend himself” where a woman or child is not able to so this harassment and threats of rape aren’t seen to be “as bad” as Clark’s crime by the other prisoners. This bring in questions of masculinity and the fact that even when Cupcakes is asked if someone has been making advances on him, he says no because he is trying to defend his masculinity and honor.

  2. Hi, Mary. Your post provokes some really difficult questions, especially about morality in and out of the prison complex. I have heard the argument before that prison culture is an intensification of culture outside the prison. The important part to know about this argument is that the reason this overlap between prison society and “free” society exists is because the economic deprivation of populations of color and the prison industry work hand-in-hand to ensure each other’s continuation. Economic deprivation leads to certain patterns of behavior, and these patterns are then criminalized disproportionately by the law (as compared to “white collar” crimes), suppression begins in the communities streets and schools, and this leads to a population that is constantly being prepared to enter prison. The argument that inside and outside are the same is important because it means the problem lies not in the human beings themselves, but in the structures that train individuals to enter the prison industrial complex–a thriving business. I wonder how this might help you think about the inmate’s morality: who is “moral” here? where do these values come from? are values universal? is it ever right to govern bodies through suppression and death?

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