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Prefiguring the Environmental Justice Movement: the Ecodramaturgy of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

Author: Theresa J. May (University of Oregon)

  • Prefiguring the Environmental Justice Movement: the  Ecodramaturgy of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

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    Prefiguring the Environmental Justice Movement: the Ecodramaturgy of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

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Abstract

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1958) exposed environmental racism and prefigured the tenants of environmental justice by depicting the impacts of poverty and environmental degradation on communities of color. Thirty years before the rise of the current environmental justice movement, Hansberry’s play details the intersectional aims of environmental justice by centering women's experience, by making connections between the health and well-being of women and children, and the larger environment. In this way, an ecodramaturical lens illuminates the power and potential of theatre to inspire civic action. Hansberry’s play stands as a keystone in the rhetorical architecture of the environmental justice movement, which insists that environmental policy must include consideration of where people live, work, play, and worship. As a historiographic lens, ecodramaturgy can (re)illuminate canonical plays to show their ecological through-lines. Examining the representation of life experience, asking questions about the welfare of bodies, families, and communities affected by racism and economic injustice, ecodramaturgy illuminates canonical plays in new ways, revealing how ideologies of domination and white supremacy that have caused both social and ecological havoc across the land. Rob Nixon (2013) identifies the environmental degradation resulting from longstanding patterns of U.S. imperialism as “slow violence” perpetrated on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. As the environmental justice movement would argue some 30 years later, Hansberry’s play makes clear that environmental health and social justice are inextricably linked, and that ecological concerns must be understood as intertwined with economic justice as well as gender and racial equity. Below, I examine the way environmental and social justice concerns came together in this hallmark play, revealing a (then) radical ecological viewpoint that the environment is coupled with human health and welfare. I contend that the white supremacy that the Youngers face when they plan to move to a new home not only constitutes systemic environmental racism but reflects and arises out of the historic abuse of land and bodies on which the U.S.extractive economies depend. My analysis traces the subtle ways those legacies infect and damage the day-to-day lives of those who carry the disproportional burdens of that historic abuse. I foreground clues to the ecologies represented on stage, including human bodies and habitat, in order to examine the environmental implications of the Youngers’ struggle and racial and class-based oppression and hierarchies the play represents. Hansberry’s claim to homeplace in the milieu 1950s foreshadows the principles of environmental justice in prescient ways.

Keywords: Lorraine Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun, Ecodramaturgy, Environmental Justice, Environmental racism

How to Cite:

May, T. J., (2024) “Prefiguring the Environmental Justice Movement: the Ecodramaturgy of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun”, the Black Theatre Review 2(2), 1-18. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/tbtr.5976

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Published on
26 Mar 2024
Peer Reviewed