Professor Monica Hill
Addressing so many of the important issues in the United States in the 1950s, A Raisin in the Sun, can be considered a turning point in American art. A superficial view held today is that the 50s was an age of complacency and conformism, symbolized by the growth of suburbs and commercial culture. In the years following WW 2 and the economic prosperity characterizing America in those same years were growing domestic and racial tensions. Stereotypical of the1950s was America as a land of happy housewives and blacks content with their inferior status. But this view resulted in an up-swell of social resentment that would finally erupt in the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s. A Raisin in the Sun which was first performed as the conservative 1950s slid into the radical sixties, explores both of these vital issues.
Not only is the tension between white and black society explored in A Raisin in the Sun, but also the pressures within the black community over how to respond to the unjust white community. Hansberry’s drama asks difficult questions about integration and identity. Through the character of Joseph Asagai, Hansberry reveals a trend toward celebrating African heritage. As he calls for a native revolt in his homeland, the author seems to predict the struggles in African countries of the upcoming decades, as well as the need and certainty integration.
Dreams are crucial – a fact which boils down the idealism about race and gender relations in this play. The dreams driving and motivating the main characters are the primary focus in Hansberry’s play. These dreams function in positive ways, by lifting their minds from their hard work and tough lifestyle, and in negative ways, by creating in them even more dissatisfaction with their present situations. These negative dreams, for the most part are due to the fact that too much emphasis is placed on selfish goals rather than on the pride and happiness of the family unit. Hansberry seems to argue that as long as people attempt to do their best for their families, they can lift each other up. A Raisin in the Sun remains important as a cultural document of a crucial period in American history as well as for the continued debate over racial and gender issues that it has helped spark (Sparks 3).
Lorraine Hansberry paints a picture of urban blight, coupled with a strong sense of familial bonding. We learn that this poor family has a dream of opening a liquor store despite Ruth’s misgivings who is trying to hold the family together, but at the forefront is her dream of success for her sons and husband. (Hansberry 383). Ruth struggles on despite the moaning and groaning of the family. Ruth knows that perseverance is essential to not only running the family but also to achieving success and makes a comment that “life can be a barrel of disappointments sometimes” (Hansberry 389). Will this money contribute to a better life; will they be happier, more content? At this point we see a thread of discontent and greed relating to the soon to be acquired cash.
A serious mood prevails within the play but this is offset by some touches of humor. We witness a poor black family in the 1950s struggling to realize their dream of a home of their own. We are privy to their many troubles along the way not the least of is the loss of the insurance money and the prejudice of the white community. But finally we are swept out of South Chicago and the old, small apartment and see the Younger family move into their new home. Mama is the main reason this event even happens.
The four main characters of this excellent play are Mama, Walter, Ruth and Beneatha. Each of them have a different dream for their lives, and in some cases it is clear that they have more than one dream. However, initially their dreams seem to compete against each other, as for one of them to achieve their dream would mean the death of another character's