The banner remaining in the apartment window in Lorraine Hansberry’s play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window symbolizes the conflicts between engagement and disengagement in social action and between appearances and realities in politics. Idealist Sidney Brustein cannot resist engaging in an attempt to better the world, but the banner in his window deceives because the politician it promotes is just another corrupt compromiser.
Furthermore, Sidney’s yardstick-as-sword has multiple meanings: measuring people and deeds, the need for action in commitment, and the admirability of ancient heroes, such as the Maccabees in Sidney’s Jewish heritage. His breaking of the yardstick indicates his symbolic acknowledgment of defeat.
Iris Brustein’s dinner table symbolizes the gathering of segments of society often at odds with the Caucasian middle class—Jew, African American, gay, playwright, bookstore worker, waitress, intellectual. However, while temporarily united against the bourgeoisie, the group cannot cohere and dissolves in its own internal dissensions, including male versus female. Iris’s name suggests the rainbow of not only her heritage but also of American society; she needs to work for unity and against selfish division. The rainbow of characters and concerns in the play makes its range even greater than it does in Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (pr., pb. 1959).
The front-page art of the newspaper is one of several symbols for art that contribute a metapoetic element of ideas about art within an art work. The issue of whether art should, or does, deal with social and political issues connects this subject with the play’s political content. Repeatedly, Sidney, Iris, Alton, David, and O’Hara allude to famous writers of world literature, from classic to contemporary. Even Mavis refers to and quotes Euripides and suggests the connection between the Parodus family and...
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