Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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Introduction

In her play Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry focuses on the American Dream as a major theme in the book. A dream is an inspiration, a plan, or a vision for the future. The concept of American Dream is an idea of the American’s conception of having and enjoying a better life. In the play by Hansberry, the concept of the American Dream is shared by the main characters as each of them considers achieving a better life though in different capacities and contexts (Corley, p. 3). Despite the oppressive life struggles that the characters have to wrestle with in their life, the importance of having a dream for a better life is well exemplified in Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The American dream ranges from aspirations for fame, love, or wealth and is based on the notion that everyone deserves a worthy possession in life, but somehow everyone has to strive for it. In this paper, the theme of American Dream as developed and manifested in Raisin in the Sun will be analyzed.

In the American dream concept, everyone has to pursue happiness as this is the essence of life and have financial success. In the play Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry tells of an African-American family living in poverty but whose hope and plans of coming out of the poverty is unwaivered. Although the poverty is causing trouble in their life by preventing them from enjoying financial stability, they struggle hard to overcome it. This is the character of the American dream (Robin, p. 9). Walter’s efforts are especially important in this context as he is driven by the dream to become somebody or make something. In the development of the thematic structure of the American dream in the play, Hansberry, uses the concept and themes of economic problems and poverty, prejudice, and race. In the context of an African-American family, these three themes are hard to separate with the relevance of the American dream since they affect every aspect of an African-American life ranging from fame, wealth creation, and economic liberation.

Economic problems, prejudice, and race affects the identity of a black man, how he provides, and his role in the family. Although the dreams of the Youngers family are seemingly unrealistic, farfetched, and unachievable considering their status in their society and life, they do not give up nor do they relent in pursuing them. Certainly, they have the common American dreams just like contemporary American society to be integrated with the white society and get acceptance as part of that community and to achieve financial stability. The dreams seem to come true and doors of prosperity open when the Younger family receives a mail which had an insurance check worth $ 10000 (Corley, p. 7). The loss of their father might have shattered the dreams of the family, but receiving his life insurance policy check rejuvenated the viability of their dreams. As a realization of the family’s dreams, Mama uses the money to buy a family in a white neighborhood.

Having, acquired a house in the right neighborhood that corresponded with their American dream, integration in the society was the next important achievement of the African-American Youngers family. Subsequently, Mama reached out to Karl Linder who was the representative of Clybourne Park, the white neighborhood. As a member of the New Neighbors Orientation Committee, Linder was supposed to welcome newcomers in the neighborhood. However, considering that the Youngers were African-Americans, Linder stated that Clybourne Park believes the Negroes should live in amongst their own as this gives them more joy and also promotes the happiness of the Clybourne community (Robin, p. 16). This shows an element of prejudice and racial conflict that the African-American family had to deal in their pursuit for their American dreams. The statement by Linder depicts that as a Negro family, the Youngers were not welcome in Clybourne since as the description of the neighborhood and that community did not befit them.

As it is depicted in this scene, the American dream was at the horizon and could only be achieved through toil, trouble, and sacrifice, most of which involved overcoming rejection, prejudice, and racial discrimination. It was part of the Youngers family to be viewed as a normal American family but their color hindered the realization of this dream. This scene serves as a good example that they were not accepted and welcomed in the white neighborhood. However, being black was not the only factor as their poverty was not fit for this neighborhood. Their American dream was based on achieving financial stability so as to have a better life, obtain power, gain respect (Hansberry, p. 46). These hardships have contributed to the characters postponing or deferring their dreams. Whether deferred dreams explode or shrivel up as it is experienced in the “raisin in the sun is a point to ponder over. Racism has placed socioeconomic limitation on the path of dreams of the members of the Youngers family but they still cling to them. However, clinging to their American dreams and being persistent in their pursuit for them provides a sense hope in the play.

Water is one character in the play who plays a critical role in developing the theme of dreams. He is constantly struggling to achieve the desires and dreams for him and his family. In the play, he serves as villain and a hero as he has a great resolve to achieve his dreams that controls him in all his decisions and actions. Walter has a strong belief in economic independence as part of his American dream. He also wants to have a business of his own and to have a liquor store (Foulis, p. 7). Walter’s dream to achieve economic independence is partly influenced by his desire to be somebody and to provide for the future of his son and partly by the fact that he cannot support his family. He despairs over his position as a future father and ability to be somebody with a life of substance. His American dream is to solely provide for his family, gain economic independence, and provide a better life for his family. Walter’s plan is to get a share of his father’s life insurance policy money and invest it in a liquor store business. The dream is part of his large American dream of getting economic stability and living a better life.

It is quite unfortunate that Walter loses much of the he got from Mama as a share of the Big Walter’s insurance to a con. This thwarts his dreams of investing in a liquor store thus making the desire to own a business and most importantly a liquor store a horrific desire. The ambitions to own a liquor store business looks almost unachievable as Walter is looked down upon and regretfully deceived. However, he is able to make up for it when he reaches his manhood (Foulis, p. 11). The setting of the play is in time when the provisions of the family are solely met by the husband. After the death of the big Walter, Walter’s mother takes up the role of the family’s sole provider. However, this disturbs Walter who believes he is now the man of the house. He, therefore, bestows upon him the responsibility of providing for his family and strives to meet the responsibilities of the man in the house. However, he feels he cannot work for another man. This shows his desire to gain power, respect, money, and independence.

This is the whole conception of the American dream- a better life. One of the most importance insistences given by Hansberry in the play is the importance of persistence to achieve one’s dreams. Just like Walter, Mama’s dreams are on having the ability to provide for her family and give them a better life just like they used to have with her husband. As a true expression of her dreams, Mama states that “Lord if this little plant does not get more sun than it has been getting, it ain’t never going to see spring again” (Hansberry, p. 81). This statement communicates Mama’s dreams and her dedication to achieving them as they are symbolized by the little plant. Figuratively, the Mama attends and nurtures the little plant every morning, and despite its lack of adequate sunlight, it is still alive. Mama uses the little plant’s to symbolize the struggles for survival her dreams have gone through and despite the lack of sufficient provisions to support them, they have only become deferred and not extinct (Corley, p. 8). As such, she shows that she strives to keep them and achieve them. Mama’s decision to buy a family house in Clybourne shows her commitment to achieve her dream of being accepted in the white neighborhood and have a better life for her family.

Mama has a strong desire to achieve a better life for her family as she shares in the belief of an ideal American dream. However, as household head, Mama ensures that her children are morally upright by making them appreciate and take pride in their identity and cultural heritage. Similarly, she makes sure that her children nurture a high sense of pride in their desires, goals, plans, and aspirations (Robin, p. 13). In her dreams, she wants her children to realize their dreams for a better life and to succeed while at the same time respect themselves and maintain moral boundaries. Just like her mother, Ruth, Walter’s wife shares the same dreams. She plans to have a better life by building a happy family and settle in a better and bigger house. According to a statement given to Mama by Ruth, she said that “so you went and did it! Praise God! …….. Ok Walter a home….a home” (Hansberry, p. 79). In this scene, Ruth expresses her emotions and feelings to her mother’s decision to buy a house. This means that just like the other members of her family, she believes in the America dream of seeing her family enjoy a better life. Owning a house is one of the ideological concepts in the American dream and the realization that Mama has bought a house confirms to her that, in reality, the dream will be achieved. From this perspective, we can establish that ownership brings happiness to Ruth and is her conception of better life.

On the other hand, overcoming the vice of racism that has torn and deferred the dreams of the family is part of Beneatha’s dreams of achieving the American dream and get acceptance in the American society (Corley, p. 9). This is also coupled by her aspiration of becoming a doctor. This dream is tethered to the belief in self-realization, development, independence, and personal growth through career. The deferment of Beneatha’s dreams was due to her upbringing in a society where women were expected to be home makers as opposed to become professionals and become career independent. Poverty was also a restricting factor which held back her dreams of pursuing a career as a doctor (Corley, p. 13). The plans, hopes, and aspirations to become somebody of substance in society and break from the shackles of bondage that is characterized by gender roles, prejudices, and stereotypes is what Beneatha aspires and dreams of becoming. This exemplifies the character of a woman seeking liberation, independence, and with an ambition to make a career- the determination to succeed despite the restrictive cultural traditions.

Conclusion

In the play, Raisin in the Sun, the author uses characters who share one common aspect-the conception of American dream. This is a concept of getting a better life by using all the necessary ways to achieve it. The idea is either to get fame, career, economic independence, respect, and most importantly, get a good life. The youngers family which is an African-American family shares this dream widely as they all want to get a better life, and although they hold distinct dreams, they all believe in the idea of a better life which is characteristic of the American dream.

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  1. Corley, Cheryl, A Raisin in the Sun, Present at the Creation, National Public Radio, 2002.
  2. Foulis, Rhona, A Raisin in the Sun, Culture Wars, Lyric Hammersmith, London, 2005.
  3. Hansberry, Lorraine, A Raisin in the Sun, Penguin Random House, New York, 1959. Print.
  4. Robin, Bernstein, “Inventing a Fishbowl:White Supremacy and the Critical Reception of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun” Modern Drama 42(1): 16-27.
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