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A Comparative Study of The

Search For Black Identity In


The Selected Plays of Lorraine
Hansberry And James Baldwin
[www.writekraft.com]
Creative Dramatists

Race still remains a significant factor in defining human relationship in

the world. Racism is a man made, man enforced phenomenon. It has existed

right from the beginning of human existence. Man being a social animal, his

happiness depends upon the nature of his relationship with his society.

Racism as a distinct phenomenon of the American social and political

scene was clearly rooted in that period of history, wherein the first Africans

were brought as cheap labour onto the American work force. White Americans

saw these people as property, as machinery that could do inordinate amount of

work without demur. Joel Kovel in his critically penetrating analysis of racism

says that the white master,

…first reduced the human self of his black slave to a body

and then reduced the body to a thing; he dehumanized his

slave, made him quantifiable and thereby absorbed him into a

rising world market of productive exchange…Thus in the

new culture of the west, the black human was reduced to a

black thing, virtually the same in certain key respects as the

rest of non-human nature-all of which could become property.

This reduction of human to non-human was the first definite

step towards the establishment of racism as an innate

archetype of white American civilization. (Kovel, White

Racism 18)
Arriving in America in chains black Americans were systematically and

legally robbed of their humanity. They were forced to work from sunrise to

sunset on the southern plantations entirely for the profit of others. White color

had to be and should be, the only criterion for survival, success and happy

coexistence in America. Being white implied a whole series of connotations, of

being attractive both physically and culturally, desirable, intelligent, reasonable

and above all worthy of love. Blackness was seen as a negative sign, a symbol

of ugliness, uncontrolled irrational behaviour, violent sexuality and so on.

W.E.B. DuBois, a black sociologist, portrayed the hypocrisy, hostility and

brutality of White Americans towards black Americans through his works. He

summarizes the existential dilemma of blacks in the following way.

The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and

gifted with second sight in this American world…a world

which yields him no true self consciousness, but only lets him

see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a

peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of

always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of

measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in

amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness-an

American, a Negro; two souls, two unreconciled strivings,

two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength

alone keeps it from being torn asunder. [DuBois, The Souls of

Black Folk 16,17]


Having allotted such a burden of evil, fear and diabolism to the black color,

western philosophy, society and culture finally found the perfect personification

of this misalliance in the black man. The devil was an abstract entity in the

western thought until the western man encountered the black man from Africa.

The triangle drawn between devil, black color and black man became firmly

entrenched in the psyche of White America. Within this atmosphere of anger,

hate and fear with its background of blackness, began the extra ordinary

enactment of a tragedy where in the blackman was the principal villain. This

situation of blackman cannot be treated as an isolated problem of black man

alone. It is intertwined with the greater problems of American civilization and

democracy and it reflects the general American anxiety over identity. The

American lower and middle class men have been affected by this rootlessness

and they were incapable of having a firm grip on what goes on in the world

around them. The Depression, the World Wars and the ideological and political

conflicts among the Black masses and leaders often, hindered the development

of a proper consciousness among the Black people. Booker T Washington, one

of the strongest and most influential leaders among the black Americans aptly

describes the Negro community as a basket of crabs, where in should one

attempt to climb out, the others immediately pull him back. The fate of the

Negro is linked with the fate of the American. Neither could he know himself

without acknowledging the other. America does not comprise of a

homogeneous population which is either all white or white oriented. The

definition of an American has traditionally been dominated by the white


superiority myth and the recognition of black deficiency. The relationship

between the whites and the blacks in the USA is not really a satisfactory one

because the black look upon the white as the oppressors, while the white treat

the black as their inferiors and treat them almost contemptuously in actual

practice, while in theory acknowledging them as American citizens having the

same rights as they themselves enjoy. The Negroe’s obsession with identity has

emerged as a result of his peculiar experience in America.

Slavery was for a long time an established and well-entrenched

institution in America, and it was more wide spread and more deeply rooted in

the Southern States than in the Northern States of the country. It took a

prolonged Civil War in the country to bring about the abolition of this

institution there. Abraham Lincoln, the President of the U.S.A., led a crusade

against slavery and as the Southern States refused to agree to the abolition of

slavery, Abraham Lincoln declared a war against those states, ultimately

winning the war and then proclaiming the abolition of slavery. Slavery in

America came to an end in 1865.

Negroes were formally and officially liberated from slavery. But the whites

continued to look upon the Negroes with contempt and the Negroes continued to

suffer the agony of the humiliations to which they were subjected by the whites. A

number of associations and societies kept trying all the time to bring about a

mutual understanding between the two races. Even today Negroes suffer from

many disabilities in America although legally and constitutionally they are

recognized as American citizens entitled to all rights which whites


enjoy. Majority of the Negroes live in degrading conditions and their social

status is much lower than the whites.

After the bitter turmoil of the civil war, during which blacks were

emancipated there was some improvement in the conditions of their lives. The

first world war brought on chaotic days all over the world and it affected black

Americans too. The crucial period after the war, coupled with the Great

Depression, brought on further tribulations to the blacks of America, upsetting

the institutions of family and society. Many black man could not find jobs and

racial discrimination was at its apex. An existential anxiety and alienation from

society and from himself, a feeling of nobodyness, struggle for survival and

loss of identity are clearly evident in the life of Black Americans. In search of

better employment opportunities the black masses migrated to the North. It also

reflected the fact of intensifying struggle by black people for democracy.

Lincoln issued the famous emancipation proclamation on 1-January 1863. But

all the Negro slaves were not officially freed until 1865. To get full citizenship

rights Negroes had to wait till the 13th, 14th and 15th Ammendment. The right

to vote was granted by the 15th Ammendment in 1870. To deprive the Negroes

of their voting rights, some states established certain voting requirements.

Economic pressures, cruelty, torture, lynchings were also introduced to prevent

Negroes from voting. Black American’s attempt at integration led to a

breakdown of his native values, such as self respect, self- love, dignity and

pride in one’s own race. This extremely subtle, but very corrosive facet of
racism had its birth in American history and its maturity in modern American

thought. Kovel states,

…throughout history, whites have created the institutions by

which black people are forced to live, and which force them

to live in a certain way, almost invariably so as to foster…

constellation of unworthy traits. From slavery itself to modern

welfare systems, this has been the enduring pattern… [Kovel,

195]

Booker T. Washington became perhaps the most prominent African

American leader of his time. Born into slavery he moved with his family to

West Virginia after emancipation. He devoted his life for the upliftment of his

race. He believed that African Americans could gain equality in U.S by

improving their economic situation through education rather than by

demanding equal rights. Dr. W.E.B DuBois, one of the greatest sociologists,

decided to use his intellect to prove the equality of the black man. His identity

as a black man propelled him into public life and politics. Despite opposition

from Booker T Washington, DuBois organized the Niagara Movement, the first

black protest organization of the twentieth century. Five years later it evolved

into the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. The

Black Nationalism of Marcus Garvey, the Marxism of Claude Mc Key , and the

Pan-African Movement came into being for the elimination of discrimination

and for all civil rights and education.


The experience of the Negroes during the world wars proved the fact

that the Negro could not enjoy full citizenship rights even in Armed Forces.

The segregation in Armed Forces came to an end in 1945. Hope gave way for

frustration and desperation characterized the mood of blacks. More than ever

they embraced revolution and direct action. World wars exploded many racial

myths and emboldened many to question and disobey the non sensical barrier

imposed by whites. The Supreme Court Desegregation Decision of 1954 and

the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956 which ushered in the leadership of Dr.

King openly proclaimed the Black Americans discontent with the statusqo and

his determination to fight against discrimination and segregation.

A better climate began to emerge in the post war years due to several

factors. America being the most important member of the United Nations and

the leader of world affairs, could not speak about the denial of human rights in

other countries while the same was going on there. So they have begun to

appoint Negroes to important responsible positions in the government. Many

Negroes feel that though their objective position in American life is improving,

it is negligible when compared with that of the whites. Their dissatisfaction is

the chief motivation behind the Negro protest movements. The protest

movements which began as upper class later spread to the Negro masses. There

are both integrationists and separatists within the Negro community itself.

Among those who favour integration, there are those who want complete

cultural assimilation with white society as some others who believe in

maintaining separate but co-operative strands of white and Negro


culture, each enriching the American culture. The result of the oppression and

segregation of the Negro was the development of a distinct culture and folk

values as seen in their life style, religion, literature, folklore and music. This

Negro sub culture contains some elements of intrinsic values, and some which

are destructive to the people in it. The suppressed people in search of

recognition, develops a group consciousness and along with that a body of

attitudes, sentiments and beliefs which serve to unify its members. Their

isolation from the larger society breeds common interests and group pride

which integrate the individuals of the group. So black people struggled to

define themselves with respect to their newly acquired freedom. Emancipation

relaxed the socialized system of white controlled black bodies, providing

blacks with space to play other societical roles. But Negro is American not

African. His ideals, feelings, values and articulation are products of the

American culture, modified by transmission of it through himself. He is no

longer the pure seventeenth or eighteenth century African brought to American

shores. It is therefore no idle claim that his twentieth-century cultural identity

has been derived from many sources. The most basic of these is the common

human heritage, the second his African cultural inheritance, the third the

western modifications it has undergone, and the fourth his Afro American

experience. American Negro culture is not something independent of general

American culture. It is a distorted development. American racism provided a

basis for a separate and distinctive black American culture. W.E.B DuBois in

The Souls of Black Folks expressed the tension created by these two extremes
as an American, and as a Negroe a “double consciousness” within the black

man. A divided self… and no clear indication which is better and truer self.

[DuBois, The Souls 17]

The Afro –American woman bore a double edged persecution; one as a

worker, both in the house as well as in the fields and, as an object of sexual

exploitation. They were deprived of every basic human right. She was seen as

an over sexed, immoral, loose woman. She was thrust under a capitalist society

which saw her as an inexpensive commodity and therefore utilized her to the

utmost without any sense of guilt. In no area of life have they ever been

permitted to attain higher levels of status than white women. Additionally, ever

since slavery, they have been sexually exploited by white men through rape or

enforced sexual services. This sexual exploitation of Negro women by their

white masters led to the birth of a new racial type of blacks called mulattos

whose sole responsibility was on the shoulder of their mothers. The black man

was degraded by being deprived of power and right to protect his woman from

white man. The black woman was directly degraded by the sexual attack, more

profoundly by being deprived of a strong black man on whom she could rely

for protection.

The question of black ‘matriarchy’ is commonly misunderstood. The

very term “matriarchy” implies the exercise of power by women, and black

women have been the most powerless group in the entire society. They had the

lowest status in society. Black womane’s wages, even today are lowest of all

groups. Because of the lowest status, lowest paid jobs in white society are
reserved for black women. Black women from childhood are trained to become

workers and are expected to be financially self supporting for most of their

lives. They know they have to work, whether they are married or single. After

the Civil War the high rate of unemployment among black males contributed to

a great over all poverty in black families. Black woman took on the role of the

bread winner. Their aim throughout her history in America has been the

survival of her family and race. They have shown the pride and strength of

people who have endured and survived oppression. This dual and often

conflicting role has imposed great tensions on black women and has given

them unusual strength.

Black men took this as a personal insult when women played a more

primary role in the maintenance of their families and so many left the families

in search for adventure and work. The responsibility of house and children fell

completely on the woman. So in important matters her decision was final. The

black mother is described as “the strong, Black bridge that we all crossed on, a

figure of courage, strength, endurance unmatched in the annals of world

history” [Barbara, Black Feminist Criticism 131]. For a girl child mother

became the role model and she was capable of attaining self sufficiency. Boys

do not get model father figure and that reflected in the development of

personality and marital adjustments. Divorce, illegitimacy and desertion were

common among the Negro low classes.

Black man’s world is a sphere of religious and racial consciousness.

Religion dominated their life and on sundays Negroes assembled together in


the church DuBois calls religion “ a real conserver of morals, a strengthener of

family life, and final authority on what is good and right” [DuBois, “Of the

Faith” 147]. In the face of adversity church provided them with hope and a

sense of community because Negro church filled the gap in the sociological

and psychological life of blacks. Men and women can come together, console

each other and make each other glad. black music is the energy of black spirit.

It has served as an ecstasy, inducer, an escape a manifestation and affirmation

of Blackness. The songs they sang in churches formed an important part of

their cultural heritage.

In the Negroes long struggle for survival, education was always a

foremost goal, both as a tool for advancement and acceptance in general society

and as a means of uplifting and improving life in the black community.

Missionary groups and American colonization society engaged in efforts to

educate slave children. In the North such work continued after the abolition of

slavery. But in the antebellum South it was a violation of law to teach the black

to read or write. So the Negro community gave much importance to oral or

story-telling tradition. The myths, legends and folktales supplied the

knowledge, values attitudes of their fathers to the next generation. It also

provided them with a psychological release from the oppression of the society.

Negro folk songs and music were also a part of the Negro subculture.

They reflected the emotional experience of the slaves, their joys and sorrows.

Even in slavery they were able to amuse themselves and their masters by

singing and dancing, playing on crudely constructed musical instruments, and


engaging in playful banter and mimicry. The slave performers were frequently

used to entertain visitors to the plantations and that the best of these

performance were often brought by their masters to neighboring town or even

hired out to other plantation owners to perform at parties, weddings and the

like. This sad plight of the blacks was recorded by Paul Lawrence Dunbar,

better known as America’s first major black poet, in the following way.

We smile, but o great Christ our cries

To thee from the tortured souls arise

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile,

But let the world dream otherwise

We wear the mask!

[Dunbar, The Complete Poems, 191]

Black theatre as an institution had a significant impact on black

liberation and for the expression of black identity. Theatre is a public art. It is a

shared experience and a social experience. It has a power to reinforce or

challenge values. Like other institutions, it was an expression of society. Black

experience proved a fruitful area for white authors. So the first black theatre in

America was launched by a white man. On Broadway in the twenties most

successful plays about Negro life were by white playwrights. It was effort of

playwrights like Edward Sheldon, Ridgely Torrence, Eugene O’Neill, Paul

Green, David Belasco, DuBose, Dorothy Heyward, Lew Leslie and Marcus

Cook Connelly that enabled Black experience to come before the public as
serious dramas. Edward Sheldons Nigger (1909), Ridgely Torrance’s, Three

Plays of Negro Theatre (1917), Three plays by Eugine O’Neil The Dreamy Kid

(1919) The Emperor Jones (1920) and All Gods Chillun Got Wings (1922),

Paul Greens In Abraham’s Bosom (1926) , DuBois and Dorothy Heywards

Porgy (1927) and Marc Connelly’s The Green Pastures (1930) were some of

the significant plays which treated blacks as the subject matter.

During the first two decades of the twentieth century musicals continued

to be the major form of dramatic writing. The views white authors had about

blacks stemmed from the early white Ministrelshows, dating back to early

1805, which provided the basis for the stereotypes impossed upon black people

in America. The dominant image of the black character was that of singing,

dancing, shiftless, oversexed and carefree individuals. White playwrights aim

was to capitalize on the exotic and sentimental elements contained in black life.

Goldfarb and Wilson best sum up the appearance of the Negro in the early

American literature:

American playwrights were not slow to see the comic

possibilities of ‘darkie’ servant, and they set about writing

dialogue for character in a dialect thick with malapropisms…

The writers gave the character a slow shuffle, made him stupid,

and laughed at the ill-fitting livery they had clothed him in. As

a final insult he was invariably played by white actors in black

face. [Alvin, Living Theatre 427]


During the 1920’s, the black people felt that time had come for them to be

responsible for the presentation of their own images. Since the white dominated

American theatre did not welcome either black artists or audiences, leaders in

the African community took it upon themselves to create necessary

opportunities for black artists. One of the most dynamic and versatile leaders

was W.E.B DuBois. He displayed a major interest in Negro drama. He was the

editor of The Crisis magazine and for twenty years he used it as a platform to

speak out against racial injustices in America. He established NAACP’s Drama

Committee of Washington DC to encourage black playwrights to develop their

craft by writing and producing their plays. He himself stated the intention of

Drama committee in the following way:

In art and literature we should try to loose the tremoundous,

emotional, wealth of the Negro and dramatic strength of his

problem through writing, the stage pageantry and other forms

of art. We should resurrect forgotten ancient Negro art and

history and we should set the black man before the world as

both a creative artist and strong subject for artistic treatment.

[DuBois, The Crisis IX 312]

DuBois felt the urgent need to promote good black dramatists writing

about black experience. So The Crisis and The Opportunity magazines

launched literary contest for black playwrights and offered cash prizes and

publications for the best one act plays that dealt with black history or

experience. DuBois also organized “The Krigwa player’s Little Negro Theatre’
to produce ‘ a real Negro Theatre’ that would address itself to the black

community. In the words of DuBois the theatre would be “About us, by us for

us and near us” [Hatch and Hamalian, Lost Plays 447]. He initiated the Krigwa

playwriting contest in 1925, which resulted in the publication of several prize

winning short plays, the emergence of new black playwrights, both male and

female. His Krigwa Little Theatre Movement resulted in a nation wide Black

Theatre Movement. As a result of the support from the NAACP, between 1910

and 1930 Blacks owned and operated, approximately one hundred and fifty

seven theatres.

The first ‘Renaissance’ of black writing came in the late twenties and

early thirties of the twentieth century. It was called the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ or

‘New Negro Movement’ or ‘Black Renaissance: The writers of the Renaissance

were concerned with numerous social and economic problems but they

basically turned to the problems of blacks. Harlem Renaissance was so named

because a greater number of black artists flocked into Harlem, making it the

black cultural capital of the world. It was a period of unparalled black theatrical

and literary activity. Black Renaissance proved that an African American could

explore his blackness, dramatise it and describe its roots and still remain safe

within the frame work of American civilization. Black writers for the first time

made Declaration of Independence from both a dictatorial white literary

establishment and their own urge to whiteness. Carl Van Vechten in his novel

Nigger Heaven defined Harlem by putting these words into his Negro heroe’s

mouth:
Nigger Heaven! That is what Harlem is. We sit in our places

in the gallery of this New York theatre and watch the white

world sitting down below in the goods seats in the orchestra.

Occasionally they turn their face up towards us, their hard

cruel faces, to laugh or sneer, but they never becken. It never

seems to occur to them that Nigger Heaven is cowded that

there is not another seat that something has to be done. It

doesn’t seem to occur to them… either we sit above them that

can swoop down from the Nigger Heaven and take their seats.

No they have no fear of that! The Mecca of the Negro! My

God. [Carl Van, Nigger Heaven 42].

The Harlem Renaissance created a passionate interest among black

writers for Africa their ancestral home and for its culture. Writers and artists of

this movement reflected a shared spirit of cultural tradition and experience in

their works. It enabled black artists to publish their work. More than thirty

black playwrights began their writing careers in the 1920’s the most significant

of whom were Wills Richard son, Randolph Edmonths, Georgia Douglas, and

John Mathews. Many of these playwrights were desperately in need of an

audience. Among the cultural leaders who created opportunities for black

theatre include Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory. As Professors at

Howard University in Washington DC they established the Howard players and

the Department of Dramatic Arts as a professional training ground for black

Americans in the theatre. Discussions of black theatre in Harlem Renaissance


are often based on the different philosophies of black drama held by Lock and

DuBois. Plays about black experience were called ‘Native dramas’. It emerged

in Harlem during the early 1920’s as a part of the Little Negro Theatre

Movement. Native dramas could be divided into distinct categories “race or

propaganda plays” and ‘Folk plays’. Propaganda plays included those plays

that dealt with the issue of social oppression as experienced by black people.

They were written primarily to effect social change. ‘Folk plays’ sought to

depict the black experience without focussing on the oppressive issues blacks

faced daily and racial tensions. Therefore the main goal of the Folk play was to

educate and entertain without offending audience. DuBois favoured

Propaganda Plays, while Locke promoted ‘Folk plays’. Plays with historical

themes and subjects, such as African heritage, slavery or heroic ancestors

formed a third category of drama that served to inform audiences about

traditions of black culture and to reinforce racial pride.

A number of black playwrights emerged during the 1930’s more than in

any previous decade. J. Augustus Smith, Hall Johnson, Dennis Donoghue and

Langston Hughes were significant among them. Langston Hughes play Mulatto

was produced on Broadway at Vanderbilt Theatre in 1935, where, it established

a record of 373 performers, the longest run on the Broadway up to that time for

a black authored play. The other plays by Hughes include Little Ham (1935),

The Emperor of Haiti (1935) and Don’t You Want to Be Free (1937). Theodore

Ward’s The Big White Fog (1938). Helped to create a new awareness among

people. The major influence on black playwriting during this time was the
establishment of WPA Federal Theatre as a part of the economic recovery

Programme of Roosevelt’s New Deal. It’s first concern was to fight

discrimination at all levels in the theatre and on the society at large. Almost

every serious play by black dramatist contained some awareness of injustice,

some degree of anger, and some inherent forms of protest, direct or indirect.

The subject matter of black drama during the period included historical events

relevant to African Americans, the World War, campus life and the plight of

migrant workers. This is a major turning point in the evolution of racial

consciousness in Black American drama. African-Americans discovered that

problems of race were not as serious as economic problems created because of

class distinctions. There developed class co-operation between Whites and

Blacks, who were equally hit by the depression. They joined hands in fighting

for existence. Only a few playwrights had their works produced professionally

early in 1940’s because this decade saw a temporary decline in playwriting due

to world war II. Important themes of the plays in the forties include slum life,

labour problem, and racial discrimination in jobs. Abraham Hills On Strivers

Row, Theodore Brown’s Natural Man and Richard Wright’s adaptation of his

own novel Native Son were prominent plays of 1940’s. These plays were

noteworthy for their thematic diversity than those of previous decades.

Although no significant playwriting awards were won by black writers

prior to 1950, these pioneer playwrights paved the way for the Golden Age of

Black Theatre that was to follow. Through their courageous efforts they

presented lives and concerns of black people on the American stage, attempted
to correct the distorted images and stereotypes that have too long been

perpetuated by writers who lacked true knowledge of the black experience.

Although many of the plays of these playwrights remain unproduced and

unpublished and countless others have been lost, those that still survive stand

as a monumental record of black artistry, culture, history and achievement

which remain for the present and future generations to discover, to appreciate

and enjoy.

Prior to the 1950’s playwriting was considered a profession for men.

Efforts taken by W.E.B DuBois, Professors like Montgomery T Gregory and

Alain Locke provided opportunities for black women not only to write plays

about black experience, but also to publish and perform. Many topics that these

black women writers focussed on were issues that could only be expressed by a

black woman. For instance, if the child she carried for nine months would be

sold into slavery or be a son who might one day be lynched, black woman is at

the mercy of everybody. The white playwrights had previously written about

black life, but most of their portraits of black people were degrading or

unconvincing because they reproduced the old familiar degrading stereotypes

such as mamies, maids, matriarchs, madams and over sexualized floozy. There

were black male playwrights writing about black women, but their vision was

different. They also limited the images of black women as immoral, wanton,

frigid, overbearing or pathetically helpless. Outraged by the popular stereotype

of blacks, black women playwrights took up the pen to express their realities.

In this context the observation of Jean Miller is significant. Miller argues that
… their themes and their treatment of black women

characters, however have differed from those of other

playwrights. Often in plays by black men, the happiness of

black women or their completeness in life depends upon

strong blackman. In contrast to white authored dramas where

black women have usually appeared as devoted servants to

white families, as matriarchs, or as dumb, incompetent

people, black women playwrights have told the black

woman’s story… from slavery to freedom... from her point of

view. [Miller, Images of Black Women 289]

Black women playwrights of the 1920’s and 1930’s were not

professional playwrights because in those days they did not make their living

from writing, but supported themselves with other full time jobs. But they

captured the lives of the black people as no white or black male playwright

could. Angelina Weld Grimke, Alice Dunbar, Nelson Georgia Douglas

Johnson, May Miller, Mary Burrel, Smith Livingston, Marita Bonner were all

original voices in the commercial theatre of the period. They provide the

feminine perspective and their voices give credence to the notion that there was

a ‘New Negro’ in America.

Viewing black life from a special angle Alice Childress, Lorraine

Hansberry and Ntozake Shange worked to redefine the American stage that has

traditionally been populated with stereotypes of blacks. The picture of black

life that these dramatists offer is entirely different from that portrayed by white
female or black or White male dramatists. Known for her uncompromising

approach to race and feminism Alice Childress introduced themes such as

miscegenation to the stage. She was devoted to the authentic portrayal of black

life. Her plays include Trouble in Mind (1955) Wine in the Wilderness (1960),

Mojo (1971) In Strong (1971) and Wedding Band (1973) Ntozake Shange first

came into public prominence with her play For Colored Girls (1976), one of

the first black femenist plays to speak honestly about male, female, relationship

and denial of black women’s voice in American society. As an African-

American woman, feminist, and an artist, Shange has shown on the American

stage that black females are worthy of heroic stature and literary exploration.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Hansberry emerged as the first black

woman to present a drama on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun. Never before had

a black female playwright commanded such an attention in the American

theatre. She defied the stereotypical portrayal of blacks commonly seen on the

American stage by substituting realistic images. Her redefinition of black

women as active and responsible participants in political future was surprising

in 1959 and remains so in the present century. Her other plays include The Sign

in Sidney Brusteins Window (1964) and Les Blancs (1970). What use the

Flowers and The Drinking Gourd were her unpublished plays.

The black drama of the 1950’s reflected the frustrations peculiar to the

African Americans. In majority of the plays ‘protest’ is veiled, but ‘violence’ as

a solution is dismissed. The message in several of these plays, however, is that

violence may soon become the only possible course of action. Mance Williams
argues that “plays during 1950’s expressed a new form of protest, one that not

only exhorted black people to stand up for their rights but warned whites that

Blacks would settle for nothing less than full share of the American Dream”.

[William Mance 112]. Most of the plays written since 1950 were either

accusation of white power structure in general or specific kind of attack on

white liberals. A Medal for Willie by William Branch (1951), A Land Beyond

River by Loften Mitchells and (1954) and Blues for Mister Charlie by James

Baldwin (1964) were representative plays that directly accused white liberals.

Baldwin’s importance as a black playwright also rests on another issue, the

issue that distinguish one group of contemporary black playwrights from

another. This is based on the question whether the black writer should direct

himself to a white audience-to entertain them, or educate them about black

people or should he direct himself to black audience-to educate them to an

awareness of their needs. Baldwin’s The Amen Corner written in 1954

addressess the black audience and Blues for Mister Charlie written in 1964

addresses the white audience. By resolving his writings for both the audience, a

dilemma which all Negro writers have been forced to face, Baldwin honestly

exposed the racial injustice. Baldwin remained firmly rooted in the soil of his

race and wrote two plays in his own way.

The 1960’s saw a more radical militant theatre with Amiri Baraka at its

head William Mance has observed “whether the playwrights of the 1960’s fell

into the category of realism or naturalism, Marxism or Structuralism the

prevailing mood of the period was that of revolt outside and inside the theatre”
[Mance 113]. Black artists of this period presented the black materials through

their plays for black audience with the unmistakably important purpose of

defining and redefining the meaning of black lives. Black drama of this period

is deeply involved in the problem of identity crisis and this adds to its

significance. Black playwrights of the 60s can be grouped into three categories,

angry, comic and aburdist. LeoRoi Jones and James Baldwin come under the

first category, Ronald Millar and Ed Bullins can be grouped under the second

category and to the third Adrienne Kennedy and Archie Shepp.

Black playwrights of 60s and 70s are engaged in a critical re-

examination of western aesthetics, and the traditional role of the writer and the

social function of art in the interest of constructing ‘a black aesthetic’. Black

drama of this period is characterized by a spirit of rejection, a rejection of

debased values in favour of values celebrating racial identity. It is not a

literature of protest, but a literature of affirmation, a literature for all practical

purposes. Frantz Fanon points out “… black artists are culture stabilizers,

bringing back old values and introducing new ones…” [Larry Neal 30]. Black

drama of 60’s and 70’s has thus developed out of a long line of black drama

and is related to American literature by more than the use of the word “Black”.

A close examination of Black Drama from it beginning to the late 80’s

reveals that there has been an evolution of consciousness in African American

drama. This is an evolution of consciousness from invisibility to the visibility

of the black as a separate dignified group of people. Up to the fifties black

writing had been predominately “protest” literature. When there was


segregation and oppression as a common enemy, blacks had a common purpose

and a strong urge to transform their deep rooted feeling of bitterness and scorn

into art. In the post modern age they have become more and more the defenders of

democracy. Realistic observation has developed into social protest. They believe

that literature has social pertinence, and it should interpret what artist knows most

fully and should help to effect changes that he desires most deeply.

Negro wiring in U.S. has been from the first to last a literature of

necessity. It took more than a hundred years for the Negro race to produce their

representative Negro authors. By exploring and exhibiting the rich complexity

of Negro experience the black writer assisted his people in their self-discovery

and in the creation of an identity of their own. Black writers proved that art can

be a weapon to liberate people. Plays of James Baldwin and Lorraine

Hnasberry played a dominant role in this evolution of black identity in a

particularly striking way. They belong to two different periods and they are

different from other black dramatists of their period in many respects. Black

identity presented by a black male playwright and a black woman playwright

differ in many aspects. They join hands in attacking white racism. The plays of

these writers reflect a dissatisfaction over the social situation and express rage

against social injustice. However there are differences also among these

playwrights in their attitudes towards racial problems. But at the same time

they have created a stir for greater than the usual excitement about talented

black playwrights because they and their characters spoke in a tone that

reflected the new militancy in the African-American circles.


Adventure and Choice

The struggle for identity is a major issue in the modern century. Identity

of a person is never stable. It always undergoes changes. Lack of self

knowledge and a sense of non identity fill a person with self hate. A person

with a satisfactory self will not try to escape from the real life experience.

Both Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry were actually aware of the

conditions of the blackman in America. When a Negro begins to believe in the

white myth of the black man, self hatred, hostility, and alienation result and

these drive him to take revenge on himself and the world at large Baldwin and

Hansberry tried to break the racial barriers between blacks and whites and tried

to create self awareness among blacks by presenting their experiences and

observations through their books. Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin

belong to two different periods. There are a number of similarities and glaring

differences between Baldwin and Hansberry. Their backgrounds, the influences

on them, the type of social life they embraced, their political ideologies and

their approach to writing are highly dissimilar. At the same time through their

plays they also reveal a shared vision. Blacks must struggle together to secure

political, social and economic gains. There is a conscious effort on the part of

these dramatists to improve the conditions of blacks in America. They have

very definite and similar views about racism, poverty, education, politics and

sexism.
The worlds that James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry have created in

their plays are very much a product of the worlds out of which they themselves

have come. What they have presented in their plays is an extension of the view

points or perspectives which are distinctively and inextricably black. Their own

personal struggles are mirrored in their plays. Their plays are concerned with

the aspirations and frustrations of blacks and the characters in their dramas play

some what parallel roles within the family and the larger society. Both these

authors raise questions about African heritage, education, housing and marital

relationships. These similarities suggest some congruence in atleast the

dramatic image of the black family in America. Their plays reveal the potency

of American dream for black families while simultaneously showing that the

dream evokes frustration and confusion for many black people. In their plays

there are black characters who demand chances for comfort and prosperity as

anyone else in the United States. Their characters hope that good, honest labour

will bear security as its fruit. Another similar aspect in the plays of these

dramatists is that the values and life styles their characters embrace or aspire

are distinctly middle class and racial barriers put them in financial and

occupational limits. This situation prevents upward mobility and tend to push

them increasingly into the lower class.

Both James Baldwin’s and Lorraine Hansberry’s attitudes towards

American race problem can be analysed in relation to their childhood, early

education, religion and bitter personal experiences during their life time. No

incident, no passion in Baldwin’s life is wasted. Everything is salvaged into


the fabric of a novel, a play, a short story or an essay. He translated the mass

agony of the black Americans into an individual experience, his experience.

Baldwin is a self made man in the most comprehensive sense of the phrase. He

was the grandson of a slave and the stepson of a Southern Harlem Preacher. He

was deeply affected by his father’s bitterness. When James Baldwin was a High

school student in Harlem he had a brief conversation with his father that he

later recalled as “the one time in all our life together we had really spoken to

each other” [Standley, Critical Essays 241]. He was utterly contemptuous of his

father’s world view. His relationship to his father had turned out to be a love –

hate relationship. He lacked a right father figure. The rebellious adolescent,

troubled son in Baldwin was due to the ugliness, poverty and miserable

material surroundings of his father’s house. Baldwin loved his mother. But he

was sad when his mother who loved him deeply had to share her time, for him

with other children. It is the lack of love and communication with his parents

that drove Baldwin to search it in others in order to prove to himself that he was

wanted by somebody. His homosexual relations shows a negative identity. To

this phenomenon Erikson gives the following explanation, “…before genital

maturity is reached, much of sexual life is of the self seeking, identity – hungry

kind, each partner is really trying only to reach himself” [Erikson, Identity

137]. So Baldwin’s experience is of course specific, but it is hardly unique.

Lorraine Hansberry was different. She was an outsider. She was a

member of the upper middle class family. Her parents gave her a white fur coat

even in the middle of the Depression. Except for a period in New York she
lived in priviledged. Circumstances all her life. She was a member of a proud,

ancient race. The Hansberry’s were wealthy, benevolent and kind. She had

inherited the natural drive and talent of her remarkable family. She gained

confidence and renewed zest for life from her father Carl Hansberry. He was

rightfully a proud man with an educated soul. He was a gifted personality. Her

mother was a former teacher. Influenced by her mother Lorraine took special

interest in her community. Her sister Mamie Hansberry was an ideal sister to

her. She sought to collect one among the serious problems of her generation,

the lack of commitment because of the committed life led by her sister.

Lorraine Hansberry remained an outsider in the white upper middle class

because of her blackness, she was an outsider in the black community because

of her affluence and education.

The sense of insecurity and the lack of love from family were the reason

for Baldwin’s ambivalence that filled his life by his double role as a black man.

The two selves operating within Baldwin generated in him, in early life, self

hatred, an admiration for whiteness and severe hatred for the white people. But

on the other hand Hansberry had the good fortune to enjoy an unusually

privileged childhood. She was not the product of a broken family as is usual

with Negro families and it had strong financial background. She speaks of her

childhood days with great concern and love. A person’s identity formation and

development begins with his relation with family. Hansberry’s family helped in

the development of positive identity elements in her. Usually Negro mothers

not fathers took greater care of their children. It was from her mother
Hansberry learnt to look beyond class distinctions. Hansberry defines the

influence of her parents and race in the following way,

My parents taught me among other “Vague absolutes” that

they were the products of the proudest and mistreated of the

races of men. Above all there were two things which were

never to be betrayed …. the family and the race….

[Hansberry, To Be Young 48]

Lorraine Hansberry grew with a strong sense of self and African-

American identity because of her blessed childhood days and support from the

family. Baldwin’s was a life of non-identity in childhood because of the

miserable family background usually seen in a Negro family.

Both Baldwin and Hansberry had an encouraging school atmosphere.

Baldwin’s teachers inspired him to achieve perfection. He was encouraged and

appreciated by his teachers for his intelligence. His school Principal and his

white teacher Orrin Miller who displayed no trace of racial prejudice became

his role models. From a very young age itself Hansberry displayed her talents

for writing. Both Baldwin and Hansberry were willing to be instructed, guided

and to be corrected. They were good observers, listeners and learners. Their

talents were appreciated and valued by their teachers and classmates. But it was

with great difficulty that Baldwin completed his school, but Hansberry was

blessed with facilities for higher education. She gained confidence through her

studies. She had a very good library at home and her parents provided her with

all facilities. In Baldwin’s case, he had to devote the very little time he got free
from house hold duties, for his reading and writing, unnoticed by his stepfather.

Negro society around him could not approve such intellectual pursuits on the

part of a Negro boy, because they believed that such things were harmful for

their community.

Baldwin and Hansberry were influenced by many other writers. Both of

them were influenced by Richard Wright Dr.W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick

Douglass and Langston Hughes. They were indebted to many other American

and European writers. Henry James had a powerful influence upon James

Baldwin not only on his personal life, but also in his literary career. In his art

and in his life he followed Henry Jame’s theories and his specific themes. After

an interview with James Baldwin, David Adams Leeming has stated how

deeply Baldwin valued his connection with Henry James.

In everything that he said in those conversations and those

lectures between, it was clear that his relationship with James

was of a very special sort, perhaps of the sort that existed

between James and Balzac. James was his standard – the writer

he thought of when he thought of the heights to which the

novelist’s art might aspire. [The Black Scholar Interveiw 40]

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, William Leo Hansberry, Frederick

Douglass were some of the eminent personalities who influenced Hansberry. It

was from W.E.B. Du Bois she gained an admiration for the black intellectual,

Socialism and black leadership. It was from Frederick Douglass Hansberry


learned about slavery and its psychology. Probably the single most important

artistic influence on Hansberry was Langston Hughes.

Religion played a dominant role in the lives of James Baldwin and

Hansberry. For Baldwin religion was basic to his writing. The bitter experience

of fear and anguish he experienced during his early life, especially from his

stepfather who frightened him so much that no man had ever frightened him

since, made him move to the church as a refuge and escape. Baldwin says:

The summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown

up, and which were now a part of me and controlled my vision of

the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me, and

drove me into the church. [The Fire 38]

Baldwin’s escape into church was because of socio historical reasons

and he left the church at the age of nineteen. So his search for identity through

religion was only tentative. But in the case of Hansberry religion constituted

the historical, social, emotional and spiritual centre of black life. She found

meaning and commitment within the organized religion.

Baldwin’s attitude towards his African ancestry is ambiguous and is

directly connected with his views on sin. Africa embodies for him the “dark”

mysterious, and the “sinful” past of the blacks. His early position is

characterized by self-hate. He despised blacks and believed that the blacks

were a race without culture, a conviction he abandoned only in later years.

Baldwin’s weakness is primarily due to his incapacity to be single minded. He

wavers, hesitates, and is a “bundle of contradictions”. As a Black writer


Baldwin “has always been drawn in two apparently mutually incompatible

directions” (Bigsby’ “The Divided Mind” 95). Baldwin’s works contain the

most grueling agonizing, total hatred of the blacks, particularly of himself, the

most shameful, fanatical, fawning, sycophantic love of the whites that one can

find in the writings of any black American writer. Baldwin ‘the man’ is not

fully released from his ‘self destroying limbo’ of experiences which paves the

way for the emergence of Baldwin the artist. He is completely lost when asked

to look backward to his origins in Africa. Here is a conversation he had with a

black Jamaican.

[He] asked me where I was from and I said I was born in

Newyork. He said, “yes”, but where are you from? I did not

know what he meant, “where did you come from before that”? he

explained. I said “my mother was born in Maryland… [and] may

father was born in New Orleans”. He said “yes, but where are

you from? Then I began to get it, very dimly because now I was

lost. And he of the American Negro comes out of these extreme

situation…” [qtd. Standley, Critical Essays 58].

Baldwin’s realization of these self destructive hatred, in later life, encouraged

him to convert that rage into art, though he miserably failed to achieve it on

many occasions.

Hansberry had a strong sense of African American identity. When her

parents sent her to school in a white ermine coat her white classmates

welcomed her with fists, curses and inkwells. Hansberry understood their
hostility towards her, but she respected their courage and their fight, and soon

made close friendship with the very children who had destroyed her coat. She

appreciated the many links between Africans and African Americans.

Hansberry was fascinated by and delighted in and could indeed be said to have

glorified black culture and the black experience. She refused to make

distinctions between people on the basis of colour, but did make distinctions

on the basis of attitudes about colour. The influence of DuBios is most evident

in her in the concepts of double and merged consciousness. DuBois wrote that

consciousness of imprisoned people might take three forms, a state rebellion

and revenge, a state of double consciousness, in which one tries to adopt the

consciousness of ruling people and merged consciousness, in which one

successfully mixes one’s cultural history and one’s present situation to achieve

self realization. [Du Bois, Souls 1-2]. Double consciousness is a result of

trying to recontextualize oneself, to lose one’s own history which is impossible,

and to adopt, some one else’s history and culture without any opportunity for

complete entry and privilege in that culture; Merged consciousness allows the

person to reach a new equilibrium, bringing the past into one’s journey through

the present. It is described by DuBios as a tool for an imprisoned people.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,

thing longing…. To merge his double self into a better and truer

self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be

lost. He would not Africanize America …. He would not bleach

his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism…. He simply


wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an

American. [Souls, DuBois 2]

So Hansberry had a firm belief in the power of her racial past. She tried to

create her personal identity and discover her true self by respecting her culture

and her people’s past.

Baldwin’s power as a writer lies in his ability to weave the deeply

autobiographical with political and social. For him the personal is never just

personal, and political never just political. When Baldwin speaks of beauty, a

particular undertone of yearning reminds us of the ugly child in Harlem ghetto.

His encounters with Negro churches or Black Muslims are the aspects of his

lost self, the child who wandered in Harlem, whose little boy he was. His

weakness centers around his difficulty in seeing his characters plainly but

through the distorted lenses of his self pity and self love. Hansberry is totally

different from Baldwin in this aspect. No direct autobiographical similarity can

be found in Hansberry’s works.

As a writer Baldwin often assumes the role of a prophet, priest and a

revelator. He often uses terms like redemption, damnation, sinner, soul,

redeemed etc. His experience as a Baptist minister in a storefront church is

often reflected in his works. Assumption of the priestly role is always preceded

by an extraordinary experience of suffering, often symbolized in Baldwin’s

work by the death of a child. Thus in The Amen Corner Sister Margaret

becomes a storefront church evangelist after giving birth to a dead child. In

Baldwin’s moving story, Sonny’s Blues the Jazzman is portrayed as a priest. In


Baldwins novel Giovanni’s Room the hero is a true priest. For a priest is

nothing but a journeyman in suffering. This is a crucial distinction for all of

Baldwin’s work, ie, the clergy who are intimate with pain. But Hansberry never

attempts to preach or teach through her writings.

Baldwin and Hansberry admired Martin Luther King. Baldwin loved

him deeply and respected his non violent resistance. But Hansberry sometimes

advocated revolutionary tactics. “Negroes must concern themselves with every

single means of struggle; legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non violent

… They must… sit in, lie down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps and

shoot from their windows when racists come through their communities”

[Hansberry, To Be Young 22]. Basically, however, she remained an

“intellectual revolutionary” as in Les Blancs.

In Baldwin’s and Lorraine Hansberry’s works the white liberals are the

special targets for criticism. In Blue for Mister Charlie Baldwin was dealing

with the raw, brute, objective facts of the white man’s barbarity towards black

people in America. Parnell James in Blues is the editor of a liberal local paper.

He is portrayed as a barbarious, unmitigated bigot. At one time in the play,

Parnell James confesses his deep sexual involvement with a Negro woman. To

talk about the whiteman’s sexual fears and guilt is to strike him in the most

vulnerable corner’s of his ego. And he loses all rationality, all objectivity.

Baldwin hits white America between the eyes and doesn’t apologize for doing

so Baldwin presents white man’s fears, anxieties, but along with that he stresses

white man’s guilt feelings. By doing so Baldwin, as a Negro writer,


expresses the anger of American Negroes against the whites. In scene iii of Act

II of the play A Raisin in the Sun Hansberry introduces the play’s only white

character Karl Linder. It is set up with humour and deliberately ironic

juxtapositions. Only a moment before the door bell rings, Walter is imitating

Beneatha, suggesting that at some future time she will be learning over a

patient on the operating table, asking, “By the way, what are your views on

Civil Rights down there”? [Raisin 93]. They laugh and we laugh as Beneatha

goes to the door to allow the surprising entrance of a middle-aged white man in

business attire. The white man introduces himself as Karl Linder, chairman of a

“sort of welcoming committee” from the neighbourhood into which the

youngsters are about to move. Linder’s verbal and physical awkwardness and

the deliberate vagueness of his language warn the audience from the start that

this man’s intentions are suspect. Linder has come to the youngers to buy their

new house from them at a profit for the family inorder to keep black people out

of the neighbourhood. Hansberry makes Linder’s presentation of his mission

dramatically ironic because the younger family defeats the “rational” core of

Linder’s argument. His central point is that people are happier when they live

in community in which the residents share a “common background” and from

his viewpoint, “Negroes” and whites obviously do not have that common

background. But just before he articulates this conclusion, Hansberry has

Linder describe his community in a way for the audience should clearly appear

as a striking parallel to what it knows of the behaviour and desires of the

Youngers. “They’re not rich and fancy people, just hardworking, honest people
who don’t really have much but those little homes and a dream of the kind of

community they want to raise their children in”. [Raisin 97]. One might laugh

at how well Linder disapproved his own point about “difference in

background” were it not for the fact his bigoty will harm others, will create

pain and difficulty for people like Youngers. Youngers firmly evict the man

from the house. Even if the White spectator had privately shared Linder’s

rationalized prejudices, Linder’s dishonesty should provoke disgust at his

behaviour and applause for Walter Lee’s unhesitant refusal. Here black

spectator might feel fear for the Youngers, since black spectators know what

whites have done to the homes of blacks who moved into white

neighbourhoods. Hansberry’s purpose, however, seems less to arouse fear in

black spectators than to provoke a recognition in white spectators. The white

audience needs to see Linder to know he is despicable, the black audience may

have assumed that possibility.

Stereotypes of blacks abound in American literature. Even Faulkners’

magnificent Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury is too selfless, too controlled to

be fully believable. Americans have fantasized about black people “this image

of the unharried, unconcerned, glandulatory, simple, rhythmical, amoral, dark

creature who was, above all, a miracle of sexuality” [To Be Young Gifted and

Black 209] White readers find stereotyped blacks a “pressure valve for fanciful

longings” [To Be Young, Gifted 209] and a repository for their repressions and

suppressions. Moreover black women have usually been considered either

strong, heroic, hardworking or sensual, lazy and promiscuous. Never are they
merely human. Black men are “shiftless”, “prize bucks” or “upstarts”. Baldwin

and Hansberry succeeded in erasing these pale imitations from the stage and

replace them with living human beings.

Another significant factor in Baldwin and Hansberry is the universality

of the black experience and universality of art. Their universalism grow out of a

deep, complex encounter with the specific terms of human experience as it

occurs for blacks, whites and many other groups of people. They believed that

a look into oneself would reveal his relationship to other human beings of the

world. Thus Baldwin uses the black man to show the white man what he

himself is and there by “his artistic achievement mesh with his historical

circumstances” in genuinely visible revolution [Standley 9]. It was as a result

of the discovery of his blackness, that Baldwin could get over from the state of

a fear ridden, hungry black boy full of hatred to the world, to the level of a

great writer and a spiritual reformer for the people of his country. In moulding

believable characters Hansberry believed that the writer should begin with

precise details. In an interview she said “In order to create the universal, you

must pay great attention to the specific. Universality, I think emerges from

truthful identity of what is” (128). In a Raisin in the Sun, she told people “that

not only is this a Negro family… but it’s not even a New York or a Southern

Negro family. It is specially South side Chicago” [To Be Young, Gifted 128].

Hansberry and Baldwin emphasized the significance of a person’s past and

culture in the development of his self and identity. They asserted that the search

for creating a free self in the case of a blackman should begin with the assertion
of his black identity. So they recommend to their country men a turn to their

own selves which would gradually drive home to them the universality of

human experience.

Baldwin dismissed capitalism and Communism as a means of saving the

country. He did not appreciate Black Nationalism as they demanded a complete

separation from the main current of American life. But Hansberry was

generally Marxist in her view on life and art. Hansberry’s view of the nature of

the hero Sidney Brustein is a prime example. She did not make all her heroic

protagonist peasants or revolutionary ideologues, she did make them ahead of

their time accelerating the movement of history once they attain a certain level

of understanding and capacity for action. Her fellow artist, Lonne Elder,

commented “Lorraine has discovered, as we all have at one time or another,

that honest involvement with the Marxist-Leninist experience is awesome and

unforgettable”. [Elder Lonnie, Freedom Ways, 213-18]. Her world view

combined a commitment to black liberation with an equally fierce commitment

to demise of capitalism. It is better to say she was a black nationalist with a

socialist perspective. She believed that the road to socialism is through national

liberation, just as the literary road to universality is through local identity.

Baldwin in later life displayed a tendency to advocate the policies adopted by

Black Nationalists especially Black Muslims.

Baldwin believed that a black man’s identity can be shaped only in

America. He disowned his relationship to Africa. He traced his roots to the

American South where his parents were born. But Hansberry respected her
African past. She glorified African culture, life style and black experience. But

she never hesitated to oppose anyone of any colour who supported racism or to

join forces with anyone who actively opposed it. She also regarded herself

unequivocally and inextricably as a black, an American and a world

playwright. The awareness of self made her realize the limitations of blacks.

She believed in the power of Negro people. Black man can gain a better self by

respecting his African culture, colour and values. Instead of surrendering and

suffering they should develop confidence, they should understand their

potentials.

Both Baldwin and Hansberry recommended love as the cure for the

moral blindness and lack of identity of his country men. Baldwin believed in

‘love’ and equated it with “grace” as both means and ends of greater human

understanding- Baldwin reveals the elevating power of love. The object of his

quest, the love in which he continues to believe, is an active, positive force with

the potential to effect a transformation in the lives of man. It is “something

more like fire, like the wind, something which can change you. I mean energy. I

mean a passionate belief, a passionate knowledge of what a human being can

do, and become, what a human being can do to change the world in which he

finds himself” [qtd in Louis Pratt, James Baldwin 21]. The implications of love

are vast. Loving means removing the mask, exposing one’s psyche to the stark,

cold reality which has long been buried in the vault of one’s subconscious. One

can never attain selfhood in isolation from humanity, one must be willing to

pay the price, unmask one’s illusions and


inhibitions, and face the terrors of these revelations Baldwin’s characters find

their real self by mingling with others and by giving due recognition to the

individuality of others. For Hansberry men and women attain their potential by

consciously asserting their will in the world around them. When the Younger’s

family in the play A Raisin began to make allowances to each other, understand

each other, they were able to recognize the hypocrisy of the whites. They join

together with dedication and love to fight against hypocrisy. Instead of

shrinking inside they exhibit themselves against vice. It is clear that

Hansberry’s focus is not on a single family, but on the whole of the black race.

Baldwin and Hansberry were at opposite extremes in many things, the

operative forces that spurred them were the same. They worked against the

moral sickness of their countrymen. They saw search for identity as a typical

American problem. Unware of their origin, their identity blacks have fabricated

an image of themselves, and they have tried desperately to fashion their life in

accordance with that image. They think that it is important to be white and

think it is a shame to be black. They are unable to repress their inner anxiety

resulting from the compulsive urge to discover their identity. Hansberry also

believed that the nature of the American society is the main factor that

prevented blacks from knowing who they are. American society pushes the

blacks into a state of dependency. Blacks are forced to accept poverty,

ignorance and a second class citizenship. In fact the blacks were degraded,

dehumanized and finally victimized and destroyed by white colonists before

emancipation and by new authorities after emancipation. He is forced to learn


western culture. He lacks identity American society, has granted very little

opportunity to blacks to develop and grow. So both Baldwin and Hansberry

urged the whites to see the reality of black life and recognize the self and

humanity of black man.

Hansberry and Baldwin were fully aware of the responsibility of Negro

writers to their own people and to their country men. In the words of Steven R.

Carter “Hansberry saw uncommon possibilities in the common tongue and

pushed her writing simultaneously toward a heightened sense of reality and its

transcedence in the direction of the ideal” [Carter 38]. She wanted the whites to

reconsider the standards used to judge and dismiss the black Community. She is

not for a race but for humanity as a whole. Her hatred is not towards men but

the injustice inflected by some on many. She believed that the function of the

artist was to effect a change towards a human ideal by the presentation of

reality. To Hansberry, the artist had not only a clear responsibility to present

truth but even clearer commitment to create and maintain hope for the

honourable future, a time free of the exploitative relationship which presently

disables so many human beings. As a black writer Baldwin believed that “the

public life and the private life are an invisible whole” and artist must present

the existential knowledge of experience to man by means of a personal

perspective. [Fred L Standley 15]. Baldwin wanted the writer to bear witness to

life and its possibilities and free men of their illusions.

Like other black male writers Baldwin also dealt with the black male

experience in America pointing only sketchy or uninteresting portraits of black


women. Baldwin’s women appear conceptually limited figures as measured by

the standards drawn by the fundamentalist church, as such they view

themselves as wives, mothers, sisters and lovers. No woman character is

ultimately so acceptable to Baldwin that she is to be viewed as equal to the

male characters. Baldwin’s women are placed “in a supportive serving position

in relation to the males and male images in their lives” [Standley 28]. In

Hansberrys plays black women remain integral to theme of each work. She

portrayed black women in real terms not as perverted character of some one’s

nightmare. To Hansberry woman is in possession of full human nature and

perfectly equal with man in moral values and status. She explodes the wrong

image of woman, projected by the male writers. Incidentally the theatre has

been to Lorraine Hansberry a sort of stimultant to saturate certain highly and

rare reaction and natural responses to racial issue between the black and white,

to fulfill the urge to write and defend the female cause. Hansberry is aware that

traditional definitions of woman are incomplete and woman suffer because of

such a wrong image. Lorraine Hansberry remains a staunch feminist advocate.

She is not a defender of persecuted women. She does not view the suffering

women from the narrow view of a black woman witnessing the angst and

misery of women. On the other hand it is as a human being she studies woman

suffering and by extension human suffering.

Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun easily fits Hansberry’s description

of a strong woman who is the back bone of her people. She is very anxious to

pass on to her children and grand children the values she has held in common
with her husband. She is strong in the belief of her God and she loves her

family, she teaches them self respect, pride and human dignity. Sister Margaret

in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, on the other hand, struggles to protect

her son, from destruction which she believes awaits anyone foolish enough to

emulate her husband. Lena Younger feels that she must recreate the father for

her children. Margaret is dedicated to expelling any memory of her husband

from her son’s mind, failing to do this, she is determined at least to debase that

memory. Lena draws strength from religion and her conduct affirms the worth

of a life of love and consideration for others. This is in direct contrast to

Margaret who corrupts religion and creates a church which is removed from the

reality of life – a place in which one can hide from commitment to the struggle

which full living entails. While Lena remembers life with her husband as a

rewarding struggle by two people sustained by love and trust, Margaret looks

back in guilt at her early experiences with her husband. She sees her youthful

love and sexual desire for him as the result of evil, destructive forces in the

world. Lena remembers a life of sharing, Margaret remembers being forced to

struggle alone. Hansberry’s father is an absent member, a memory kept alive by

his wife. Baldwin appears to challenge the distortions of memory which

threaten the lives of his wife and son. Unlike Lena, Margaret fears living freely,

and is also tragically incapable of risking love. For her, both roads are lined

with snares and she has determined not to risk but rather to retreat in the face of

obstacles. So Hansberry’s women possess great moral strength. Beneatha and

Ruth are other examples. They often look to the future with optimism. In all of
her writings, Hansberry speaks strongly and persuasively about the role of

black women. Woman, like man, is a gift of world” [qtd in Margaret Wilkerson

244]. Baldwin’s females characters, though good and beautiful never possess

the courage and strength similar to that of Hansberry’s characters. Hansberry

presents female characters as the embodiment of all energy and creation. In a

radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1959, Hansberry observed “that obviously

the most oppressed group of any oppressed group will be its women and that

when they are twice oppressed” they often become “twice militant”. [qtd in

Carter 160] Actually, of course, Hansberry’s whole way of life was a

repudiation of the limitations that society has tried to place on women. Instead

of seeking fulfillment in the traditional, limiting roles of homemaker, mother,

pillar of the church, and sexual toy, she sought it in areas in which men did – in

artistic creation, in intellectual speculation, in political struggle, in public

speaking and in the pursuit of about all aspects of life. She peopled her dramas,

with many powerful female characters whose strength was like that of their

creator.

Lorraine Hansberry’s male characters are multidimensional figures who

are admirable in many respects, who struggle valiantly against a variety of

personal and social pressures. Consider Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the

Sun. His maturing into manhood includes not only a gathering of his own

strength to fight racist system but also a recognition of the strengths and talents

of women. Sidney Brustein in The Sign in Sidney Burstein’s Window is an

extraordinarily sensitive Jewish liberal who cares deeply about the sufferings of
others, who strongly opposes all forms of social and political oppression, and

who displays concern to the point of meddling daily in the lives of those around

him. His sister’s suicide is crucial to Sidney’s development since it leads him to

see how his male – supremacist fantasizing has harmed his wife. Sidney is

reflective enough to understand what has been done to Gloria and the reason

that she killed herself, and he realizes that he, like Alton and Gloria’s clients,

has caused immeasurable damage by upholding a false concept of women. He

also realizes that he must free himself from all such concepts and see his wife

as the individual she is, if their marriage is to be preserved. At the same time,

he decides that he must take a stand against the drug pushing that helped to

destroy the seventeen year old boy and Gloria, and he finds that his wife wishes

to be an ally in this struggle. The full complexity of Hansberry’s view of men is

revealed in her portrayal of Alton Scales. Like Walter Lee, Asagai and Sidney,

Alton is a character with many admirable and sympathetic traits. Rev. Neilsen

in Les Blancs is modelled on Albert Schweitzer. He possess all of Schweitzer’s

wonderful accomplishments and qualities. Perhaps the definite choice

concerning women is made by Tshembe Matoseh in Le Blancs. Through these

and through other equally complex and credible male characters, Hansberry

makes a more moving and more disturbing case against man’s oppression of

woman than if she had created male villains with no redeeming traits. She

shows all too clearly and painfully the manifold ways in which the doctrine of

male supremacy can damage the characters of even the most sensitive,

intelligent, and heroic females – and males – in our society. Conversely, she
argues that in Sidney Brustein’s words, “people wanna be better than they are”

[The Sign 317]; that men and women can change, become partners in struggle,

and develop a society that nurtures equality. Baldwin’s male characters, always

“seem groping from immense loneliness” [Standley 9] in search of love. They

give too much importance to sex and love. But at the same time they are

straightforward, realistic, aggressive and masculine.

Baldwin’s and Hansberry’s plays evoke sufficient interest from the point

of view of dramatic and literary techniques. The action, characterization,

dialogue and language all contribute to the total meaning of their plays. The

setting of their plays provides proper background to the development of the

action and growth of various characters.

Hansberry’s plays fit within the bounds of a realistic well made play

which contains a coherent plot, elaborate characterization, interesting

complications and climaxes by means of which dramatic interest is consistently

maintained. She observes the unities of action, place and time. Majority of the

characters in her plays are round characters. Hansberry’s greatness rests on

putting the apt words in the mouth of her right characters. She is adept in

handling the speech patterns of her more educated black characters. She

considers African – American music as a central part of African – American

culture. Hansberry’s treatment of spirituals, jazz, blues and other aspects of

African culture proves this point. As the embodiment of courage and strength

spirituals play a prominent role in the life of her characters Group ties and a

sense of group belongingness become a special feature of Hansberry’s,


characters. Family occupies a supreme position in her plays. Influence of

family upon Hansberry is clearly evident in many parts of her plays.

Family and church play a significant role in Baldwin’s plays. His

inability to capture the dramatic form is evident in his plays. The plays have no

direct plot. Blues of Mr. Charlie is made even complicated by a number of

fluctuations. There are fluctuations in at least three major aspects of the

production, time, locale and acting style. The crude monologues of the third act

of Blues of Mr. Charlie, highlight, however, the difficulty of the novelist turned

playwright. He denied opportunities of character development. A kind of

‘freezing’ of action can be noticed during the time in which the character’s

inner struggle is fully brought out. But at the same time his characters have the

same kind of depth and complexity with which the characters in his novels are

endowned. A sense of group belongingness is absent among his characters. But

they are aware of their problems in the society and appear with a will to survive

that gives them their particular identity. The prose style of the play is elegant,

has it own rhythm and is also precise. Baldwin used as many simple words as

possible so that none faces any difficulty in understanding them.

Characterization especially of Sister Margaret, Luke and David in The Amen

Corner is very realistic, for it throws light on the socio historical factors

incapacitating black man, black youth and black women. Like Hansberry

Baldwin also gives much importance to black music. Music is the medium

through which Baldwin achieves enough understanding and strength to deal

with the past and present. Baldwin and Hansberry appear similar in the
treatment of blues, spirituals, jazz and many other aspects of African culture.

One difficulty that Baldwin cannot abandon with, is rhetoric style, an

astonishing flow of high eloquence.

Hansberry and Baldwin succeeded in establishing the Negro experience

as of immediate relevance to a society concerned with the problem of identity

or alienation. Their art would supply the black pride which would free the

blacks from the psychological enslavement they have edured for more than two

centuries in an essentially racist white society. They showed that black

community was in urgent need of justice and brotherhood. Both James Baldwin

and Lorraine Hansberry achieved authentic dramatizations of the black identity

and experience and their goal was the elimination of racism in America.
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