Abstract

abstract:

Lorraine Hansberry was placed under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation prior to A Raisin in the Sun’s Broadway debut in 1959. Totalling over a thousand pages of memos, reports, and letters of investigative analysis, Hansberry’s FBI file reveals that the bureau tracked her play for Communist sympathies but also, and more surprisingly, collected interviews in which she insisted that her occupation was not playwright but housewife. This essay returns to A Raisin in the Sun, which has often been seen to uphold conservative gender ideologies of the Cold War era, to explore how Hansberry depicted radical counter-surveillance against the state through housewife characters. While historians have discussed how Black domestic workers employed in white homes became politically involved, little has been done to document how Black women countered surveillance to protect their families in their own homes. Drawing from evidence found in Hansberry’s archive at the Schomburg Center, this article contextualizes A Raisin in the Sun among her unpublished writings and the play’s manuscript drafts to argue that Hansberry deliberately subverted discourses that viewed surveillance as a practice primarily affecting individuals and families within isolated domestic environments. I show that Hansberry turned to drama to portray surveillance as a communal experience, thereby shifting narratives of surveillance from those found within earlier twentieth-century fiction depicting lone male protagonists on the run from state oversight to a dramatic oral mode that insists on communal experience through direct communication between performers and audience.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 435-454
Launched on MUSE
2020-12-23
Open Access
No
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