Hansberry, Lorraine (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Lorraine Hansberry 1930–1965
During her short career Hansberry seemed destined to become an important force in American theater. With the success in 1959 of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry became the first black woman to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best American play. This, her first play, was also the first by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. It told the story of a black family living on Chicago's South Side, struggling to hold together and to get ahead in a forbidding world. Although a few critics charged her with sentimentality, the sincerity and realism of her perceptions along with her effective use of staging earned the play much acclaim. The film version, adapted by Hansberry, was not as well-received critically, although it was still a popular success.
Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, closed after 101 performances on the day Hansberry died. Among her unpublished papers, however, she left a few partially finished plays. Some of this material has been edited and revised by her ex-husband and literary executor, Robert Nemiroff, Les Blancs being the most notable of these plays. He also produced the pastiche of her plays, letters, and journal entries called To Be Young, Gifted and Black. All her works are revived in their original form on occassion; they and their adaptations continue to please audiences. Most recently, A Raisin in the Sun became the highly successful musical Raisin. Due to their unfinished state at Hansberry's death, perhaps, none of the posthumous works has the same coherence and drive of her early work. However, her plays are often acknowledged for their expressive, compassionate view of people who transcend the limitations of their lives. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)
"A Raisin in the Sun" has vigor as well as veracity and is likely to destroy the complacency of any one who sees it….
"A Raisin in the Sun" is a play about human beings who want, on the one hand, to preserve their family pride and, on the other hand, to break out of the poverty that seems to be their fate. Not having any axe to grind, Miss Hansberry has a wide range of topics to write about—some of them hilarious, some of them painful in the extreme.
You might, in fact, regard "A Raisin in the Sun" as a Negro "The Cherry Orchard." Although the social scale of the characters is different, the knowledge of how character is controlled by environment is much the same, and the alternation of humor and pathos is similar.
If there are occasional crudities in the craftsmanship, they are redeemed by the honesty of the writing.
[Honesty] is Miss Hansberry's personal contribution to an explosive situation in which simple honesty is the most difficult thing in the world. And also the most illuminating.
Brooks Atkinson, "The Theater: 'A Raisin in the Sun'," in The New York Times (© 1959 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 12, 1959 (and reprinted in NY Theater Critics' Reviews, Vol. XX, No. 7, March 16, 1959, p. 345).
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Tom F. Driver
As a piece of dramatic writing [A Raisin in the Sun] is old-fashioned. As something near to the conscience of a nation troubled by injustice to Negroes, it is emotionally powerful. Much of its success is due to our sentimentality over the "Negro question."
Miss Hansberry has had the good sense to write about a Negro family with vices as well as virtues, and has spared us one of those well-scrubbed, light-skinned families who often appear in propaganda pieces about discrimination. If she avoids the over-worked formulas of the "Negro" play, however, she does not avoid those of the "domestic" play….
It may have been Miss Hansberry's objective to show that the stage stereotypes will fit Negroes as well as white people, to which my own reply must be that I never doubted it. They will fit anybody. Rather, anybody can be made to fit them.
The play is moving as a theatrical experience, but the emotions it engenders are not relevant to the social and political realities. The effect it produces is comparable to that which would be had in the concert hall if a composer of today were to write a concerto in the manner of Tchaikovsky.
Tom F. Driver, "Theatre: 'A Raisin in the Sun'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1959 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 140, No. 15, April 13, 1959, p. 21.
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The playwright who is a Negro is faced with a special problem. Broadway has a tradition of Negro shows, inevitably folksy or exotic, almost always musical, of which the only virtue is that Negro performers get a chance to appear as something more than filler. The obvious reaction to such shows is the protest play, the Negro agitprop, which can be as false to American Negro life as the musicals. A playwright with serious intentions, like Miss Hansberry, has to avoid both pitfalls, has to try to write not a Negro play, but a play in which the characters are Negroes….
Having suggested that objectivity is impossible with respect to A Raisin in the Sun, I should like to make a few objective remarks about it. The play, first of all, is old fashioned. Practically no serious playwright, in or out of America, works in such a determinedly naturalistic form as Miss Hansberry in her first play…. Raisin is the kind of play which demands the naturalism that Miss Hansberry has used, but in choosing to write such a play, she entered Broadway's great sack race with only a paper bag as equipment. Her distinction is that she has won the race this year, which proves, I suppose, that narrow naturalism is still a possible—if anachronistic—form….
[The] play itself—in its concentration on the family in society—recalls the 30's and Clifford Odets…. The conflict within the play is between the dreams of the son,...
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Harold R. Isaacs
Lorraine Hansberry took the title of her [first] play from a line by Langston Hughes: "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?" Her success was the winning of a dream that first came upon her in her young girlhood when she first read the poetry of Langston Hughes and others. Much of this poetry … was about Africa, and on this subject … curiously enough, Miss Hansberry also in a way completes a circle begun by Hughes. In a new and much more realistic setting, she too has had a vision of a romantic reunion between Negro American and black African. But her vision is shaped by new times, new outlooks. It is no longer a wispy literary yearning after a lost primitivism, nor does she beat it out on synthetic tomtoms. Nor is it any longer a matter of going back-to-Africa as the ultimate option of despair in America. In Lorraine Hansberry's time it has become a matter of choice between new freedoms now in the grasp of black men, both African and American. (pp. 329-30)
In A Raisin in the Sun, the new form of an old fact, the new shape of the African idea in the American Negro universe, made its first appearance, I believe, in any play or story of wide public notice. If it appeared only incidentally, as a secondary theme to a much more moving main story, this too was appropriate, since this was just about where the subject of Africa stood in the thinking of Negroes at the time the play was...
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Miss Hansberry's dialogue [in her screenplay adaptation for the film A Raisin in the Sun] is generally commonplace and occasionally ridiculous, her perception of character is on the level of Samuel French's catalogue of amateur plays, and her sense of structure is primitive….
The bulk of the play is garden-variety, lower-class domestic drama. Except for the daughter's Nigerian suitor and the superficial discussion of Negro modes of thought that he provokes, this could be, up to this point, any John Golden suburban play of the twenties transferred to a Negro setting. Now the author, running out of plot and determined that her story shall not only be about Negroes but about race problems, brings us to the barricades. The house on which the mother has paid the deposit is in a white neighborhood, and predictable trouble ensues…. (p. 152)
[The play's action] is set in a context of blatantly contrasting sudden entrances … arbitrary, dizzyingly swift changes of subject and mood as the author struggles to knit her various plotstrands together; a series of mechanical climaxes (every scene ends with its pat little explosion); and gems of dialogue like "Now you say after me, in my mother's house there is still God."… (pp. 152-53)
A Raisin in the Sun is to Negroes what The Rise of the Goldbergs was to the Jews: a facile vaudeville of "true" characteristics intended to prove that...
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In its transference from stage to screen, Lorraine Hansberry's deeply moving play about an impoverished but indestructable Negro family, has, alas, lost more than it has gained. On stage, the play literally whipped its way across the footlights to lash the audience with its verve and vigour. On film, its effect is at once less urgent and personal, and one seriously feels the lack of breathing space needed between us, the spectators of the action, and the action itself. We tend, as it were, to be too near the drama to ever feel it properly….
This is not to say, of course, that the film is un-entertaining…. [The] vivid flounce of Miss Hansberry's exciting dialogue [makes] it thoroughly worthwhile on any level of viewing. But one just wished that the producers might have had a little more courage and made their adaptation a more expansive one: one with a shade more filmic fluency to it. If they had, I feel that they may well have had a little masterpiece on their hands….
[On] the screen, the action has a wide emotional compass. And no matter that the Younger family are Negros—their situation, their frustrations, are universal ones. The Youngers are the stuff of life itself, and one feels their pain and discontent, their alternating shifts of sorrow and happiness….
Whilst the method in which it has been presented bothers me considerably (it's far too flat for such a powerful piece), I wouldn't...
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Though Miss Hansberry is frequently guilty [in "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window"] of ladling out words with a soup-spoon ("these two implacable pools of cynicism" are simply a man's eyes) and though she has wasted time name-dropping among Village intellectuals …, she has still forced a good many vigorous attitudes through the verbal smog and she sometimes finishes off an exchange as though a skull had been smartly cracked.
What makes her virtues hard to get at is the loose bag in which she has packed them, for all the world like a shopper who has come from a supermarket of false hopes with bundles that won't stay bundled and keep dropping regularly to the floor. The narrative embrace in which she has hoped to hold all her despairs is a thing, spindly, an arbitrary thing. [Sidney Brustein] is a Villager who has stopped believing in causes; he is persuaded, courtesy of Thoreau, to return to the fray in a political cause; he is later persuaded that the cause is a fraud and he gets himself vigorously drunk on disillusion. Meantime, he has been having a bad time with his wife, a featherweight who wants to be an actress but is willing to leave him to do television commercials.
These, too, are symbols of accommodation, of the "collusion that corrupts" modern life. But they are much too small, finicky and familiar to serve as a carryall. The problems that invade the apartment from the outside are all a great deal...
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One of the biggest selling points about [A Raisin in the Sun]—filling the grapevine, riding the word-of-mouth, laying the foundation for its wide, wide acceptance—was how much the Younger family was just like any other American family. Some people were ecstatic to find that "it didn't really have to be about Negroes at all!" It was, rather, a walking, talking, living demonstration of our mythic conviction that, underneath, all of us Americans, color-ain't-got-nothing-to-do-with-it, are pretty much alike…. This uncritical assumption, sentimentally held by the audience, powerfully fixed in the character of the powerful mother with whom everybody could identify immediately and completely, made any other questions about the Youngers, and what living in the slums of Southside Chicago had done to them, not only irrelevant and impertinent, but also disloyal: Raisin was a great American play, and Lorraine was a great American playwright because everybody who walked into the theatre saw in Lena Younger … his own great American Mama. And that was decisive. (p. 399)
It was good that people of all color, strata, faiths and persuasions could identify so completely with Lena Younger, and her family, and their desire to better themselves in the American way. But that's not what the play was about!
The play was about Walter Lee, Lena's son, and what happened to him as a result of having his dream, his...
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The people who surround Walter Lee are all trying to get him to adjust to the conditions of life for a Negro in a white man's world. All except Beneatha. Beneatha seeks her own escape first in a series of hobbies and fads, then in intellectualism and a desire to find her African roots.
All this is played against the backdrop of a society that is indifferently hostile to the aspirations of black folk in an environment of ignorance, lassitude, hate, filth and poverty. The Younger's apartment is an oasis wherein all of society's "good" values are being maintained with substantial assistance from the King James version….
If serious can be taken to mean earnest, deep, grave, sober, solemn, not joking or trifling, then we might say that the setting of A Raisin in the Sun is indeed appropriate to tragedy. The condition out of which the action of this play arises is very serious in terms of the moral behavior of men. (p. 404)
[The plot devices] are developed in a naturalistic style that is so real and immediate that it has tended to render obscure, to many reviewers, the underlying tragic action of this play. The tragic unity of action in the play is achieved through the delicate balancing of pity and terror. The terror of abortion, which Ruth contemplates, the terror of loss of the "family jewels," the terror of Walter Lee upon the table exhorting his "black brothers" to action to the accompaniment...
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For all its sympathy, humour and humanity … [A Raisin in the Sun] remains disappointing—the more so when compared with the achievement of her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window…. Its weakness is essentially that of much of Broadway naturalism. It is an unhappy crossbreed of social protest and re-assuring resolution. Trying to escape the bitterness of Wright, Hansberry betrays herself into radical simplification and ill-defined affirmation….
[The] central factor of the play is not poverty but indignity and self-hatred. The survival of the family is dependent on their ability to accommodate themselves to the white world. (p. 156)
Hansberry's play is set in the same locale [as Richard Wright's Native Son]. Its sense of desperation is the same…. Yet where Wright created in Bigger Thomas a hardening of the stereotype …, Hansberry, writing some twenty years later, is concerned with demonstrating human resilience. The gulf between the two writers is in part that dictated by the changing social position of the American Negro but more fundamentally it is indicative of Lorraine Hansberry's belief in the pointlessness of despair and hatred. Indeed Hansberry's play is essentially an attempt to turn Wright's novel on its head. Where he had examined the potential for violence, Hansberry sees this as a potential which once realised can only lead to stasis. (p. 157)
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To Be Young, Gifted and Black, as everyone knows by now, is a patchwork play pieced together by Robert Nemiroff from the produced and unproduced works, the letters, the speeches, the articles of Lorraine Hansberry. Subtitled "The World of Lorraine Hansberry," it is an attempt to present Miss Hansberry, the writer, and the background which produced her and provided the material for her work….
Whatever Nemiroff intended, the play made a mockery of Miss Hansberry's talents, destroyed everything that is good and subtle in her work. (p. 542)
For her … human possibility was what counted…. The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window was primarily an attack on a particular kind of fashionable determinism, the assumption that nothing can be done about the evils of the world and the resulting "great sad withdrawal from the affairs of men," as one of the characters puts it.
Despite her need to say something, to make a social point, she did not want to sacrifice art to argument, to go agitprop as a few of the young black playwrights have recently done. She was forced, then, to embrace the traditional American realism, to do as serious American playwrights from James A. Herne to Arthur Miller have done, to use plot to make her points and character to express her sense that it is all more complicated than it seems. There are traps in the form, the temptation of easy devices … and pat...
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Jordan Y. Miller
To explain, a decade after the fact, to a college class in American drama how neatly A Raisin in the Sun fits into a logical evolution within the theatre, to justify its dramatic viewpoint, and to praise its creator for her skill in writing a black … play without "blackness," remaining all the while a black writer who refuses to call attention to the fact, will raise instant challenges. The accusations are many. Is not Lorraine Hansberry an Uncle (Aunt?) Tom? Is not A Raisin in the Sun a sellout to the white power structure? Are not the Youngers really betraying themselves and their own? Is not their attempt to assimilate themselves into the white society, and to force themselves, however peacefully, into the neighborhood where they are so obviously unwanted, simply a gratuitous attempt to become white?… Therefore, to discuss, to attempt to teach the plays of Lorraine Hansberry in terms of the "colorless" world in which she at one time seemed to belong becomes a greatly complicated matter. To justify what once was regarded as part of a highly favorable development in the commercial theatre now raises spectres of pandering to the white viewpoint, avoiding the inevitable and necessary confrontation. (p. 160)
Structurally, Lorraine Hansberry remains essentially within the bounds of the conventional realistic well-made play, something almost anachronistic amidst the styles of the 1960s…. Plot in Miss Hansberry's plays...
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"Les Blancs" … is the play that Lorraine Hansberry left unfinished at her death in 1965 and it is as if the American racial dilemma of that time has been permanently frozen into her script. It is very strange to watch this play and, in a very real way, actually see the intelligent American mind of five years ago, struggling between old concepts of liberalism-civil rights and new ideas of militance….
Miss Hansberry's tragically brief playwriting career charted the postwar steps in the racial movement, from working within the system ("A Raisin in the Sun") to a burgeoning distrust of white liberals ("The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window") to the association with Africa in "Les Blancs" that would evolve, after her death, from the ashes of passive resistance into the energy and danger of militant activism.
In "Les Blancs," Miss Hansberry was trying to cleanse herself of traditional ideas of civilized change in preparation for the bloodshed that she was just sensing would be necessary for the cauterization of racism….
There is no story to the play, really. The returning native realizes that blood must be spilled for independence in Africa (and, implicitly, for respect in America). If some of that blood must belong to white people he loved—an old lady missionary—that is a necessary tragedy.
"Les Blancs," then, is a didactic play, existing for its ideas rather than its theatre....
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So much has happened in Africa since 1961 [when Lorraine Hansberry began the writing of "Les Blancs"] that the play, laid in a Schweitzer-like medical mission in some vast equatorial country plagued by white colonial rule and black terrorism, has an air of being far less current than it claims to be …, and this datedness is reflected in its doggedly didactic tone; we are being lectured to and made to see things in the light that Teacher wishes us to see them in and not otherwise. When, fairly late in the play, the plot erupts into melodrama … our sympathies are not engaged, for the characters involved have long since come to seem symbols of sets of beliefs and not individuals capable of holding contradictory opinions and of being murdered in cold blood.
Brendan Gill, "The Theatre: 'Les blancs'," in The New Yorker (© 1970 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLVI, No. 40, November 21, 1970, p. 104.
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Virtually all of "Les Blancs" is … vivid, stinging, intellectually alive, and what is there is mature work, ready to stand without apology alongside the completed work of our best craftsmen. The language in particular is … unmistakably stage language….
The anguish of [Tshembe's] decision is the burden of the play, but it becomes anguish only at the final curtain. Prior to that it is verbal sharpshooting of the most trenchant kind, fun when it is hurting….
[Some of the characters's] roles are not fully developed or neatly tucked into the play's structure. [The] journalist is a figurehead with no developed purpose of his own; his task is to set up pomposities for [Tshembe] to puncture. The Major is still sheer villain. Two key figures do not appear at all: a tribal leader around whom the blacks might have rallied; the missionary who has devoted his life to helping the blacks stay precisely where they are. The gaps are obvious, plain signs of the work Miss Hansberry had not got done.
But these are compensated for by the candor and the drive of the play's speech, speech that might have been mere rhetoric but instead achieves a stage quickness.
Walter Kerr, "'Les blancs'," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 29, 1970 (and reprinted in The New York Times Theatre Reviews, The New York...
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I confess to have been more impressed by Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs … than I expected to be; more, indeed, than most of the professional theatre-tasters. At a time when rave reviews are reserved for plays like Sleuth and Conduct Unbecoming, I am tempted to speak of Les Blancs in superlatives.
I suspect, too, that resistance to the play on the ground of its simplistic argument is a rationalization for social embarrassment. Les Blancs is not propaganda, as has been inferred; it is a forceful and intelligent statement of the tragic impasse of white and black relations all over the world, as well as of the complexity of motivation and effect where European nations colonize undeveloped lands inhabited by blacks.
The play transcends the banalities in the intellectual disputes about this conflict; it clarifies, but does not seek to resolve, the historical and human problems involved. It does not provide an Answer. It is an honest play in which thought-provoking matter is given arrestingly theatrical body.
Harold Clurman, "Theatre: 'Les blancs'," in The Nation (copyright 1970 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 211, No. 18, November 30, 1970, p. 573.
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George R. Adams
A Raisin in the Sun is an ego-play in that it describes how a Black family comes to the right relationship with "reality." (p. 109)
It can be asked, if A Raisin in the Sun is oriented to reality, why does Walter willingly give up those things, i.e., independence and economic success, which we are told are real social and moral values in America? And how can the Youngers' moving into a white suburb be called "reality" and not wish-fulfillment? As a partial answer to these questions, let us look for a moment at some characteristics of the play. First, it is apparent that A Raisin in the Sun is not necessarily a Black play; that is, none of the personality traits of the Youngers, none of their goals, and none of their troubles and successes are specifically those of Black people in Chicago of the 1950's…. [The] condition of the Youngers is for us "universal," that is, it represents what we conceive to be common lot of a good many "ethnic" groups and celebrates the basic unit of American social structure, the nuclear family with a dominant and wise parent-figure.
The second "universal" characteristic of the play is sociological. For the Youngers, the correct "adjustment to life" consists of their facing the "facts of life" on three levels. The first level is sociological, that of the Black man's condition in 1950's America as defined for us by studies such as Black Rage. Sociologically "true"...
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David E. Ness
The compelling thing about Sidney Brustein is that although political commitment is the overriding concern, by and large the play is not about political issues in the usual sense. It concerns a small group of rather ordinary people who face a variety of real problems in their lives…. Sidney, in the midst of this group, has more "social conscience" than any of them but is really not up to the role of ethical and political standard-bearer that he pretends. Until Iris leaves him, his awareness of social problems is limited to a sense of discomfort and disillusionment about the quality of urban life. He does not feel social problems as actually touching him, and he is not as yet, and has no reason to be, angry about the conditions of his life. (pp. 363-64)
The organization of the play is essentially the creation of a real world around Sidney for him to observe and draw conclusions from as he moves toward this final realization…. [It] is one of Sidney Brustein's most admirable qualities and the essence of Lorraine Hansberry's clarity on the issues involved that it appears he is led to his understanding not, so to speak, by the playwright, but by the circumstances of his life. His radicalism at the end of the play is therefore not a luxury to him, nor an accident, but a necessity. His experience in the real world has brought him to this point (he being, we should keep in mind, a rather ordinary man), as it must bring...
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["The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window"] is a play about idealism, liberalism and not selling-out, and it is written in something of the declamatory manner of the thirties, although its theme is strictly about the sixties….
The strength of Miss Hansberry was in her remarkable ability to write strong theatrical scenes. There are three or four scenes here that in themselves represent some of the best Broadway writing of the last few years.
Miss Hansberry is a master at the dramatic confrontation—the savage and surprising impact of people upon one another, and when the mood has taken her the writing has genuine quality….
There is no doubt in my mind that the individual scenes are better than the play itself, and that the characters are more interesting than the themes of disillusion and bitterness. But these themes … are I think strong enough.
The picture of a weak man trying to kid himself about the society he lives in remains engrossing.
Clive Barnes, "'The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window'," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 27, 1972 (and reprinted in The New York Times Theatre Reviews, The New York Times Company, 1972, p. 202).
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W. Edward Farrison
The Drinking Gourd, a three-act drama well suited for television presentation, is what may be called in television jargon a documentary on American plantation slavery. It is a compact yet comprehensive, authentic, and vivid portrayal of the "peculiar institution," correctly called the sum of all villainies, as it was especially in the cotton kingdom on the eve of the Civil War. The action in the drama is framed between a long prologue and a brief epilogue both of which are spoken by a soldier "perhaps Lincolnesque" in appearance. The prologue kaleidoscopically reviews the history of American slavery from its beginning to the middle of the nineteenth century. The epilogue avows that by that time the Civil War had become necessary to keep slavery from destroying the United States. (p. 193)
Rissa [the plantation cook] is indeed a faithful representation of the matriarchal heads of slave families—as far as slave families were allowed to exist—and to some extent she is also a prototype of Lena Younger, the widow and mater familias in A Raisin in the Sun. (p. 194)
Imaginative, unified, easily documentable, and intensely interesting story that it is, and being good theater as well as good dramatic literature, The Drinking Gourd is in the best tradition of historical dramas—much more so than Les Blancs, which is also an historical drama. In both of these works, nevertheless, as in the...
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The subject matter of A Raisin in the Sun may make it appear outdated. The action taking place in what now seems like a long past time—the days before Black Power, antiwar protests, student uprisings and black rebellions. The play concerns itself with the Younger family: Mama Younger, who has survived and won; her son, Walter, the pivotal character of the play, the black male castrated by the blade of the American dream but who blames the castration on his wife; Ruth, Walter's wife, who sees the wound and is unable to stanch the bleeding and, like her Biblical namesake, can say, "Whither thou goest, I will go"—but Walter will not lead; Beneatha, Walter's sister, a college student, a black militant in a day before there was a name for her; and, Joseph Asagai, an African student, with a vision of a black-ruled Africa. Within one apartment, Lorraine Hansberry capsulized so much of black life on a myriad of levels. Here is the black male-black female conflict presented in all its painful rawness in Walter and Ruth; and here too is a history of black women, all of them beautiful in totally different ways, all of them strong in totally different ways. (pp. 4-5)
Walter has been taught that he should want the world, but because he is black he has been denied the possibility of ever having it. And that only makes the pain of the desire that much more hurting…. But Mama Younger has not let America define her. She has defined...
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Bertie J. Powell
[The Drinking Gourd] portrays American plantation slavery which … characterizes a phase of the black experience. The title was taken from a spiritual, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," linked with the Underground Railroad and derived from the slave metaphor for the Big Dipper which points to the North Star. This star was considered the beacon to freedom for many an escaped slave attempting to find his way to the North in the night. In the play, Hansberry illustrates the cruelties of slavery from the vantage points of the characters involved: the slave, the poor White, the slave owner, his wife and son. Even though she obviously identifies with the slaves, the play shows her empathy for other human beings. Each person, therefore, is depicted as an individual with his own unique concerns within the slave society.
It is interesting to note the different views of three slaves on the plantation. Rissa, the dominant slave character, accepts her lot as a slave and expresses gratitude that Hiram Sweet (Master Sweet) is not like many slave masters…. Rissa's attitude, however, changes drastically at the end of the play; she no longer is the accepting and forgiving Black Mammy archetype…. She leaves her Master to die and steals his gun for her children.
Hannibal, her son, renounces this subservient attitude. (pp. 308-09)
Coffin, Rissa's brother and Hannibal's uncle, abides by the rules as Rissa does,...
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