“Raisin In The Sun”
To the editor:
I happened to see Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, and read Gerald Weales’s review of it (June) in the same week. . . . Mr. Weales seems to vacillate between telling us that the play is really good and really not very good. . . . He begins with the question of whether or not the play won the Drama Critics’ Award as the best play of the season because it was about Negroes and written by a Negro. . . . [A] review of the play in another magazine began by stating that if the play had been about whites no one would have gone to see it. There seems to me in these attitudes a kind of “cute liberalism” which is a menace. . . . The reviewers show themselves “brave” enough to expose the inverse-prejudice which they feel made the play for sociological reasons a popular success. . . .
Mr. Weales “documents” the fact that “The publicity for A Raisin in the Sun, the news stories about it, the excitement it stirred up among Negroes . . . all emphasize that it is a play written by a Negro woman about Negroes, a fact whch could hardly have been forgotten when the Critics’ Award was passed out.” But at the end of the piece he says that it is the best play of the year. . . . If it is, why can’t the reviewer concentrate on discussing it as a play, rather than, as he also implies it is, a piece of “propaganda.” . . . I do not believe that so many white persons, myself included, could have been moved by Raisin if it were only a “Negro play.” I think there are such things as “Negro plays” which are well done but are of little interest to white people. Langston Hughes has written them. Miss Hansberry has written an American play. . . .
When he gets to the play itself, Mr. Weales say that it is “old-fashioned” because “practically no serious playwright, in or out of America, works in such a determinedly naturalistic form as Miss Hansberry.” I suggest that the word Mr. Weales should have used is not “old-fashioned” but “un-fashionable.” . . .
Mr. Weales concludes by regretting that he does not expect to find any hope for a vital American theater in the future plays of Miss Hansberry. I will not be so bold as to venture any judgments on the plays that Miss Hansberry has not yet written, but I can gladly say that the one she did write seemed to me (along with William Carlos Williams’s Many Loves, a play of quite different techniques and intentions) among the most vital experiences in the American theater since Death of a Salesman. I do not believe that the vitality of our theater depends on any fashion or any single method of approaching the truth, but rather on the success with which it renders the truth—as both the Williams and the Hansberry plays so movingly revealed. . . .
New York City
To the editor:
I was delighted to see that Mr. Gerald Weales attempted to initiate something of a serious discussion of at least some aspects of my play as a drama. I had begun to feel that attention to . . . the mere fact of its production has tended to diminish that particular need in the eyes of some.
[But I was] astonished to discover that . . . Mr. Weales could identify my play as “naturalism.” The particular tenets of realism, which the play studiously employs, make this remark almost startling; and, to one who considers naturalism a form of near impotency, critically offensive. . . .
[However], much of Mr. Weales’s remarks, negative and affirmative alike, seemed sound indeed to me, and I was particularly struck with his singular insight into the Willy Loman comparison. [Indeed] I plan to publish a short and popular little essay on exactly that matter in the very near future.
New York City
Mr. Weales writes:
Miss Hansberry has history on her side, if not current usage, in her complaint about my description of her play as “naturalistic.” Insofar as naturalism, as Zola used the word, implies determinism, A Raisin in the Sun does not deserve that label. The fine edges that separated naturalism from its parent realism disappeared at the end of the last century, or so it seems to me, when both found themselves beset by a variety of kinds of non-realistic drama. Their differences also disappeared in the face of the kind of determinism which, creeping into the simplest assumption—the woman who once would have said, “he’s a bad boy,” began to say “what can you expect of her son”—came, by implication, to relate to every kind of realism. A Raisin in the Sun is not completely free of psychological and socal determinism in this vague form, and no realistic play of our time can be. Even so, I was using naturalism as it applies to technique (realism) and not to philosophy (determinism), and insofar as my use of the word offended Miss Hansberry or confused anyone else who may have read the article, I apologize. . . . In the main, Miss Hansberry and I are talking about the same play in the same terms if not with the same vocabulary.