Bruce Norris

Clybourne Park

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Clybourne Park Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Green Army Foot Locker/”Trunk” and Principle.

Plot Summary

Bruce Norris’ 2010 play, Clybourne Park, imagines the events that unfolded in, before, and after Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun. It takes place in the home purchased by Lena Younger in Hansberry’s play, and, like her play, addresses issues of race, class, and gender. The play examines how conversations around these issues have, and have not, changed over fifty years, often using humor.

The first act opens with Russ and Bev, a white couple, in their home, in the Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago. The year is 1959. They’ve recently sold this house and are in the process of packing, with the help of their black housekeeper, Francine. Bev has invited Jim, a local clergyman, over to help her husband, Russ, cope with grieving the loss of their son, Kenneth. Karl and Betsy Lindner, their neighbors, arrive at the house shortly after with the news that the family who’s purchased the house are black. This family are the Youngers, from Hansberry’s play, and Karl Lindner, the only character who appears in both plays, has just come from meeting with the Youngers and trying to bribe them out of moving into the predominantly-white Clybourne neighborhood.

Karl then tries to persuade Russ and Bev to stop the sale, as he fears black residents will lower the neighborhood’s property values. Karl and Jim try to involve Francine, and her husband, Albert, while attempting to make their points. However, Russ has completely lost interest in the Clybourne Park community since their scornful treatment of Kenneth after he returned from an emotionally arduous tour in the Korean War. Russ feels even more excluded from the community since Kenneth’s recent suicide by hanging. Russ asks everyone to leave his house, and the act ends.

The second act takes place in 2009, in the same house, which is now a bit more shabby-looking. A group of characters, played by the same actors from Act One, have gathered to determine the fate of the house. Steve and Lindsey, a white couple who recently bought the house, plan to demolish it and rebuild.The housing association in the now-predominately black neighborhood has taken issue with their plans. Kevin and Lena, a black couple who serve as members of the housing association, try to get Steve and Lindsey to understand their concerns. With help from the two couples’ lawyers, the group attempts to negotiate a compromise.

Lena, the great-niece and namesake of Lena Younger, has emotional attachment to the house, but also expresses concern about what allowing this construction to happen will mean for the property values of the neighborhood. She, Kevin, and the housing association fear that gentrification of Clybourne Park is a slippery slope and could price out many potential residents. Steve chooses to see only what he perceives to be as anti-white racial bias in Lena’s concerns, and the conversation devolves into an intense argument about racism.

This is interrupted by Dan, a construction worker, who has unearthed Kenneth’s green army foot locker, which Russ buried in the backyard. As the couples and lawyers leave, having not reached an agreement, Dan uses bolt cutters to open the trunk, removes Kenneth’s suicide note, and begins reading it. The stage lights dim to indicate predawn light and Kenneth comes down the stairs wearing his military uniform, carrying a radio and a yellow legal pad. He sits down, turns on the radio, and begins to write. Bev comes down the stairs in her pajamas and asks what he’s doing dressed in his uniform. He replies that he has a job interview, but it’s clear that he is writing his suicide note. Francine enters the house to start her shift, and Bev tells Kenneth she feels like things are going to start getting better, before she returns upstairs. The lights dim, Dan finishes reading the letter, and the play ends.

Like A Raisin in the Sun, Norris’ play focuses heavily on race, class, and gender. It also addresses other forms of marginalization, including mental health, and physical and developmental disabilities. With dark humor and fast-paced dialogue, Clybourne Park explores the misunderstandings that can take place in fraught conversations about both identity and urban development.

The first act focuses on white flight, when cities saw influxes of residents of color as white residents fled from the cities to the suburbs. The second act presents two perspectives on gentrification: fear that renovation of Clybourne Park will lead to skyrocketing costs, displacing businesses and residents, and thus forever altering the neighborhood’s historic make-up; and hope that renovation will economically stimulate and revitalize the neighborhood, making it more desirable.

Though the first act ends with a decision made by Russ and Bev not to stop the sale of their house, the second act does not end so clearly. While the consequences of white flight have played out over the past fifty years, the long-term effects of gentrification remain unclear.

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Act I