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Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is one of the most profound feminist literature works that anticipated a massive change in women’s rights and freedom in the early 1960s. The play was published in 1959, foreshadowing the growth of the women’s rights movements that had begun in the 19th Century but became dominant in the mid-twentieth Century. The drama was the first play by an African- American playwright to be produced and viewed on New York’s Broadway. The play’s debut on Broadway was a massive step for female activists who lacked an effective tool of expression to demand gender quality and other women’s rights. Hansberry encompasses her experience growing up in Chicago to highlight the systemic racism and segregation that affected most families, especially the African-American families disenfranchised by the biased system. Hansberry uses the Younger family under the guidance of Lena to indicate the impacts of racism on the view of female empowerment and equally encourage women to fulfill their dreams and develop their own identities.
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Hansberry highlights the struggle of females in overcoming societal restrictions and challenges. The character of Mama displays authentic feminism as she is determined to overcome the economic hurdles and give her family a better life (Timko, 2021). Although Mama represents a conventional view because of her age, her leadership as the matriarch of the younger family illustrates the author’s view of women’s liberation and its importance in society through outstanding leadership and guidance. Mama tells Walter, “ I come from five generations of people who were slaves and sharecroppers. We ain’t never been that – dead inside.” (Hansberry, 1959). Mama provides resilient feminist leadership that is not put down by societal limitations as she believes that success is achievable for the family. She rejects the stereotypes that have disenfranchised her community of African-Americans over the years by focusing on improving her family’s economic situation. Timko (2021) clarifies that Mama takes pride in her domestic work as she maintains her dream of buying a house, not for herself but for her family. Her experiences of slavery and other forms of discrimination propel her desire to change her family’s livelihood and future despite being a black woman in a patriarchal and oppressive society. Through a strong female character like Mama, the American Dream remains achievable for the Younger family despite the systemic hurdles.
Hansberry explores the solid feminist character of Beneatha to encourage women’s realization of their dreams through education and economic empowerment. According to Orem (2017), Beneatha represents a progressive female character that challenges the conventional norms that restrict her identity, expressions, and empowerment. Her desire to be educated and become a doctor is a form of empowerment but also portrays female progressiveness because of the perception that doctors are supposed to be males. Walter questions her decision to become a doctor suggesting that she becomes married. She replies, “Well- you finally got it said. It took you three years, but you finally got it said.” (Hansberry, 1959). Beneatha is aware of the social stereotypes and perceptions and thus has to work even harder to prove herself as a female (Orem, 2017). Similarly, her decision to cut her hair and wear it natural illustrates a robust feminist character that creates her own identity despite society’s expectations.
In general, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a compelling feminist literature work that encourages women to develop their identities and overcome societal expectations and limitations. Through the character of Mama and Beneatha, the author indicates how conventional outlooks on women’s values undermine the reformism of the female gender in critical political, social, and economic issues. Hansberry efficiently develops a feminist perspective that explores the challenges in a patriarchal society and how women’s empowerment through education and career is vital in overcoming such limitations.
- Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun (1st ed.). Vintage Books.
- Orem, S. (2017). Signifyin (g) When Vexed: Black Feminist Revision, Anger, and A Raisin in the Sun. Modern Drama, 60(2), 189-211.
- Timko, M. A. (2021). A Raisin in the Sun as feminist text: racialised gender roles, female agency and representation across mediums.