The IUP Journal of English Studies
Lorraine Hansberry's The Drinking Gourd in the Light of Henry Louis Gates' Notion of Signifyin(g)

Article Details
Pub. Date : March, 2019
Product Name : The IUP Journal of English Studies
Product Type : Article
Product Code : IJES41903
Author Name : Fazel Asadi Amjad, Mohsen Hanif, Tahareh Rezaei, and Maryam Jalali Farahani
Availability : YES
Subject/Domain : English Studies
Download Format : PDF Format
No. of Pages : 11

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Abstract

Lorraine Hansberry was the first African American female playwright and writer who had her best-known play A Raisin in the Sun performed on Broadway. Her dramas are often taken to be the best representatives of African American identity. Racism, segregation, and African Americans' difficulties in a capitalistic society are some of the issues which had occupied her mind, career, and plays. Henry Louis Gates is the most contemporary dominant figure in African American Studies. He has taken Saussure's "signification" and redefined the term. He states that "Signifyin(g)" in African American discourse is a linguistic wordplay, a deferral of meaning, a self-conscious manipulation of meanings that underscores the playfulness of language and meaning-making mechanisms. The African American concept of "Signifyin(g)" is totally different from its Saussurean meaning in Standard English. By "Signifyin(g)," the difference between the meanings of "signification" of Standard English language and that of the African American vernacular is emphasized. The Standard English meaning functions according to the Saussurean law of meaning making, whereby the signified differentiate themselves from other existing signifiers. But the vernacular meaning is made quite differently. This paper applies the notion of "Signifyin(g)" to Hansberry's play The Drinking Gourd. The paper first introduces and describes the notion, then discovers some examples of the same in the said play, and finally discusses the connotations of the "Signifyin(g)" parts. Thus, the paper describes how this technique has enriched Hansberry's works.


Introduction

The Drinking Gourd (1960) is Lorraine Hansberry's second play which was never produced. It was written for the National Broadcasting Company, and it commemorated the Centennial of the Civil War. The government considered it too controversial for the American television-viewing public. They gave excellent comments on it. However, they put it aside. Later, it was published posthumously by Robert Nemiroff. The Drinking Gourd is a clear analysis of and a formal statement on American slavery as a self-existing system based on the utilization of cheap labor. More than many other works, this simulative work identifies the slave system as the foundation for the country's economic philosophy and later capitalistic development. The play also highlights the destructive psychological and physical effects of the slave upbringing on both the masters and the slaves. Brown-Guillory (1985) states that The Drinking Gourd is one of the least known plays of Hansberry and believes that the political instance of the play is the reason for the lack of popularity. According to her, the play is both artistic and political, and it also paves the way for other playwrights who consider no dichotomy between art and politics. The reaction to play production and performance revealed the political atmosphere of the time.


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