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During a time when racial oppression was overwhelming, neither poverty nor richness was able to destroy the strong love built within a domesticated family. The Younger’s: Mama, Beneatha, Ruth, Travis, and Walter Lee are used as symbols of dreams, deferments, and conflicts. In Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”, she uses the class, gender, and race to create conflict with the characters to help them become closer to their dreams, and to unite as a family.
Consequently, forty years prior to when Lorraine Hansberry wrote this play in1959, The Great Migration had started, and ended up as a long-term movement (1916-1970). African-Americans moved from the Southern states to the Northern urban cities, such as Chicago, with aspirations and goals to living the American Dream. Industrial employers provided opportunities, as they needed new sources of hard-working laborers from the South that were eager to accept a role in the industrial field (THE INTERNAL).
The dreams of an African-American family owning their own home only happened by encountering racism long before fair-housing and equal-employment laws. A strong theme supports how racism was deep within the housing industry, government offices, and how Americans supported the segregated housing environment of Chicago. The Younger family is
stunned that Mama purchased a house in a neighborhood full of whites, because living in a white neighborhood could put all of their lives at risk.
Mama explained to them as to why she was unwilling to move into the segregated black community. She states, “Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could” (Charters, 1530). Throughout this play, Mama tells many differences of racism from her generation to the present and about her own personal survival as she avoided lynching and hate crimes.
The setting of “A Raisin in the Sun” is located in the ghetto of Southside Chicago, where most blacks lived. The ghetto districts consisted of overcrowded, overpriced, and poorly maintained apartments and homes. Most of the African American’s whom lived in the ghetto had hopes and dreams of moving to suburban neighborhoods. However, segregated housing had kept them sequestered in the ghetto life.
Furthermore, the Younger’s want to escape from an over-crowded apartment life which is roach-infested, and where a normal chore consists of “spraying insecticide into the cracks in the walls” (Charters, 1510). Three generations of family have occupied this space, and “that they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years-and they are tired” (Charters,1494). The family also shares the bathroom, “which is in an outside hall and which is shared by another family or families on the same floor” (Charters,1495). Ruth attempted to encourage Mama “well, Lord knows, we’ve put enough rent into this here rat trap to pay for four houses by now,” and she is not making a content statement considering the unreasonably high costs of the ghetto housing (Charters,1505).
The complexity of dreams that the Younger’s had, came from true living, and working hard for a better future of a family. Interpretations and speculations throughout the play, teach a lesson in life of experiences in which every person must be optimistic to the outcome of their dreams. On the contrary, the dreams that were fulfilled were the most meaningful. The dreams deferred were also meaningful, but just not as much as the dreams that did not bring unity within a family. Hansberry wisely incorporated the behaviors of the characters with the intent to emulate strength within a family in order to reach a level of true understanding.
The matriarch of the family is Mama, and she thrives on a strong sense of pride, the right ethical decisions, and a very strong faith in God. Mama is a pure example of how a mother always seems to be the backbone of African-American families through all trials and tribulations. Mama never thinks of just herself, as she takes the money from a $10,000 insurance check which represented a part of her deceased husband’s life, and does something with it to form stability for the whole family.
Mama’s desires for her family clearly contrast with her son, Walter Lee’s dreams, of taking a high-risk investment in a liquor store. He fears the failure of his manly pride to his mother’s religious value system all while he struggles to support it. Walter Lee desires to become an entrepreneur, and believes that money will eventually solve all of their problems. Therefore, Mama states, “it ain’t much, but it’s all I got in the world and I’m putting it in your hands. I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” (Charters,1537). Ironically, this is the one wrong decision that Mama made, and it eventually lets Walter nearly destroy the family.
As Mama’s only son, Walter serves as both an antagonist and a protagonist in this play. The plot does revolve around the actions that he takes throughout the play, because most of his actions and conflicts seem to hurt the family in some kind of way. Eventually he learns that he must pay attention to different concerns within his family, in order to seek strength to unite with them. Walter Lee’s late growth of responsible manhood makes him the ending hero of the play when he defends his family against the white man.
In reality, this also brings him closer to his sister, Beneatha (Bennie), whom is a beautiful, young, and independent college student who demonstrates her great ambition to someday become a doctor. Earlier, Bennie angers and confuses Mama with her views on religion, and as she searches for her identity through the dating of two young men: Joseph Asagai, her Nigerian boyfriend, and George Murchison, her rich and smart African-American boyfriend. Later in the play, she comes to reality that she has been far from independent-her dream has been dependent upon the insurance money and the possibility of Walter Lee’s investment-to becoming a future doctor. While earlier, Bennie had blamed Walter Lee for his shady investing and weakness towards money, consequently, she gained a new perspective towards attaining her dreams on her own-a sign that she has become able to appreciate life’s lessons.
In conclusion, from the exact beginning of this play, Lorraine Hansberry had created a setting for drama through dreams, deferments, and conflicts. Family unity touches the human spirit, and conquers all-after dreams have been deferred or destroyed for each character. Typically, responsibilities impact a family’s life, leaving Hansberry to warn that destruction, in any era, is a warning for Americans to wake up and listen.
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