“Strange” “Jailed” Mamie Hansberry Rutgers Black Drama April 13, 2011 “Freedom’s Gate” “Runaway Slave Reading” “The Hansberry Screenplay is in no sense a repeat or The Screenplay, The Ballot slightly different expanded version of the stage play, or the Bullet, and Baldwin and it is vastly different from the 1961 movie, which was essentially the stage play with minor “openings out.” At least forty percent of the text (not counting • After hearing the news of Hansberry’s death, James smaller variations within speeches—there were Baldwin remarked that Hansberry’s voice was hundreds of these) is brand new, containing what all “ironically” silenced at a moment in history when who’ve read it recently recognize as some of her finest African Americans desperately needed her voice to (and most contemporary) writing: new scenes heighten “bear witness” to the explosive situation which they confronted in 1965. the drama, expand our realities of the ghetto the Youngers are struggling to transcend and, most strikingly, anticipate the revolution in black national • Never before in the entire history of American theatre has so much of the truth of black people’s lives on consciousness the next decades would bring.” stage.” James Baldwin ESQUIRE Bob Nemioff (of his restoration of the screenplay for the 1989 PBS and Columbia Pictures television production of Hansberry’s “original” screenplay. QuickTime™ an d a xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . QuickTime™ an d a xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . A Raisin in the Sun (1959) by Lorraine Hansberry (1930- 1965) Part I and II of II Langston Hughes’s “Dream Deferred” Intertextuality Talking Points Dream Deferred 1) Would you characterize Hughes poem as more of a meditation than a stringent warning or vice What happens to a dream versa? Either way, is Hansberry’s project in-line deferred? with that of Hughes’s poems? Does it dry up 2) Why do you think Hansberry chose a title for her Like a raisin in the sun? play that would (almost automatically) make an Or fester like a sore-- inter-textual reference to Hughes’s poem? In And then run? other words, what purpose(s) are served by this Does it stink like rotten intertextuality? meat? 3) There are many deferred dreams in A Raisin in Or crust and sugar over-- the Sun? Name (at least) one deferred dream like a syrupy sweet? for each of the play’s character and one dream Maybe it just sags deferred that all the characters share and/or like a heavy load. realize? Which dry up? Which fester? Which stink like rotten meat? Which sag like heavy Or does it explode? loads? Which ones explode and how would you characterize the aftermath of the explosion? How does pride, dignity, and self-worth play into all of this? The Genre and Theatrical Conventions of A Raisin in the Sun MARXIST SOCIAL REALISM Maxim Gorky (1869-1936)--the originator John Reed (1987-1920)--the American Marxist Missionary Social Realism developed as a reaction against the philosophical vogue of German idealism and the literary vogue of French Romanticism. As the harmful consequences of the Industrial Revolution became increasingly apparent; urban centers grew, and slums proliferated on a new (never before seen) scale contrasting with the display of wealth of the upper classes. With a new sense of social consciousness, the Social Realists pledged to “fight the beautiful art” with any style which appealed to the eye or emotions. They tended, though, to focus on the ugly realities of contemporary life and sympathized with working-class people, particularly the poor. They professed to record what they saw (“as it existed”) in a dispassionate manner. Richard Wright’s NATIVE SON is perhaps the most well known example of African American Marxist Social Realism, but Hansberry’s play runs, arguably, a close second. Domestic Drama and Socialist Realism • Nineteenth century drama took the complete step in Talking Points incorporating realism into drama, thus resulting in more serious and philosophical drama. Characters and settings 1) How does A Raisin in the Sun (or the gradually developed into the realistic truths of the current film A Raisin in the Sun) conform to society. Along with realism was naturalism or “selective the tenets of the domestic drama, and realism emphasizing the more sordid and pessimistic in what significant ways does it depart aspects of life.” from them? • The twentieth century introduced symbolism into the 2) Is A Raisin in the Sun a “pessimistic makings of domestic dramas, ultimately causing variations within domestic drama. Early twentieth play”? If so, why? If not, why? century shows incorporated minimal scenery, telegraphic 3) If domestic drama is typically invested dialogue, talking machines, and characters portrayed as in “psychological affairs,” what types rather than individuals. Domestic drama suddenly “psychological affairs” are Hansberry’s became a combination of naturalism, expressionism, symbolism, and commonly treated psychological affairs. focal points. Are they uniquely African American? If so, how and why is that • Modern dramas usually revolve around psychological, the case? social, or political affairs, all of which seem to have their roots in domestic drama. Using ita interpretive ideas, 4) What social and political affairs are at such as “distinctive voice and vision,” stark settings, stake besides integration in A Raisin austere language in spare dialog, meaningful silences, the in The Sun? (Think about black projection of a powerful streak of menace, and outbursts nationalism, internationalism. Local of real or implied violence. politics in Chicago, etc.) • Domestic drama also carries the implications of current affairs with society: such as civil rights, feminism and current political and sociological disputes. Lorraine Hansberry: Playwright, Social Agitator, and the Radical You Never Knew “All art is Ultimately Social: that which agitates and that which prepares the mind for slumber” 1) Born in 1930 in Chicago 2) W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and others were frequent visitors in her childhood home. 3) In her early 20’s, Hansberry was a leader of the Communist Youth Movement. 4) As a child, her family moves to an all-white suburb in Chicago: a “hellishly hostile white neighborhood.” Her father’s refusal to vacate the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago led to a key victory in the Civil Rights Movement when the Supreme Court found in his favor (Lee vs. Hansberry) 5) 1948- Attends University of Wisconsin at Madison and becomes active in various incarnations of Communist youth groups 6) At the New School, Hansberry takes a class from Du Bois on colonialism. 7) 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” opens in Philadelphia 8) The play runs 530 time on Broadway 9) It is the most successful play written, to date, by an African American and the first play written by an African American woman to appear on Broadway 10) Joins the Daughters of Bilitis in 1957 (the nation’s first lesbian organization) and also advocates for abortion rights and an independent Africa 11) She dies, quite young, in 1965. Other Works 1) The Drinking Gourd (1960) 2) The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964) 3) The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965) 4) To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969) Some of The Play‘s Key Themes and Symbols Themes 1) Black Masculinity and Black Femininity 2) Capitalism, Labor, Acute Ghettoitis, Marxism, and the American Dream 3) Pan-Africanism , Atavistic Primitvism, and Black Nationalism 4) The Obligation for Self-Fulfillment and its balance with the Obligation to Support Family and Race (Communal-Fulfillment): The Inter-generational tranfer of wealth and value 5) Matriarchy and the role its plays in a unique and perhaps dangerous African American Christianity 6) Assimilation, Radicalism, and their relationship to Heritage 7) Independence and Pride v.s. Communal Indebtedness 8) Self-Expression and Self-Realization v.s. Communal-Expression and Self-Realization 9) Inter-generational transfer of wealth/value(s) and Continuity 10) Mental and physical migrations 11) The Black Family as both Patriarchal and Matriarchal 12) Self-Expression v.s. Communal-Expression 13) Chicago as National Microcosm Realist symbols 1) Rats. (The rat trap and the toothless rat) What other famous portrait of the racist machinery of Chicago real-estate invoke? 2) Lena’s plant: a little too obvious? 3) Sunlight 4) Clothing 5) Hair 6) Light 7) Dreams Masculinity, Emasculation, and Performing the Feminine and Reading “Playing” in Plays Talking Points 1) What are the multiple resonances, with respect to the Black Matriarchal family, of Walter Lee’s assumption that Mama will listen to Ruth about the store but not him? 2) Notice that Hansberry has inserted the stage direction (Ignoring her) before Walter Lee launches into his “loudmouth” rant about needing to be backed up by a woman. What are the multiple ironies at work here? 3) Walter, in essence, plays Ruth in this scene, assuming his performance (were he Ruth) would convince Mama to allow him to invest? What does his performance (given the fact that, later, Ruth does ask and Mama still says no) suggest about how he feels about them and where they should be positioned both in society and within the family? 4) Walter buys into a version of the American dream that accepts corruption as a given. Success, in other words, is generally a product of crime? What economic critique is Hansberry leveling with this detail? 5) Eat you eggs! Emasculation, Empowerment, reproduction, abortion. Talking Points Capitalism, Labor, and Leisure 1) Ruth tells Mama of Walter’s desire and feelings about investment and Reading Telling Contradictions advancement with particular respect to “colored people”? She also relates that this necessitates, in Walter’s eyes, a gamble. Consider the American dream and the myth of Horatio Alger? What commentary is Hansberry making about labor on the one hand, and “owners” (investors) on the other? If the owners are gamblers are they really living out the American dream? If not, what are they doing? 2) Mama makes a distinction here between business people and plain working folks. In the end, her statement turns out to be true. What might Hansberry be trying to suggest (given the totality of events) about labor and economics in this play? 3) The “color line” asserts itself into a conversation about labor in a very intriguing way here. How do Mama’s flu remarks speak to the theme of assimilation at work in the play? 4) Consider Ruth’s suggestion. For her, wealth is leisure (potentially) here. What commentary is Hannsberry making about wealth (with respect to labor and leisure) with this line? 5) Think of two ways to play mama’s line 10,000 dollars. What dramatically different suggestions could the actor make? “OCOMOGOSIAY!” is a Yoruban chant Pan-African Solidarity, Atavistic Primitivism, that “welcomes the hunters back to the and the Possibility of Black Nationalism village." Reading WTF? Moments "Owimoweh" is the title of a Yoruban chant, referring to the waking of the lion. Talking Points 1) How do Walter’s and Beneatha’s actions in this scene speak to heritage, and how do they manifest atavistic primitivism? What is Hansberry trying to suggest with all of this? 2) Notice that the stage directions repeatedly point to “things we cannot see” and lighting that suggests Walters imagination, Also notice that when this happens, the stage directions tell us the “inner Walter is speaking; the Southside chauffeur has assumed an unexpected majesty” In what way is Hansberry sly distancing herself from iterations of atavistic primitivism and to what ends? In other words, what is this inner an atavistic construct? 3) George brings matter to an abrupt halt here. How does his rejection of Walter’s QuickTime™ an d a brotherhood speak to Hansberry’s xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . messages about black nationalism and and internationalism? (Keep in mind that George is a rich shmuck.) 5) Why a record? Why not just drumming? What is Hansberry suggesting about the possibilities pitfallls and successful modus operandi of Du Boisian Pan-Africanism with all of this? Inter-generational Transfer of Value(s) Talking Points 1) Walter Lee has grown-up with his “face pressed against the glass” (as we see in his monologue). Mama, on the other hand, grew up in an environment of racial terrorism (left the South) and seems, at times, all too content with her lot. How might proximity to wealth/leisure help to account for the thing that’s “changed” which Mama so laments? 2) Consider the multiple ironies of the line “Once upon a time freedom used to be life--now it’s money.” How do these ironies (or do they) support Walter’s notion that it was “always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.”? 3) Walter is certain Ruth would never consider an abortion, and Mama is immediately suspicious (in this sense Walter can be said to have internalized his parents’ professed values more fully than they have). Mama does not condemn Lena, though, for what might happen. Instead, she blames Walter for not doing more to stop her, calling him a disgrace to his father’s memory. Why does Walter remain silent? How does his silence actually complicate Mama’s statement? (Keep in mind Walter Lee’s father’s motto about dreams and children) How does this help us to recontextualize Walter’s silence? 4) If Walter is a disgrace to a memory, what memory is he disgracing? How might not pursuing economic success also be a betrayal of not only his father’s memories, but of his father’s dreams? Talking Points 1) In light of Matthew’s Gospel-- “In my mother’s house…” clearly invoked and inverted with the line “In my mother’s Close Reading More Inter-textuality house”--how in Beneatha more “Christian” than her mother in this scene? John 14:2 2) Keep in mind the following: A) In my Father's house are The Father’s house has many many mansions: if it mansions. B) The Younger were not so, I would apartment is a rat-trap. C) The new Younger home--the have told you. I go to mansion mama has prepared prepare a place for you. for her children-- we know, will be a type of hell. In light of all this, how is Hansberry Mathew 5:38-42 positioning Beneatha’s Marxist vision of religion? How does Ye have heard that it this positioning (when hath been said, An eye considered in light of Mama’s for an eye, and a tooth rather non-Christian for a tooth: But I say “conversion”) make us think of unto you, That ye resist Mama (or more specifically Mama’s religion) differently? not evil: but whosoever How does Mama’s decision to shall smite thee on thy hand-over the head of the right cheek, turn to him household (and to leave the the other also. And if any house) impact your man will sue thee at the interpretation of all this? law, and take away thy 3) Does Mama really have a coat, let him have thy counter-argument here cloak also. And besides violence? What does that imply? whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go 4) Notice the tension and QuickTime™ an d a xvid decompressor echoing between the lines “I with him twain. Give to are need ed to see this p icture . don’t accept” and “we ain’t him that asketh thee, gonna have.” How does it and from him that would speak to the play’s vexed borrow of thee turn not positioning of a mandate for thou away. self-fulfillment and familial indebtedness? Talking Points Resistance, Heritage, Assimilation 1) Consider the ironic meta- Reading Miscommunication and theatricality of George’s line (they are in a play) as well as the Contradiction plethora of contradictions issuing forth from him (e.g. “That’s what being eccentric means--being natural.” How does George’s confused thinking bear witness to Beneatha’s assertion that he is an assimilationist Negro? 2) Is there a similarity between the fictional uncle “Uncle Tom” and George the “fictional” assimilationist? Are they not, here, both fictions? Explore the resonance of this question. 3) Beneatha offers a “dictionary definition” of assimilation straight from the black-radical edition of Websters. She then sets herself apart from George by saying that she, unlike him, embraces her heritage? To what extent is Beneatha full of “it”? Is she also trying to assimilate? If so, how so? 4) Consider where Beneatha’a knowledge of Africa comes from. Is this the normal means by one QuickTime™ an d a xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . which establishes heritage? If not, what is Hansberry trying to suggest about the complex notion of African-American heritage here? (Don’t forget that Beneatha, insofar as her family is concerned, is rather close to rejecting a heritage) Talking Points Home: Independence and Submission Hansberry’s Micro and Macrocosmic 1) Consider the first monologue on this page. How does Asagai position death? Do you take his vision to be “African” or something more? To what other kind of thinking does Asagai’s monologue point and how might he seen as a mouthpiece for Du Bois (who had, by this time, become a Pan-Africanist socialist). How does his demand for action from Beneatha figure into all of this? 2) How does his request that Beneatha leave with him for home complicate the notion of Asagai as “authentically African” or Pan-Africanist? 3) Asagai positions “home,” for Beneatha, as ancestral origin. How does Mama’s earlier attempt to give Asagai a “second home” (in combination with the fact that Nigeria is NOT Beneatha’s home) frustrate the discourse of lineage here? (Notice he even uses the word “pretend”). How is Hansberry forcing the audience to confront the idea that “going back home” is not as easy as it seems and why is she doing it? How does Asagai’s notion of a home in contant flux or forward movement play a role in all of this (notice the contradiction that arises in Asagai’s characterization of Nigeria as a home of contant flux once he starts luring Beneatha with mentions of “old songs”? 4) Asagai has an “our people” and Beneatha, perhaps, has two. How or are their two “our people” different? 5) Asagai distances himself from Beneatha, arguably belittling her as a young creature of the New World? Is Asagai a creation of the New World? Why not? 6) Asagai is rather aggressive and repressive in this scene. He seems to almost want to capture Beneath. What do you make of this? To what kind of Pan- Africanism (that Du Bois’ rejected) point? QuickTime™ an d a Beneatha (a perhaps faux-”stand-in” for Hansberry xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . 7) herself) seems to take all Asagai has to say as gospel. Given all we’ve just discussed, what do you make of her angry echoing of Asagai at Walter? Is she using the term in the same way, in a different way, or both? Explain. Talking Points Acting “Black” and 1) Walter plays “darkie” in front his family to Beneatha’s great shame. “Playing Black” in the Black Play Of course, here, Walter plays the role to a hilt, but to what extent is he simply dramatizing his every day life (or what we know of it from the play)? 2) Is Walter playing at assimilation or something else. If something else, what? 3) Once Walter acts-out a loss of race pride, Beneatha delivers a heavily charged line, “He’s no brother of mine.” Explore the line’s multiple resonances (noticing her later use of the word “individual”) and those of the phrase “a toothless ra”t? 4) Why does Hansberry repeatedly call attention to playing Black in a Black play? What purposes are served? 5) How has death now come into the house? How does this explain why it didn’t when Walter’s father died? 6) Contrast Mama’s desires to “begin again” with Asagai’s, Ruth’s, Beneatha’s, and Lena’s desire to move forward. 7) Notice that Walter’s plan would probably fulfill Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor, but for her the cost is to high? What is the cost (or value lost)? Talking Points Pride, Manhood, Possession, Conclusion- Hope, Explosion, or Pessimism? 1) Things come to a rapid climax The Deceptively Simplicity of Socialist Realism (thematic wise) on this page. Once Walter is said to have found his “manhood” and asserts his pride, the family departs “my mother’s house”? What are the multiply implications of this departure (which is, notably, a prideful ascent and fall)? 2) What do you make of the notion that once Walter finds his pride, Beneatha’s wish to marry and go to Africa appears little more than childish to the rest of her family? 3) Decode the symbol of Mama’s plant. Why is it of such importance that she take it with her? (Remember that her other “harvest” constitutes her children) How does (if it does) the Lord’s mercy figure into all of this? 4) We have already noted that this is far from a “happy ending.” In light of their ambiguous fates, recall both the social realist dictate to “record what they saw as it” and QuickTime™ an d a the resonances and suggestive xvid decompressor are need ed to see this p icture . powers of Hughes’s poem. Is a similar effect produced here? If so, what is it? In other words, how is this play a cry of revolt, and why is that cry never quite heard (remember the constraints of form here)?
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