Grapes though the Wire

“…thin line ‘tween heaven and here.”

~Bubbles (The Wire, Season 1 Episode 4)

I have a goodie bag full of coping mechanism I employ when I begin to feel overwhelmed. One way I cope with the demands of school is by treating myself upon the completion of major tasks. Most recently, I added the HBO series The Wire to my repertoire. Although I am only six episodes into the series, I must admit that The Wire is by far the best television series I’ve ever viewed. Indeed, I am grateful that the semester is coming to a close—as I may have a new addiction (a five season, 60 episode addiction).

Around the time I began watching The Wire I picked up Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and to my surprise I found a striking number of similarities. In fact, while reading the play I found myself thinking about the series; and when watching the show I tended to reflect on the play.

A Raisin in the Sun (Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier)

A Raisin in the Sun, first produced in 1959, chronicles an African American family’s plight in the Southside of Chicago. The Youngers, a tight-knit family of five, live in a cramped two-bedroom apartment. Within the walls of their home they are confronted with financial limitations, the prevalence of insects, cracked walls, communal bathrooms, and dim lighting; outside of their home they encounter political and economic disenfranchisement. The Wire, which debuted in 2002, is a fictional representation of life in one of Baltimore’s housing projects. Some of the themes that emerge in the series are drug violence, substance abuse, poverty, urban life, drug trafficking, and the flaws that exist within governmental agencies.

Both A Raisin in the Sun and The Wire are narratives about survival. They depict how people make use of the resources available to them to navigate the world in which they live. In both works we see the characters express frustration, despair, hopelessness, the desire for a better life, confidence, discipline, intellectual curiosity, resilience, and determination. Essentially, these works reveal the complexity of human beings and the choices they make. They also explore what it means to be human, and they challenge notions of citizenship.

The Wire

In season one, episode four of The Wire, Bubbles, a heroin addict, accompanies a detective to his son’s soccer game, which is located in an affluent part of Baltimore. [1] During the ride to the game we see Bubbles absorbing the lush landscape, open space, clear skies and beautiful homes. Upon their arrival at the park, we hear and see children playing on a large and clean plot of grass. As Bubbles and the detective near the field, the detective’s ex-wife approaches them. The detective introduces Bubbles to his former wife, at which time she glances at Bubbles with a look of disgust and proceeds to ignore him. Bubbles’ body language informs the viewer of an awareness of difference. I would argue that Bubbles’ sudden awareness resembles the consciousness Du Bois describes in The Souls of Black Folk. When reflecting on an interaction with a classmate, Du Bois states:

The exchange was merry, till one girl, a newcomer, refused my card, —refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. [2]

When the soccer game ends Bubbles is returned to the dark alley he calls home. Similar to the park scene, here, we see and hear children playing. However, these children are running on concrete in a dark, unkept community. Upon exiting the car Bubbles remarks: “There’s a thin line ‘tween heaven and here.”

Not only does Bubbles’ comment speak to his experiences, it also communicates the realities of the Younger family. Two of the central themes that arise in A Raisin in the Sun and The Wire are disenfranchisement and the denial of full citizenship. The desire for opportunities is reflected in both works; however, the characters’ quests for full citizenship are manifested and take shape in a variety of ways.

For the characters in A Raisin in the Sun and The Wire, the “line” Bubbles references has a dual meaning, In fact, it’s ironic; the “line” is thin and thick at the same time. On the one hand, the “line” represents the proximity between Baltimore’s housing project and Baltimore’s suburbs. On the other hand, the “line” that separates “heaven and here” is represented by the social, political and economic disparities that empower some and marginalize others.

Both A Raisin in the Sun and The Wire are timeless.

[1] “The Wire – McNulty takes Bubbles to the suburbs,” November 7, 2011, video clip, accessed April 25, 2012, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEQUR7Fts-w.

[2] W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 4.

[3] Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

7 thoughts on “Grapes though the Wire

  1. I have to say that while I do see your point, I also think there’s a different kind of disenfranchisement imposed on the Youngers compared to that of the drug addict.

  2. I understand the distinction you are drawing between the two situations, Casey, and I agree that addicts must take responsibility for their own actions if they are going to control their addiction. That being said, there is a strong argument, with it’s own flaws, that US drug policy is very much the new Jim Crow. This comparison is obviously lacking the documented intent necessary to be a true analogy, but it is valid when one considers the systemic racism of American society and legal structure.

    1. I would agree with Keith that the U.S. drug policy is often used in a manner much like Jim Crow was in the South. It is especially apparent when you look at those who are incarcerated for crimes, specifically drug related ones.

    2. I also agree with Keith. Looking at the incarceration rate in the U.S. is astounding. The continual racism is our judicial, education, and housing systems adds to the disenfranchisement of minorities in our country.

  3. The point of my post is to demonstrate how disenfranchised communities are plagued with a variety of vices that are attributed to a number of … At the time Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, many soldiers who returned home from WWII were addicted to heroin, marijuana and other amphetamines. I didn’t mention this because Hansberry tackles other themes in her play. Her characters were not directly dealing with the challenges presented by drug use, et al. In The Wire, we see the characters dealing with the same issues as the characters in Hansberry’s play. However, these issues are showcased through the lens of drug-trafficking. My goal is to make connections between the issues that have and continue to plague many housing projects. However, regardless of the ways these issues manifest themselves, they ultimately create a distinct veil or “line” between their realities and the realities of those who couldn’t images life in a housing project or “ghetto.”

    This “thin line” was depicted in Bread Givers, Maus, The Ways of White Folks, The Fire Next Time, etc.

    1. I think we can also look at the number of individuals that identify with one disenfranchised group that are either automatically or assumed to be part of another, and the potential for causality between them. It is, though, a slippery slope that I think is often used to reinforce racism and negative stereotypes. Drug abusers are disproportionately minorities who live in low income housing situations. That’s three different groups that all are forced to tackle with the issues the characters we’ve discussed face.

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