mamie hansberry1 by OmGrbA


									   “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.

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A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-

     Part I and II of II
           Langston Hughes’s “Dream Deferred”
                                                 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

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
      “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
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
               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
                                         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
                                         5)    Eat you eggs! Emasculation,
                                               Empowerment, reproduction,
                                               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
                                                  “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
                                                             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
                                                  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
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                                                        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
                                                                                           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
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                                                                                       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
                                                             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
                                                   4)   Consider where Beneatha’a
                                                        knowledge of Africa comes from.
                                                        Is this the normal means by one
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                                                        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?
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                                                   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?
                                              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,
                                    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
                                    5)   How has death now come into the
                                         house? How does this explain
                                         why it didn’t when Walter’s father
                                    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
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                                                                            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

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