Monday, December 4th, 2017...9:38 pmNoah Fusco

1923/1959: O’Casey and Hansberry’s Post-Event Plays

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Somewhere around the midcentury, Lorraine Hansberry walked into a performance of Juno and the Paycock, Sean O’Casey’s working class drama, and heard in the language that pain, pain ever, for ever of poverty, of war, of human suffering. Herein she found the bottomless well from which she would derive the waters of her plays.

The careers of Sean O’Casey and Lorraine Hansberry both began with remarkably assured plays: The Shadow of a Gunman and A Raisin in the Sun. Each one was written, staged, and consumed only shortly after the generally accepted end of culture-shaping movements. For O’Casey, he was writing in the wake of the Celtic Literary Revival, W.B. Yeats and J.M. Synge’s hyper-Irish dramas. Lorraine Hansberry debuted with A Raisin in the Sun at a very precarious moment in the history of black cultural history, at the end of the fifties, at the very beginning of a very serious revolutionary foment and yet a solid decade or so after the fade out of the Harlem Renaissance with its burst of black re-assertment. O’Casey and Hansberry are in certain ways both inheritors of their respective cultural traditions, and they represent the twinned likenesses of them. For what Shadow and Raisin remain constantly concerned with, they are outgrowths of the same cultural situation that the Celtic Revival and Harlem Renaissance exist: the question of home, of violence, of revolution, and of nation; and yet, all the same, of art. The latter may no more be divorced from all of the former than Hansberry may be divorced from O’Casey, or either from their cultural precedents.

The Shadow of a Gunman and A Raisin in the Sun through their depiction of destabilized, insufficient domestic arrangements, economic relationships, children, and liminal understanding of race renew the socio-cultural projects that came before in order to examine the economic relationship between nation, oppression, and liberation.

Question: how can we understand how a movement like CR or HR ends? What results in its conclusion? Does it have one?


  • The theoretical questions are definitely very interesting, but I think they imply that a movement exists while it is being created. Movements are often contained to the time periods and literature (and art, music, thought, science, etc.) they are when looking back on them and trying to group ideas and styles. Even in the case of the Harlem Renaissance in which writers referred to it as such, much of the “canon” of the movement excludes works that considered themselves to be part of it or includes works not necessarily in support of it or part of it. However, as far as why later writers did not continue to write like those of the Celtic Revival or Harlem Renaissance did, there is often a counter movement to every idea (for example the Enlightenment/rational thinking era ended and the next movement was a more emotional Romantic era which then ended and became Realist/Naturalist and a little later Modernist). All that being said, movements like the Celtic Revival and Harlem Renaissance can (and did) evolve as time went on, and some of their ideas still affect more recent history in new ways. The Harlem Renaissance gave way to speeches and literature from the Civil Rights era in the United States, whereas “Zombies” by The Cranberries specifically mentions the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. However, these works are more off branches of the movements because of the different times they are coming out of.

  •   Professor Seiler
    December 8th, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Noah–still planning to move to later SOC and LH works, yes?

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