Table of Contents
Symbolism plays a crucial role in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun to illustrate the impacts of prejudice on the realization of success. Hansberry wrote and published the play in 1959, giving readers a deep insight into the lives of African Americans during the mid-twentieth century. The play not only reflects the lives of a family struggling to make ends meet and improve their situation but also focuses on the universal ideology of prosperity. The American Dream is often highly contested whether it is achievable for everyone living in the United States of America. Hansberry utilizes her experiences as an African woman living in the South at a time when significant changes in the social order mainly affected the Black community and other minorities. The author focuses on the Younger family’s quest for a better future despite their varied views on achieving it. Similarly, Hansberry utilizes vivid description and illustration that exemplifies the struggles of the Younger family and the universal struggles of disfranchised communities and their view of success. Hansberry effectively employs various symbols that illustrate the limitations of prosperity in a discriminatory society and the defiance of social norms.
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Lena’s (Mama`s) plant is one the most overt symbols in the play that symbolizes her dream and determination for a better future. Mama profoundly cares for her plant despite its feebleness and lack of life due to inadequate sunlight. Despite the plant struggling to grow, Mama has faith that it will flourish in her new home as it represents her last hope for success, having lived through the strains of poverty (Gordon, 2008). The plant represents her family delayed dreams for a better future because of how they have struggled to survive in the segregated and disenfranchised Chicago’s South Side. Consequently, she recognizes the challenges and thus remains dedicated to caring for the plant because she believes it will overcome the struggles. She tells Ruth, “But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams I had ’bout buying that house and fixing it and making me a little garden in the back- And didn’t none of it happen.” (Hansberry, 1959). Mama holds on to a dream of having a better garden where her plant could thrive, just like her dreams, which have been deferred by systemic racism. Her hope for a better future is symbolized by the plant that has lived through the challenging conditions of insufficient sunlight but still survived.
The sunlight equally represents a brighter future full of life and success. The plants barely survive the harsh conditions in her old neighborhood, illustrating the struggles of living in the economically and socially segregated South. By moving into a new neighborhood with enough space for her garden and a properly lit environment, Mama is hopeful for an improved future different from the life she initially lived (Kaphle, 2007). Her success with the struggling plant in a harsh environment indicates that her dream of owning a home is still alive and valid (Gordon, 2008). Ruth asks Mama if the new house she plans to buy has enough sunlight for her plant. She gladly replies that the new neighborhood has “a whole lot of sunlight” for her struggling plant (Hansberry, 1959). Sunlight symbolizes hope for breaking the monotony of suffering and segregation that has crippled her ambitions and desire to live a better life in an improved neighborhood. Similarly, sunlight symbolizes the revitalization and regeneration of new prospects in life.
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Assimilation and Cultural Conflict
Beneatha’s hair symbolizes racial identity and pride in the African heritage. Despite her intellectual ability and education, Beneatha still recognizes the importance of her history and culture as a black woman. Beneatha’s view of feminism and racial assimilation differs significantly from her other family members. Nonetheless, she still values her identity as a descendant of African content. Joseph Asagai comments on her straightened hairstyle by calling it “mutilated hair and tall,” implying that she was not born like that. (Hansberry, 1959). Beneatha makes an abrupt decision to cut her hair and wear it natural as a symbol of distancing herself from Western cultures’ assimilation (Saber, 2010). Her yearning to explore her African heritage and roots is exemplified by her natural hair, which she unexpectedly wears after deciding to cut her Caucasian-style hairstyle. Saber (2010) reiterates that Beneatha believes that the straightened hairstyle represents the mainstream culture that has been dominant by suppressing the African culture. George and Ruth are flabbergasted by Beneatha’s abrupt decision. George shockingly asks, “What have you done to your hair.” Speaking with Ruth, Beneatha replies, “That’s up to George. If he’s ashamed of his heritage.” (Hansberry, 1959). Beneatha proudly rejects the assimilationist influence by fully embracing her African heritage, championed by the beauty of natural African hair.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun utilizes various symbols that efficiently illustrate the struggles of overcoming racial prejudices to succeed and the domination of cultures that suppress African heritage. For example, Mama’s care symbolizes the Younger’s deferred dream and hopes of a better future for her plant and the impending sunlight in the new neighborhood. Similarly, the impacts of cultural domination are challenged by Beneatha’s natural hair, which symbolizes African heritage. The author efficiently focuses on a specific era that symbolizes the universal challenges of individuals trying to improve their predicament in a society designed to discredit their values and existence.
- Gordon, M. (2008). Somewhat like War”: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and” A Raisin in the Sun. African American Review, 42(1), 121-133.
- Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun. In African American Routledge.
- Kaphle, D. R. (2007). Failure of American Dream in Afro-American Context in Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (Doctoral dissertation, Department of English).
- Saber, Y. (2010). Lorraine Hansberry: Defining the line between integration and assimilation. Women’s Studies, 39(5), 451-469.