An Investigation of Henry Louis Gates’ Notions of “Signifying” and “Double-voicedness” in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Faculty Member of Kharazmi University

2 Kharazmi University

3 Allameh Tabatabaei University

4 kish International Campus, University of Tehran


The African American female playwright Lorraine Hansberry in her great plays not only exposes the various brutal shapes that the powerful mask of colonialism takes, but also emphasizes the celebration of African American culture, custom, literature, experience, and achievements.  Hansberry’s second play, Les Blancs, can be considered the first brilliant work written by an African American dramatist focusing on Africa and deliberately and intentionally posing questions in the context of African Americans liberation debate. Hansberry  wrote Les Blancs as a reply to The Blacks written by Jean Genet, in which the French dramatist staged an awful portrayal of African Americans. Indeed, he presented them as the protagonists of whites[S1] . Lorraine Hansberry in all her plays, including Les Blanc, objects to the omission and disregard of the African culture, people, literature, history and custom in maintaining the Western European American hegemony.  She also denounces the stereotypical representation and depiction of African Americans. Henry Louis Gates is the most influential contemporary scholar in African American Studies. He believes in “double- voicedness”, speaking the language of the dominant culture and the language of the subordinated culture simultaneously, and asserts “Signifyin(g)” as its epitome .  Gates has adopted Saussure’s theories on signification and redefined the word and the concept. According to Henry Louis Gates, “Signifyin(g)” in African American context is a linguistic wordplay, or a deferral of meaning. It can even be considered as a self-conscious manipulation of meanings that highlights the playfulness of the mechanisms of language and meaning making. Gates believes that the African American concept of “Signifyin(g)” is completely different from its Saussurean meaning in Standard English. He states that by “Signifyin(g)” the differentiation between the “signification” of Standard English language and that of the African American vernacular meaning of the words are made and mentioned. Henry Louis Gates says that the Standard meaning functions according to the Saussurean law of meaning making, in which signifiers acquire meaning by differing from other existing signifiers. But the vernacular meaning is made in a very different manner. This paper intends to apply Henry Louis Gates’ notions of “Double- voicedness” and “Signifyin(g)” on Lorraine Hansberry Les Blancs in order to describe how this technique has made Hansberry’s works rich, prominent, and comprehensive as a significant contribution to the African American literature. The current article first, introduces and describes notions of “double- voicedness” and “Signifyin(g), second, discovers some epitomes and examples of them in the mentioned play, and, third, discusses how these two notions have made Hansberry’s work African.  This study concludes that Lorraine Hansberry’s drama attains its uniqueness from these African American voices and cultures.
Key words: Signification, Double-voicedness, Lorraine Hansberry, Henry Louis Gates


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