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Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is an intriguing play that explores the effects of prejudices in fulfilling the American Dream. The play was published in 1959, a period when American society was undergoing significant political, social, and economic changes. Hansberry uses her experience growing up in Chicago as an African-American in a principally white-dominated society. The story reflects the devastating effects of segregation statutes such as Jim Crow laws that isolated and disenfranchised African-Americans in the South and North. Hansberry focuses on the Younger family, a middle-class black family living in Chicago in the mid-twentieth century, and their quest to prosper. Despite the numerous hurdles the black community had to overcome, the Younger family, led by Lena Younger, believed in fulfilling the American Dream. However, the family does not share the same views of success and prosperity. It thus results in a conflict of interest on how to improve their situations. Hansberry efficiently explores the impacts of racial discrimination and other factors like gender on the pursuit of fulfilling the American dream in a prejudiced society. Through each character in the Younger family, the author effectively explores the varied view of success and the challenges of prospering amid racial prejudice.
We can do it today.
Lena Younger, also known as Mama, is the matriarch of the family and a reflection of the impact of racism on the older generation’s view of prosperity. Mama is the parent of Walter Lee, the oldest son, and Beneatha, her daughter. Mama takes pride in her family and is devoted to keeping the family together. She works hard as a maid to support the family because she believes in hard work, especially being a black woman in a male-dominated society and with racial prejudice. When confronted by Walter about the prospect of investing the late Big Walter’s insurance money, she believes that buying a house is the best possible solution to their poverty. She tells Walter, “You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing your dad and I done.” (Hansberry, 1959). According to Gomes (2010), Mama’s view of success is buying a house she and her husband had desired to have before he died. Mama represents a woman whose only concern is to keep her family together, healthy, and satisfied with their progress without focusing on others (Prakosa, 2012). Hansberry efficiently utilizes Mama’s character to illustrate the view of success from an older generation’s perspective that emphasizes the value of housing.
Similarly, the character of Ruth portrays a devoted wife concerned with her family’s well-being and satisfaction above all forms of prosperity. Like her mother-in-law, Ruth works as a domestic maid and equally does most of the cleaning and house chores in the Younger home. She represents a dutiful woman who is concerned not only with the current well-being of the family but also with securing her family’s future (Matthews, 2008). Ruth shows concerns about her son, Travis, his childhood and growing up in the Southside ghetto. Environment plays a crucial role in a child’s upbringing, especially in segregated and disenfranchised societies such as Chicago in the early 1950s. Her family’s emotional strains and economic demands prompted her to contemplate having an abortion. However, Mama’s choice to invest in a home restores hope for a better future for her kids and families.
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Nonetheless, she still supports her husband’s prospects. She tells Mama, “He needs something-something I cannot give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.” (Hansberry, 1959). Ruth is profoundly dedicated to her family, although their marriage with Walter seems to be crumbling.
On the contrary, Walter’s character represents poise, pride, and a varied view of success. Walter’s dream of becoming a successful business owner overshadows his reasoning and logic. His job as a chauffeur for a white man is not only tasking but equally embarrassing and not worthy according to his view of success. Walter does not shy away from expressing his hatred for working for another man while still struggling to define his position as a man in the family without having financial stability. When he tells the mother of his idea of investing in a liquor store, Mama claims, “Once upon a time freedom used to be life, now it’s money.” Walter arrogantly responds, “No, it was always money, Mama. We just did not know about it.” (Hansberry, 1959). Walter’s egotism and self-importance confirm his belief that success is attaining financial freedom at all costs. Beneatha’s character equally portrays a varied view of success and empowerment, especially among African-American women. Prakosa (2012) points out that Beneatha represents a philosophical view of success as she is determined to become a doctor against all odds. She expresses herself with determination and is equally fearless in voicing her opinion on matters of religion and racial discrimination. She tells Mama, “Independence and then what?” implying her concerns over the quest for black people to become empowered in a prejudiced society (Hansberry, 1959). Through Beneatha’s character, the author explores how discrimination alters the perception of prosperity.
Overall, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun efficiently explores the impacts of racial prejudice on attaining success through the characters of the Younger Family. The perception of the American Dream varies significantly with each character depending on their view of success and prosperity, especially in a discriminatory society where individuals are not awarded similar opportunities. Although the story focuses on a specific family’s struggles, Hansberry illustrates the impact of prejudices in delaying or deferring valid dreams.
- Gomes, L. (2010). The Visions of Lena Younger created by Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun. Undergraduate Review, 6(1), 87-92.
- Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun (1st ed.). Vintage Books.
- Matthews, K. L. (2008). The Politics of “Home” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Modern Drama, 51(4), 556-578.
- Prakosa, D. F. (2012). The Guidance of a Mother in Achieving the American Dream of the Main Characters in A Raisin in the Sun Movie (Doctoral dissertation, University of Diponegoro).