“…We a people who give children life”: Pedagogic Concerns of the Aborted Abortion in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

     “Would Mama be a member of the National Right to Life Committee?”  To stimulate discussion, as well as to guarantee that my students attend their classes, I assign daily writing assignments which consist of a ten-minute response to an often outrageous question anchored in some aspect of the play or poem assigned for that day.  This question greeted my students on one of the days when we discussed Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.  While I intend to focus on the woman most immediately concerned with the abortion subplot in the play, we must first acknowledge the affirmation-of-life framework established by the matriarch of the family.

     Mama’s life-affirming statements come in two categories: first, descriptions of the love which the deceased patriarch of the family had for children; and secondly, her own definitions regarding the black race’s role in preserving life.

     “He was one man to love his children…crazy ’bout his children!” she relates of Big Walter, the deceased patriarch (Hansberry, Raisin 29).  When she says this in act one, scene one, Mama is recalling the abject poverty into which she and her husband raised their family.  Mama narrates to Ruth how frequently Big Walter would come home from work and, after staring miserably at his poor surroundings, find solace in his children.

     At the pivotal moment when Ruth’s plans for having an abortion are revealed, Mama states emphatically in the very next segment of the play (act one, scene two), again using the royal plural, that “we a people who give children life, not who destroys them” (Hansberry, Raisin 63).  In this statement of black self-definition, Mama challenges not so much her daughter-in-law, over whom she appropriately seems to have no absolute control.  (Ruth is still, like her Old Testament namesake, a foreigner, an outsider, to the immediate Younger family).  Mama’s challenges are directed more to the thirty-five year old male who still apparently has not become a man: her son, Walter (note that he is a character handicapped by being contrasted against his father; often, Mama calls him “Brother”).  His reaction to his mother’s urging that he stand up in support of life like his father before him is typical of a man faced with an untimely pregnancy.  Able only to utter his wife’s name, Walter finds no other words to say; he walks out the door, symbolically abandoning both women (Ruth and his mother) who need him to affirm the human life whom he generated.

Ruth’s Statements

     The scant critical attention Ruth receives from literary critics is virtually always in connection with her causal effect (as opposed to any emotional affect) on Walter or as the stimulus for Mama’s bold initiative to purchase a house for the Younger family.  [1]  Ruth’s attitude toward abortion, if not an accurate assessment of her attitude toward her unborn child, positions her as one who is oppressed in two ways: being a woman, and being a black woman.  [2]  Much like mothers today who are faced with economic uncertainties, Ruth seems ineluctably drawn to abortion as a solution to the “problem” of an untimely pregnancy.

     And yet, she is terribly aware of what we would now identify as post-abortion syndrome, the symptoms of psychological, physical, and emotional distress which many women who have had abortions experience, if not immediately, then years after their abortions.  [3]  “Ain’t nothin’ can tear at you like losin’ your baby,” Ruth proclaims in sympathy as Mama relates the story of how she and Big Walter lost one of their already-born children, “little Claude.”  It would be unfortunate if our students did not realize that, behind the overt sympathy, Ruth may also be thinking about the abortionist’s curette tearing at her own baby.  [4]

     Moreover, similar to those who would contemplate suicide, or women who have had abortions who may be suicidal, Ruth’s initial, halting steps toward pursuing abortion function like a cry for help.  Psychoanalytical literary theorists can best address whether Ruth’s lapsus linguae was either intentional or a dramatic torque necessary to advance the abortion subplot.  Our students, however, should be encouraged to consider not only this slip of the tongue, but more importantly the ensuing mild interrogation which follows.  Ruth does not fight against the matriarch’s queries.  [5]  She is submissive to Mama’s probings.  Moreover, at the crucial moment closing act one when Walter tries to reassure more himself than his mother that “You don’t know Ruth, Mama, if you think she would do that,” Ruth herself returns to the stage and affirms the opposite, significantly in two sentences which combine the future possibility of the abortion with her past action of the down payment made to the abortionist: “Yes I would too, Walter.  I gave her a five-dollar down payment” (Hansberry, Raisin 62-3).

Life-Affirming Authorial Intention

     Conjecture about the life-affirming purposes of A Raisin in the Sun leads to the inevitable problem of determining with accuracy Hansberry’s position on the issue.  Was it Hansberry’s intention to present such a life-affirming drama?  Addressing this question can easily lead into a diatribe on the politics of abortion.  I will avoid such a confrontation and focus instead on the historical and literary evidence of Hansberry’s own words.

     First, of course, it is interesting to note that recent scholarship maintains that A Raisin in the Sun is in reaction to an earlier play which espoused a Marxist political approach to the problems of black America.  [6]  The play functions quite conservatively, seeking not only “to correct [black playwright Theodore] Ward’s representation of black women,” but also “sets as a goal for black America not the Marxist revolution proposed by Big White Fog but the attainment of equality in bourgeois America” (Barthelemy 770, 777).

     Several sources outside the play can attest to Hansberry’s intention of promoting the play’s life-affirming principles.  Hine states that “in this play [A Raisin in the Sun] and in her second produced play, Hansberry offered a strong opposing voice to the drama of despair.  She created characters who affirmed life in the face of brutality and defeat” (527).  [7]

     Textual evidence that the play is inherently life-affirming is most philosophically supportable by reviewing what I call Hansberry’s masterpiece of epideictic, The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality.  It is this book more than any other work by Hansberry which can demonstrate the practicality of using both cultural criticism and New Historicism approaches toward student appreciation of A Raisin in the Sun.  For example, what is most striking about the photographs in this book is that, while Hansberry fought against racial segregation, today’s pro-lifers are fighting an even deeper segregation, an artificial legal construction erected by Supreme Court cases which attempt to distinguish the rights of a “wanted” unborn child from those of an “unwanted” unborn child.

     Hansberry’s commentaries on what were, as of the printing of the book in 1964, “the devotions of our culture–traditional Christianity…and more recently, Islam” have echoes in today’s pro-life movement (Movement 46).  Today’s pro-lifers constitute another majority fighting for civil rights for a different class of oppressed people, a majority that votes for certain candidates, donates to pregnancy support groups, and participates in marches and demonstrations all quite legally, quite peacefully within their First Amendment rights.  Hansberry’s text surrounding a photo of a man teaching nonviolent tactics is similar to the methodology used by abortion protestors who, before the Freedom of Choice Act suppressed their demonstration rights, blocked abortion clinic doors (Movement 107).  Moreover, when Hansberry states that “it (the rise of Islam among Negroes and Muslim `separation’) is, nonetheless, an important indicator of the anguished frustrations of a people” (Movement 48), her words could very well be applied to those in the more militant sector of the pro-life movement who advocate less than peaceful means to stop abortion.  [8]

     Finally, since Hansberry made much of the 1963 March on Washington on 28 August, one wonders how she would have reacted to the fact that for every year since 1974, the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton abortion decisions, tens of thousands of pro-lifers have gathered in Washington, D.C. every 22 January.  March For Life, the organization which coordinates the annual demonstrations, has estimated this year’s crowd to be “at over 100,000” (Andrusko 22).  In 1990, the National Right to Life Committee orchestrated a “Rally for Life.”  According to a Committee spokeswoman, “The National Park Service first estimated the crowd to be 60,000.  After hearings on the hill, they changed the number to 200,000” (Kelly).  If Hansberry thought it was significant to comment on the one march that sparked renewed interest in the fight for civil rights for blacks, what would she have said about that rally and the annual peaceful marches of pro-lifers every year on behalf of the first of the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable rights, the right to life?

Pedagogic Concerns

     My main focus continues to be the pedagogic concerns of teaching this play in the late 1990s.  We can begin our list of historical problems by informing our students that Hansberry was marginalized in her time for several reasons including a perceived reliance on “Jewish support.”  [9]

     More importantly, some did not immediately accept Hansberry as a playwright merely on the basis of their perception of the play’s quality, often evidenced by omitting her works from major compilations.  [10]  Suffering the ad hominem attacks of being “labeled old-fashioned, bourgeois, and assimilationist by various critics” (Logan 284), other critics were more focused in their negative criticism, reducing the play to one which “abounds in stock characters,” Ruth especially becoming merely Walter’s “exasperated and long-suffering wife” (Oliver 31).  J. Charles Washington documents another controversial opinion from Harold Cruse: “even more damaging and unsound is [his] evaluation…that the play is `the most cleverly written piece of glorified soap opera’ he has ever seen” (109-110).  While the 1950s and 1960s were historically crucial decades for African nations newly liberated from colonial powers, Keppel reports that “the African subtheme [was dismissed] as `impotent chatter'” (182).  [11]  Finally, some critics may have damned the play with the praise that it was merely another one of those which “conformed…to the story lines of previous ethnic dramas of arrival” (Keppel 182).

     Teaching A Raisin in the Sun thirty-eight years after its Broadway premiere presents specific contemporary pedagogic problems to the literature instructor, not the least being that the play may have lost some of its force for today’s students as an exercise in race relations.  The plight of a poor black family moving into a lily-white suburban community is not fraught with the same anxiety as it once was.  And yet, there must be something about the play which maintains popular interest to the point that at least one critic demarcates the play as a continental divide of sorts in black drama, asserting that the play maintained its dominance for at least thirty years:

          Not until Richard Wesley’s The Talented Tenth (1989) was there a significant follow-up to Lorraine Hansberry’s introduction into Black Experience drama of the theme of class and heritage as principal constituents of African American life. (Hay 48)

     The play has dramatic power beyond its historical situation and can address the most critical issue for today’s students, even though an entire generation of students exists whose lives are circumscribed by the historical fact that abortion is legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. I cannot account for why the abortion subplot in A Raisin in the Sun was not discussed itself in 1959 and immediately after until, in the opinion of the experts, the play’s hegemony decreased around 1989.  [12]  Perhaps the silence surrounding discussion of this theme in the play stems from the fact that in 1959 abortion was not yet on the national agenda.  Bringing the awareness of abortion in the play to the attention of today’s students is our responsibility.

     We are confronted pedagogically with a more difficult philosophical problem in addressing this matter: whether or not Hansberry was herself a “feminist” as we in 1997 have had the word interpreted for us.  Wilkerson qualifies her affirmation that Hansberry would fit the modern definition: “were she writing today, she would be called a feminist.  The term, however, would merely obscure her special vision” (235).  Moreover, although Wilkerson does admit that “none of her plays focuses exclusively on issues of conflict between the sexes,” Hansberry’s feminism can be based on the fact that “the relationships between men and women are an important dynamic” in Hansberry’s dramas (238).

     Significantly, Wilkerson’s article does not address a keystone issue in the feminist movement.  The absence of the mention of abortion may either mean that more research is needed into Hansberry’s thought or that the playwright did not view the issue as a solution to the problems of African Americans.  That Hansberry may not have considered abortion as essential to the equality of women may be based on the character of Beneatha who scholars agree has

          traditionally been treated as Hansberry’s alter ego, the vehicle for the expression of her creator’s Pan-Africanism, and little else. However, Beneath [sic] also expresses Hansberry’s feminism–her frank questioning of traditional male-female sex roles and of the assumption, prevalent in the fifties, that a young woman’s first job was to “catch” a “good” husband and make a “good” marriage. (Keppel 293-294, footnote 57).

Other critics maintain that the passion for abortion in today’s feminism and, more importantly, Hansberry’s depiction of the issue facing one of her characters, immediately qualifies her to fit the feminist definition.  “With the growth of women’s theater and feminist criticism,” Hine writes:

          Hansberry has been rediscovered by a new generation of women in theater.  Indeed, a revisionist reading of her major plays reveals that she was a feminist long before the women’s movement surfaced…  Hansberry’s portrayal of Beneatha as a young Black woman with aspirations to be a doctor and her introduction of abortion as an issue for poor women in A Raisin in the Sun signaled early on Hansberry’s feminist attitudes. (528)

     Naturally, some who use feminist literary criticism openly admit their own feelings of discomfort on reading (or distorting) the life-affirming purpose of the play.  “More than a decade ago, when I first attempted to write about A Raisin in the Sun,” writes Helene Keyssar,

          I found myself in a struggle with the text…. Among those troublesome, marginalized issues, the pregnancy of Walter’s wife, Ruth, the topic of which is raised intermittently throughout the drama, is especially disconcerting.  Ruth does not, in the end, have an abortion, and her fierce declaration at the end of the play—“I’ll strap my baby on my back if I have to and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to–but we got to move….  We got to get out of here”–serves as the dramatic resolution to her previous conflict.  But Hansberry has allowed Ruth to speak enough of her misgivings about bringing another black child into the world that in the festive ambiance of the play’s ending, it is Ruth whose utterances are least convincing of all the characters’. (230-231)

Of course, this is one person’s estimation that the words may be a version of paralipsis.  [13]  Someone who supports the choice which Ruth has made would conclude that her words are persuasive, finding Ruth’s decision entirely consistent with the ethic of affirming life.

     Moreover, to help appreciate that Ruth’s statements should not be interpreted as sites for the deconstruction of meaning, it would be helpful for our students to understand important new research regarding how women are presented on the stage.  Scolnikov’s work on women in the theater helps us understand not only the urgency behind Ruth’s desires to move, but also how such a seemingly disconnected, non-abortion-related matter in the plot can affect her abortion decision.  “In terms of the theatrical space, the house is clearly used as a spatial metaphor for the womb,” Scolnikov writes (44).  Although she uses her analysis of the house to explicate Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the following extract can approximate both Ruth’s and Lena’s concerns almost exactly: “the close association between woman and her house and its implication for the family group and for society at large form both the framework and the inner core of The Cherry Orchard” (116-117).  And, we can say, for A Raisin in the Sun.  Mama makes a down payment on the house expressly because

          We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards–talking ’bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead…When it gets like that in life–you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger….” (Hansberry, Raisin 87)

Ruth is insistent, almost maniacally, that the family move.  “Praise God!” is her first reaction to the possibility of moving out of their apartment (Hansberry, Raisin 83).  Then, towards the end of act two, scene one, Ruth’s exuberance becomes frenzied; Hansberry’s stage directions are, again, clear regarding how Ruth should perform her gyrations around the apartment:

          She laughs joyously, having practically destroyed the apartment, and flings her arms up and lets them come down happily, slowly, reflectively, over her abdomen, aware for the first time perhaps that the life therein pulses with happiness and not despair.  (Hansberry, Raisin 86)

     If abortion as a barometric reading of one’s feminism is the standard, then other critics cannot find evidence in the record to justify such a broadening of the term “feminist” for Hansberry.  Anne Cheney’s research into Hansberry’s early journalistic writing shows that “in her articles [in Freedom] about women, Lorraine Hansberry seemed a feminist only in the most general sense: she praised the accomplishments of women” (17).

     Barthelemy tries to address the issue of Hansberry’s feminism, directly basing his thinking on authorial intention:

          It may seem strange to say Hansberry’s intentions were feminist, if at the play’s end Lena seems to surrender and lovingly endorses the idea of patriarchy.  But the play endorses patriarchy not at the expense of female strength or female governance.  Manhood in A Raisin in the Sun is wholly compatible with feminism.  Lena does not surrender judgment to Walter simply because he is a man; she acquiesces because Walter is right.  Manhood cannot be achieved until Walter demonstrates the pride and dignity that the women already possess. (779)

     These examples show that whether Hansberry satisfies the politically-correct definition of a “feminist” is, therefore, still open to debate.

     Today’s instructor should also acknowledge a final pedagogic problem: Hansberry is a prophet crying in an African-American economic wilderness.  Hansberry’s hopes for the black race in America have not been fulfilled.

     Numerous facts of contemporary African-American life testify to the dream not having been fulfilled.  The numbers of abortions among African-American mothers surpasses their total numbers within the United States.  Reardon, a premiere researcher in post-abortion syndrome, reports that, while

          more than two-thirds of all abortions are done on white women…the remaining one-third which are performed on non-white women is a comparatively high figure, since non-whites constitute only about 13 percent of the total American population. (5-6)

Moreover, according to federal government research covering abortion statistics for the last year available (1991), the abortion rate for African-American mothers is 65.9% per thousand–more than three-and-a-half times larger than the rate of 17.9% for white mothers (U.S. Bureau of the Census 84).

     If viewing her as a prophet, today’s students should find that Hansberry’s hopes that African-American men will aid their wives and their children so that the black family can be as strong and unified as it should be are also not yet fulfilled.  The numbers of African-American men who assume responsibility for the care of the children they engender is staggeringly low contrasted with other racial groups in the population.  Research shows that the ratio of African-American men who reside with their wives and children remains much lower than for white men.  In 1980, nearly 40% of African-American children resided in one-parent matriarchal families (Chadwick 117).  By decade’s end, that number increased to 55.2% (Horton 345).  [14]

     How can I summarize my ideas that A Raisin in the Sun can still be as controversial for today’s students as it was in 1959? Perhaps it would be best to answer the first rhetorical questions posed: “Would Mama be a member of the National Right to Life Committee?”  The obvious answer is “yes.”  More importantly, however, Ruth, the woman who was most in danger of having an abortion, would also be a member of the Committee.  It is she who intimates most immediately the horror of abortion and the hope which springs from new life given the opportunity of a new environment.  Hopefully, our students will benefit from a discussion about the placement of a controversial and contemporary issue in one of our most beloved dramas of all time.

                          Works Cited

Andrusko, Dave. “H. Clinton, Gore Embrace NARAL Blocks from

     March for Life.” National Right to Life News 30 Jan. 1997:


Barksdale, Richard and Keneth Kinnamon. Black Writers of

     America: a Comprehensive Anthology. New York: Macmillan,


Barthelemy, Anthony. “Mother, Sister, Wife: A Dramatic

     Perspective.” The Southern Review 21 (summer 1985): 770‑789.

Carter, Steven R. Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid

     Complexity. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1991.

Chadwick, Bruce A. and Tim B. Heaton. Statistical Handbook

     on the American Family. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1992.

Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Cooper, David O. “Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.”

     Explicator 52.1 (1993): 59‑61.

Hansberry, Lorraine. The Movement: Documentary of a

     Struggle for Equality. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.

—. “Original Prospectus for the John Brown Memorial

     Theatre of Harlem.” Black Scholar 10.10 (1979): 14‑15.

—. A Raisin in the Sun: a Drama in Three Acts. New York:

     Random, 1959.

Hay, Samuel A. African American Theatre: an Historical and

     Critical Analysis. New York: Cambridge U P, 1994.

Hine, Darlene Clark. Black Women in America: an Historical

     Encyclopedia. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1993.

Horton, Carrell Peterson, and Jessie Carney Smith, eds.

     Statistical Record of Black America. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale

     Research, 1993.

Kelly, Tracy. Email to the author. 10 Feb. 1997.

Keppel, Ben. The Work of Democracy : Ralph Bunche, Kenneth

     B. Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, and the Cultural Politics of

     Race. New York: Harvard U P, 1995.

Keyssar, Helene. “Rites and Responsibilities.” Ed. Enoch Brater.

     Feminine Focus: the New Women Playwrights. New York: Oxford U

     P, 1989.  226-240.

King, Martin Luther. “Declaration of Independence from the

     War in Vietnam.” Negotiating Difference: Cultural Case

     Studies for Composition. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce

     Herzberg. Boston: Bedford Books, 1996.  850-859.

Logan, Rayford W. and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary

     of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.

McKelly, James C. “Hymns of Sedition: Portraits of the

     Artist in Contemporary African‑American Drama.” Arizona

     Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and

     Theory 48.1 (1992): 87‑107.

Montgomery, Lori. “15% of black men lack right to vote:

     convictions change face of electorate.” Houston Chronicle 30

     Jan. 1997: 2A.

Nemiroff, Robert, and Charlotte Zaltzberg. Raisin. New

     York: Samuel French, 1978.

Oliver, Clinton F., and Stephanie Sills. Contemporary Black

     Drama: from A Raisin in the Sun to No Place To Be Somebody.

     New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

Patterson, Lindsay. Black Theater: a 20th Century

     Collection of the Work of Its Best Playwrights. New York:

     Dodd, Mead, 1971.

Reardon, David C. Aborted Women: Silent No More.

     Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1987.

Sadoff, Dianne F. and William E. Cain. Teaching

     Contemporary Theory to Undergraduates. New York: Modern

     Language Association of America, 1994.

Scheader, Catherine. Lorraine Hansberry. Chicago: Campus

     Publications, 1978.

Scolnikov, Hanna. Woman’s Theatrical Space. New York:

     Cambridge U P, 1994.

Tal, Kali. Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of

     Trauma. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1996.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statistical Abstract of the US:

     1996. 116th ed. Washington: [GPO], 1996.

Washington, J. Charles. “A Raisin in the Sun Revisited.”

     Black American Literature Forum 22.1 (1988): 109‑124.

Wilkerson, Margaret B. “Lorraine Hansberry: The Complete

     Feminist.” Freedomways 19 (1979): 235‑45.

    [1]  Cheney’s biography of Hansberry demonstrates how Ruth’s characterization is intertwined with Walter’s.  Although admittedly one of the “three strong, human women” with which Hansberry has populated the drama, “at thirty, Ruth is caught between the ideas of the new and the old.  She is a full-time domestic, but she values her roles as a wife and mother” (60).  Furthermore:

          As exhausted as Ruth is from domestic work for whites, her pregnancy, and her tension with Walter Lee, she does not share Walter Lee’s monomania about money, business, and social position.  She would be satisfied with a peaceful home life and an adequate income.  But as she begins to understand the compulsion of Walter Lee’s dream, their relationship becomes closer.  Even Ruth’s unselfish willingness to have an abortion shows her understanding of Walter Lee’s plight: she does not want to add to the financial burden or to crowd the apartment with one more person. (70)

     Barthelemy’s otherwise comprehensive article treats Ruth quickly in one main page (775); there is, however, no reflection made on her possible abortion.

    [2]  Carter records a conversation Hansberry had which expands on her concern for the oppressed.  “As she noted in an interview with Studs Terkel: `Obviously the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women, who are twice oppressed.  So I should imagine that they react accordingly: As oppression makes people more militant, women become twice militant, because they are twice oppressed'” (5).

    [3]  When discussing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Tal omits a vital new area of research connected with this feminist-inspired movement: that mothers who have had abortions react in the same ways as victims of sexual and war trauma.  Victims of post-abortion syndrome should be included with the “large percentages of traumatized populations, including Holocaust, Atomic bomb, rape, incest, prison camp, refugee camp, and natural disaster survivors” (119).  Since she omits the large numbers of mothers who have had abortions, readers must supplement Tal’s study of the “worlds of hurt” with Reardon’s exclusive work with post-abortion women.  It may be especially important to understand post-abortion syndrome in minority communities.  Reardon claims that, although

          racial minorities, and the poor in particular, were (and are) generally more accepting of unplanned pregnancies, and are more likely to be opposed to abortion on ethical grounds than is the population as a whole…minorities today are facing increased social and financial pressures to abort against their wills. (6)

    [4]  Since Hansberry herself thought that a solution to poverty was home ownership (stating in a 1963 interview “`I think housing is so important I wrote a play about it'”; Carter 48-9), it is significant that she did not consider abortion to be a solution to the “problem” of more black children.  Four years later Dr. Martin Luther King may have thought about how the experience of poverty can determine whether an unborn child will live or die when he compared the amount of money financing the Vietnam war to “some demonic, destructive suction tube” in his 1967 essay “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” (851).  He goes on to say that he “was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such” (851)–much as Hansberry attacked poverty through her writings.  Moreover, we in 1997 must recall that the vocabulary describing the technology of abortion in the late 1950s was not as diverse as today.  The “curette” and “suction tube” were often metaphors for the one method which was synonymous with abortion, dilation and curettage.

    [5]  Some critics view Mama’s intercession on behalf of the unborn child purely negatively.  Wilkerson states that Mama “meddles in her daughter-in-law’s personal affairs by urging that she and Walter produce another baby” and that “she feels that another child for Ruth and Walter will heal their shaky marriage” (239).  Certain words in such criticism (“urging” and “produce” especially) may give the impression that Mama has more control over her daughter-in-law than is demonstrated in the play.

    [6]  The issue of Hansberry’s Marxism has been as slippery an issue for critics as her feminism.  “Hansberry herself,” writes Carter,

          although generally Marxist in her views on life and art, could never accept the more dogmatic Marxist argument that art should be used only as an instrument of the class struggle, just as she shunned the position that art existed for its own sake totally apart from social concerns. (89)

Some evidence, however, that Hansberry herself believed in a strict demarcation between political beliefs and artistic expression can be found in her strongly-worded “Original Prospectus for the John Brown Memorial Theatre of Harlem”:

          It [the Theatre] shall be bound by no orthodoxy…no beholden posture to the commercial theatre of its time, nor to the idle, impotent and obscurantist efforts of a mistaken avant garde. (15)

McKelly disputes that such a neutral position is possible, arguing that, while

          she [Hansberry] brings to light a fundamental tension between art and politics…this tension, as if it were not debilitating enough, is complicated by an additional catch-22 unique to minority artists whose work is in any way dependent upon the institutions or technologies of artistic production in a capitalist mass culture.  The degree to which their art receives its life-giving promotional attention and cultural exposure depends upon what the arbiters of commercial aesthetic culture estimate to be its potential acceptance in the dominant culture…. (89)

    [7]  Her drawing of a “Black Madonna” while still in college (depicting a woman holding a child) can be incorporated here as further evidence of her artistic fascination with the life-giving qualities of mothers (Scheader 29).

    [8]  Apparently, Hansberry’s views on activism were very close to those of pro-life activists today.

          She argued that blacks `must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent….they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps–and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities. (Carter 11)

    [9]  Tal reports that

          among his contemporaries, [black intellectual Harold] Cruse [whom Tal identifies as “certainly an antisemite”] criticized Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin for their alleged reliance on Jewish support [arguing] that the post-World War II American Jew bore no resemblance to the idealized Jews of black mythology [because] Jews have not suffered in the United States….  They have, in fact, done exceptionally well on every level of endeavor. (29-30)

    [10]  A striking example involves Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon’s 1972 work, Black Writers of America: a Comprehensive Anthology.  Many minor works were contained within the 917-page volume, yet neither the entire text of Hansberry’s most important contribution to American theater nor excerpts from her other works were included.  Sometimes even professional publications for English faculty omit discussion of this major playwright.  Hansberry is not considered in Dianne F. Sadoff and William E. Cain’s 265-page Teaching Contemporary Theory to Undergraduates (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1994).  None of her works are listed in the various “Works Cited” for any of the essays; her name does not appear among the estimated five hundred names in the “Index”.

    [11]  Just as I argue that the abortion subplot for students in 1997 can be more interesting than other subplots in the drama, others have had differing opinions about the more important scenes of the play throughout the years.  Cooper notes that “the penultimate scene between Asagai and Beneatha Younger [is] a scene that Robert Nemiroff, who produced and adapted many of Hansberry’s works, describes as capturing `the deeper statement of the play–and the ongoing struggle it portends'” (59).  Agreeing with Nemiroff’s estimation, Patterson notes in his Black Theater: a 20th Century Collection of the Work of Its Best Playwrights that, while “Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun [is] one of the most perfectly structured plays ever to appear on Broadway,” it is more significant in that it “presents among other innovations, the search and acceptance of the African heritage” (ix).

    [12]  Nor can I account for the fact that Nemiroff’s 1978 adaptation of the play as the Broadway musical Raisin does not include the abortion subplot–beyond the surmise, that is, that there never has been anything essentially funny, musical, or entertaining about abortion.

    [13]  The inability of some critics to connect with the text may be due perhaps to a development in theater which Scolnikov describes: “As woman has gradually lost her privileged position in the home, she has also freed herself from its confining space…hence the dwindling interest in the house and the room” (159).  Hansberry’s play goes against that modern dramatic trend.

     It should also be noted that Keyssar’s depreciation of Ruth’s rhapsody may be faultily predicated on the assumption that her words are to be spoken prima facie happily.  The stage directions for this particular episode in act three, scene one are clear: Ruth’s repetitious affirmations of her willingness to increase her work load are “words pouring out with urgency and desperation” (Hansberry, Raisin 129).  Nemiroff’s later adaptation of this scene in the Broadway musical Raisin specifies that Ruth “is near hysteria” (93).

    [14]  It would be interesting to conjecture what Hansberry would have thought about the following quote in the Houston Chronicle a couple of weeks ago: “A study released Wednesday found that 1.46 million black men–nearly one in seven of voting age–have lost their right to vote because they have been convicted of a crime” (Montgomery 2A).  Such men are as doubly-oppressed as the African-American woman, having lost not only economic, but also political power.

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