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A Raisin in the Sun, authored by Lorraine Hansberry and Sonny’s Blues, authored by James Baldwin are two masterpieces that have an array of comparisons and contrasts. Lorraine Hansberry’s play is a depiction of an African American family, the Youngers living in a racially segregated neighborhood. Although the family lives together, conflicts arise on what to do with the $10000 insurance policy money paid after the death of the Mama’s husband. Each member has different aspirations and the story focuses on how the family uses the money and integrates their individual dreams to fit the family. On the other hand, Sonny’s Blues is a depiction of the struggles two brothers face in segregated Harlem. It is about Sonny and his brother the narrator, both who are living separate lives after the death of their parents. After the narrator loses his daughter to Polio, he remembers the promise he made to his mother of taking care of Sonny and he decides to try to fulfill this promise and try to get Sonny back to normal life after drugs nearly destroy him. Each story depicts the lives of African American families in a time of racial injustice. Both families encounter obstacles during their quest to move forward to find happiness.
In her journal, Lipari points out that the setting of A Raisin in the Sun, was at a time when the “fundamental structures of political, social and economic oppression of African Amewricans were in the foreground of public life” (Lipari, 97). This journal points out that during this period African American families’ encountered obstacle in economic, social and political in trying to make it in life and finding happiness. Likewise, Martinez comment regarding racism in Sonny’s Blues is a phenomenon having “festered and thrived in American unconscious psyche while it has been and continues to be acted out in myriad forms of injustice in the society” (Martinez, 1). This clearly illustrates that families in Harlem faced numerous challenges especially with the issue of racial segregation and injustice. He points out that Baldwin “claims that the narrator’s and Sonny’s lives are representative of the collective suffering of racism experienced by young black males growing up in the Harlem of mid-twentieth-century America” (Martinez, 2).
In both stories, a common theme that stands out is that of racial segregation and injustices. In Hansberry’s story, racial segregation reveals its ugly head when Mr. Linder attempts to persuade the Younger family from moving to their new home, mostly inhabited by whites. He even attempts to pay them off to keep them from moving in the mostly white neighborhood. This action is nearly successful since Walter is willing to accept the bribe but Mama stands her ground and at last thy move to their new home. Likewise, in Sonny’s blues, racial issues and injustices are prevalent in the community and the author effectively uses recurring images of darkness to bring to light these themes. Sonny and his brother lived in a predominantly black neighborhood and even their father gave up trying to move them away from Harlem, “Safe! My father grunted, whenever Mama suggested trying to move to a neighborhood which might be safer for children” (Feinstein and Rife, 26). The narrator who is a teacher also illustrates how racial issues and segregation were part of Harlem by describing the students he taught, “All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them and the darkness of movies which had blinded them to that other darkness” (Feinstein and Rife, 26). Both stories highlight the hopelessness that existed in these racially segregated neighborhoods in both stories where whites had opportunities in contrast to blacks who had to endure difficult situations.
Unlike Sonny’s Blues, Loraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, is set in Chicago South Side slums in Younger family’s apartment. It is a typical setting that depicts the lives of an ordinary setting of African-Americans in somewhere between World War II and the mid nineteen-fifties. The context of the play was during a period in which segregation along economic and racial lines was prevalent and widespread in the South. Chicago was a prime example of a city notoriously divided along racial lines. James Baldwin Sonny’s Blues on the other hand setting is in the mid-20th century somewhere in the 1950’s. However, just like Hansberry’s play, the story occurs during a time when segregation was rife. It was just after the time when black artists enjoyed great prosperity but after the Great Depression, their talents slumped and they became devastated. During this period, musicians especially those performing jazz music faced a turbulent period and most of them turned to using drugs such as Heroine to rid the boredom occasioned by lack of performance. Sonny just like other jazz musicians did not escape the trap of engaging in drugs, which threatened to derail his passion and career.
After the death of their father, Walter automatically becomes the head of the family and as Mama says, “I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” and entrusted with some of the insurance money (Hansberry, 107). However, his obsession of becoming rich in a short period undermined his position as head of the family and if it was not for Mama, the insurance money paid would all have gone down the drain. Walter’s lack of leadership is also evident when he contemplates taking the money given by Mr. Linder in exchange for giving up the house they had invested in and dreamt for in a long time. However, Walter realizes his shortcomings and decides to give up his dream for the prosperity of the family “We have decided to move into our house because my father-my father-he earned it brick by brick”. In contrast to Baldwin’s story, after the death of Sonny’s parent, he goes to live with his brother but after a short time, he joins the army and takes responsibility of himself. Just like Walter, Sonny makes mistakes in his life but pays for them dearly. He ends up engaging in drugs, and this leads him to prison. However, he realizes his shortcomings, after which he regains control of his life and starts following his dream of becoming a jazz musician.
Loraine Hansberry actually takes the title of her play A Raisin in the Sun from a famous poet Langston Hughes in his poem “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” (Hansberry, 3). The context of the poem was on a period when black artists in Harlem enjoyed a rare period of renaissance and their artistry was recognized. However, after the Great Depression the black community became devastated often left behind in deteriorating conditions. In her play Walter, the protagonist in the story harbors dreams of prosperity and materialism. The self-centeredness comes to haunt him, as he perceives the liquor store as a means to an end. He is bitter that at his age 35, he is still a low chauffeur and no real opportunities seem to come his way unlike whites. However, his partners swindle him his investments and his dream of becoming wealthy do not come to be. Likewise, in Sonny’s blues, Sonny is not afraid to follow his dreams of becoming a famous jazz musician. The dream however overwhelms him and he turns to using drugs, which threaten to derail him from accomplishing his dreams. In both stories, dreams play a major role in advancing the stories. Both characters seem to have a misconception of the American Dream. Walter perceives it to be all about wealth while Sonny perceives it to be all about fame. Although both have dreams of prosperity, the means they take to achieve these dreams turn out to be their main undoing.
At the end of the two short stories, Walter gives up his materialistic dream in pursuit of other dreams that are beneficial to the society, in contrast to Sonny who is on the verge of realizing his dream of becoming a famous jazz musician. Walter’s dream was that of an obsession of becoming rich, which blinded him. He even used part of the money put aside for Beneatha’s education to invest in a liquor business. His obsession in fulfilling his dream leads him straight to Willy’s trap who cons him of his investment. Walter is even willing to accept Mr. Linder’s money in return of them not moving to their new home and aims to use the money for advancing his obsession. After some soul searching, he realizes his mistakes and aims to make up for his mistakes by giving up his dream and following his family’s dream. Therefore, Walter’s initial dream is unsuccessful. As for Sonny, he harbored the dream of becoming a jazz musician and his passion for the music, did not deter him from trying to pursue his dreams. However, as he pursues his dreams Sonny is overwhelmed and he ends up engaging in drugs, which threaten to shatter his dreams. However, in the end, he tends to get his footing right and as the story is ending, the author seems to tell of a triumph in Sonny’s revival and accomplishment of his dream.
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