Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. It revolved around the racial challenges of African-Americans, through WalterYounger's family. The author presents Walter, his mother Lena, his wife Ruth and his son Travis, living in poverty. To improve the life of his family, Walter decides to invest in a liquor business, but his business partner runs off with the money.
Sophocles uses the literary device of reversal, when describing the moment when Oedipus, while searching for the killer of his predecessor and father, learns that he is indeed the culprit. This is a reversal because he learns what he did not expect to. Similarly, in Lorraine Hansberry's play, she uses reversal to highlight the moment when Walter's business partner, who is supposed to help him launch his liquor business, runs away with his capital. As Robert DiYanni (2002) notes "Reversal is the point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the protagonist."
The tragedy Oedipus Rex reflects the cultural identity of Sophocles as a Greek. This is because the focus of the Greek tragedians was on the human being and, in particular, how he reacts to suffering. Their interest was to examine whether the human spirit is able to overcome affliction or not. In addition, Sophocles's play seems to suggest that human beings are mortals who have no control over their lives and fates. In contrast, it is the gods who have divine power over human beings and as such, the latter cannot escape from them. This is the case with Oedipus, who learns that the oracles prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother, and this is exactly what happens. Indeed, the play advocates that human beings can only find restitution and peace in suffering when they accept the fate the gods have predestined them for.
In the play A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry explores the difficulties that African-Americans face due to their black origins. It is evident that the author grew up in a family set-up that embraced its African heritage. We see indications of the author's cultural identity through the young female college student called Beneatha. This girl's search for her true identity attracts her to Asagai, a Nigerian native. Beneathea is interested in African culture, language, music, and dress. Hansberry is able to dispel many of the myths about Africa, and shows that both Africans and African-Americans do face similar struggles.
Both cultural identities of the two authors are similar, in that, they focus on the outsider. While Sophocles shows interest in the struggles of Oedipus, who is coming to Thebes, Lorraine Hansberry explores the problems of blacks who have immigrated to the United States of America.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry depicts George Murchison as an African who is westernized. This is because he denies his black origins and does not want to associate with other Africans. Walter Younger comes out as a man who is poor but in search of wealth and materialistic gains. His mother plays the role of the traditional wife who is faithful to her husband and submissive, tolerating his unfaithful character. Walter's wife Ruth plays encourages her husband, but is vocal when it comes to giving her opinions. Beneathea, on the other hand, portrays the image of today's vocal woman, who is lobbying for equal socio-economic opportunities for her kind.
In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles depicts the conflict situation where King Oedipus has a misconception that he is the son of King Polybus and Queen Merope, whereas his father is the defunt King Laius and his mother is Queen Jocasta. In addition, he declares that the murderer of his father be sent away from the kingdom of Thebes, whereas he is the one responsible. He is therefore condemning himself, which brings out the aspect of irony. It is also ironical that King Oedipus's sons do not defend their father from the people of Thebes who cast him out of his kingdom, yet they are one family.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry depicts the conflict situation where Walter Younger loses the capital he intends to use to launch a liquor store. It is ironical that his business partner is the one who runs away with the money, yet he is the one who is supposed to help him start the business. Another conflict situation is where Mr. Lindner, a neighbor of the Walter Younger family, approaches them to offer to buy out their house. Walter is faced with the dilemma of choosing money over his family's comfort and security.
Apart from irony, Sophocle's uses the literary device of imagery, where the characters, through their words, make the readers recall to their minds images of objects. For example, King Oedipus calls Teiresias the blind prophet a female dog, because he has a head resembling that of a woman and a body like that of a lion.
One of the major themes in the play Oedipus Rex is old age and death. We see this through the fact that this is Sophocles' last play Oedipus at Colonus, which he wrote when he was 90 years old. In addition, Oedipus, living his last days, questions whether old age brings with it wisdom. He admits that he has accepted his fate as the gods have dictated, which indicates a significant turnaround from his endeavors to manipulate the prophecies of the Delphic oracle during his youthful years. As a young man, Oedipus displayed lack of wisdom when he directed his anger at the innocent and at the gods. However, Oedipus also shows lack of wisdom in old age when he makes outbursts of anger towards his sons who refused to defend him when the people of Thebes banished him from their land.
Another theme is that of fate and prophecy. The oracle of the god Apollo prophesies that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother and that the grove of the Furies will be Oedipus's final resting place. The fate of Oedipus is that he is banished from Thebes and lives as an outcast due to his actions. His sons reject him after his banishment. The oracle prophesies again that the men who cast Oedipus out of Thebes will restore him back, because his presence would protect their city. The oracle also prophesies that Polynices, who is Oedipus's younger son, will fail and die while he is trying to kill his elder brother Eteocles.
Guilt is another theme that stands out in Sophocles's play. Oedipus blinds himself due to the remorse he feels after realizing that he has killed his father and married his mother. He also demands that people of Thebes send him away.
Redemption and Atonement are other themes that Sophocles's play highlights. Firstly, Oedipus receives forgiveness for his actions through accepting and enduring his punishment. It is through blindness and banishment that Oedipus atones for his actions and the Furies and the gods grant him redemption. In addition, though the people of Thebes refuse to allow him back into their city, they want him to settle just outside it so that he could protect it. To appease the Furies, and receive forgiveness after violating their sacred ground, Oedipus asks his daughter Ismene to perform a ritual. This will help him obtain redemption and atonement for his actions.
The theme of justice comes out when Oedipus daughter Antigone appeals to the Athenian audience to let their king decide what punishment to accord to her father for his actions. Oedipus pleads that the people of Athens do not cast him out because he committed his actions unknowingly. The audience agrees to let the king of Athens Theseus have the final word. The king allows Oedipus to stay and promises that no one will drive him away against his will. He also rescues Oedipus's daughters when the guards of his brother-in-law kidnap them.
The theme of dreams is evident in the play A Raisin in the Sun. The Younger family receives through mail, a $10,000 cheque. This money gives them an opportunity to realize their dreams, hopes, and plans of moving into a better home and living a better life. The play explores the problems the family comes across while attempting to make their dreams a reality. Walter, one of the characters in the play, displays an erroneous idolization of wealth and power that money can bring. His mother objects to Walter's business partner's offer of running a liquor store. She also questions his character, but Walter is obstinate and insists on making the business thrive. On the other hand, Walter's business partner runs away with the capital he intends to use to invest in a liquor store.
Another theme that stands out is that of race. A Raisin in the Sun depicts ordinary Black Americans and explores how the fact of their race hinders them from accomplishing their dreams. In other words, A Raisin in the Sun demonstrates how race can complicate the American Dream. Beneathea is ambivalent towards her rich boyfriend George Murchison, because of his skin color. Her concern stems from the fact that though both of their families are black, there are class distinctions between them; she is not from a rich family as her boyfriend is.
Lorraine Hansberry depicts a positive angle of the theme of pride. The Younger family is not wealthy, but despite material lack, they maintain their pride and affirm their worth as human beings. When Karl Lindner turns up at their door and offers to purchase their house, the family quickly sends him away. They choose pride over money.
The theme of suffering due to poverty is evident in the Younger family, which lives in a very small apartment and finds it difficult to meet their everyday needs. This is because Walter, Ruth, and Lena do not have well-paying jobs. However, despite their suffering, they keep hoping for a better day. It is also due to their suffering and dissatisfaction with their state of poverty, that Walter considers accepting Karl Lindner's offer to purchase their home.
Lorraine Hansberry explores the theme of gender, through the aspects of masculinity and femininity. Walter, for example, strives to be the man of the family, through appeasing his son, wife and mother with gifts and a better life. This drive for materialism almost causes him to degrade himself by accepting Mr. Lindner's offer, but when he rejects it, he recovers his image of an honorable man, in the eyes of his son, wife and mother.
The play also includes female characters that belong to different generations. Walter's mother Lena, a widow, portrays the image of the traditional mother who tries to create a better life for her family, rather than for herself. She does not object to her husband's extra-marital affairs and remains loyal to him during their marriage life. Walter's wife Ruth is supportive of her husband's business, and she is willing to earn extra income for the well-being of the family. Beneatha is a young female college student, who voices her frustrations against society's unequal treatment of women. She constantly defies Walter's male chauvinism and challenges men who do not respect women's ideas. Consequently, it is clear that women are slowly changing the image they have of themselves.
The theme of choice comes out when the characters in A Raisin in the Sun are depicted as making decisions without asking for the opinions of other family members. Walter's wife Ruth, for example, pays a deposit for the abortion of her unborn child without telling anyone. Lena, Walter's mother, pays for a family house, also without discussing with her son and daughter-in-law. Walter decides to invest in a liquor store, despite the objections of his family. All of these choices pit values against money, but in the end, the characters stand on their principles.
The author portrays drugs and alcohol as a means of refuge from life's stresses in A Raisin in the Sun. To cope with their stress and frustration, Walter for example, turns to alcohol, whereas Beneatha smokes cigarettes. In conclusion, both plays explore different themes, but they have in common the theme of suffering.