Signifying In African-American Literature

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From jazz and rap, to literature and poetry, African-American art includes a rich history of signifying. As defined by Henry Louis Gates, signifying occurred when “… black writers read, repeated, imitated, and revised each other’s texts to a remarkable extent.” (Gates & Mitchell) Concepts presented in one text tend to appear in later ones—authors borrowed, changed, and implemented in their own works ideas or devices they liked in others’ works. Signifying is so common that even a small sample of African-American literature reveals deep connections between the works. While some are overt, others require more analysis to reveal; great examples lie in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, published in 1959, and August Wilson’s Fences, first…show more content…
Walter and Troy are presented in similar circumstance: their dreams have been deferred, and they have been forced to settle for less, and as a result are hopelessly restless and unfulfilled. This is first presented in their occupations. Troy is a garbageman, and on the bottom-tier as well. He laments, “Why? Why you got the white mens driving and the colored lifting?” (Wilson) rHe is not allowed to drive the truck, as that job is reserved for the white man. Walter also is a chauffeur for a rich white man, a fact he laments throughout Fences. Both men, like so many other black men in their time, have no formal education and are relegated to serving the white man, even a century after overt slavery ended. For them, their lives are not fully in their control. In both plays, they find they can only ever improve their circumstances through hardship: in Fences, Troy was able to purchase a home because of his brother’s injury and permanent disability from the war. In A Raisin in the Sun, the family is only able to move into a better home because of Big Walter’s death. The message is clear: black people are not allowed to succeed on their own merits, and advancing their situations comes at the cost of blood. Walter, powerless, says, “I’m thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room—and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live.”
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