In this community, the people have been left to live freely on the plantation where they were previously enslaved. Work and money are scarce, and the people are greatly influenced by superstitions, peddled by elderly men who call themselves conjurers.
Treemonisha has lived in this community her whole life, and is one of the few people who was able to have an education. Treemonisha was abandoned as a baby, and found under a tree by Monisha and Ned, who took her in and raised her as their own. They wanted the best for her, so exchanged their labor for her to receive an education from a local white family. Now, Treemonisha is eighteen, and is fighting back against the predatory conjurers and dangerous superstitions.
The conjurers decide to teach Treemonisha a lesson, and kidnap her, intending to punish her by throwing her onto a wasps nest. At the last moment, they are scared away by a terrifying figure running towards them, believing it to be the devil. It was only Treemonisha’s friend, Remus, dressed as a scarecrow, coming to rescue her. When they return to the community, the men have captured the conjurers, and intend to beat them, but Treemonisha stops them. She and Remus teach the community that nothing will be achieved in treating others badly. The community beg Treemonisha to be their leader, and she accepts.
Containing influences as contrasting as ragtime, jazz, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and story elements taken from both Joplin’s own life and African-American folk stories, Treemonisha is truly a masterpiece of a work. Written in 1911, it did not receive its first public performance until 1972, and only now is beginning to get the recognition it deserves.
Treemonisha guide sections