Lorrain Hansberry's most successful play A Raisin in the Sun on some level traces back, reconstructs, and revives the reality of the playwright's life itself. According to Michelle Gordon, a researcher known for her considerable contribution into the studies of the black culture and history in Chicago, the Hansberrys once had to withstand an attack of their new white neighbors who came to their house to convince the Hansberrys of Chicago to abandon their new home (2). Growing up in the atmosphere of tension and still very persistent racial segregation, fundamentally shaped Lorraine Hansberry's self -consciousness, radical politics, and revolutionary art (Gordon 2). Having shaped her aesthetic practices to respond to the urban segregation her family had fought for so long (Gordon 2), Hansberry directly addresses the problem of racial discrimination in her most renowned play A Raisin in the Sun focusing on the issues of culture, gender and religion as markers of black Americans identity and offers sometimes ambiguous solutions to the challenge of reconciling the two belligerent cultures.
Despite the abolition of slavery happening as early as in 1833, it took black Americans ages to win a proper and dignified place in American society. Superstitions and even scientific theories arose in big numbers to justify the ghettoization and segregation of black people in America. According to Rhonda Williams, the architects of cultural and (social) scientific racism historically have represented black communities, black families, and black bodies as the bearers of stigma, disease, danger, violence, social pathology, and hypersexuality (140). That is why the people, inhabiting the neighborhood where the Youngers have bought their new house, feel that their whole way of life and everything they've ever worked for is threatened (Hansberry 554). Despite the fact that Mr. Lindner, the head of Welcoming Committee, is stunned to see what honest and good-natured people the Younger family are, he is still deeply convinced that Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities (Hansberry 553). The Youngers dream for a better place to live is in danger again as all the other dreams of the members of this family. As Tricia Rose specifies, freedom dreaming for Black people is fraught with risk, as such dreams are vulnerable to despair, manipulations, and loss of perspective (30). The researcher also points out that popular readings of the play as a story of racism defeated through homeownership and racial integration (Rose 29) do not reflect the real implication of Hansberrys masterpiece. Rose argues that it hardly can be called integration when the Black family moves in the middle-class white neighborhood and the community willing to pay them not to move in (29). Although moving to a white well-to-do neighborhood would mean living a better life for the Youngers, Beneatha, the youngest, is very passionate about not being an assimilationist. She tries to preserve her culture at least in the way she looks. Among other ways of her self-expression she tries to get closer to her African origin by wearing Nigerian traditional dresses and styling her hair naturally as most African women wear it.
Another factor contributing to the plight of black Americans is gender (dis)balance. Gender struggles are closely intermingled with those of generational authority in the Younger family. According to Frank Ardolino, the major theme in A Raisin in the Sun concerns generation in two senses personal growth despite harsh social and economic opposition and family lineage (181). In traditional white American society a patriarchal and even patrifocal family has always been considered an only instrument and guarantee of preparing children to function properly in this society while black families were notorious for their matriarchal structure. Women in this family make better decisions and behave with more dignity than Walter, the only grown man in the house. None of the women even thinks about accepting Mr. Lindners bribe while Walter, obsessed with ideas of wealth and money, is ready to take it on his knees. Beneatha calls him a toothless rat while Mama says that death done come in this here house (Hansberry 572). Mama obviously means that such corruptibility and total absence of dignity cannot be a characteristic of her son and he might as well be dead. Being a black woman herself, Lorraine Hansberry makes a fair accent on what role women generally play in family matters of black communities. The central character of the play is Mama, Lena Younger, who acts as a unifying force for the Younger family trying hard to provide the best for every inmate of her house. Although Mama does not fully approve of her daughters attitude and aspirations she puts aside part of insurance money for Bennies education. This indicates that deep in her heart she admires her daughters defiant behavior and brave aspirations to become a doctor. On the other hand, Walters character is truthfully shown as the one lacking integrity and without the gloss of fake masculinity. Although Mama eagerly wants her son Walter to embrace the role of the man in the family, he behaves rather childishly giving his son Travis the only money he has just to vex his wife. Walter is disheartened that there is no way for him to learn how to be a man. He dreams to take over and run the world, to run a rubber plantation or a steel mill (Hansberry 530) but he cannot even make his wife cook eggs for him the way he prefers. Looking at George Murchison, Beneathas rich colored boyfriend, Walter is also frustrated that he does not look like a man too. Walter is indignant that educational establishments do not teach boys that:
WALTER: What the hell you learning over there? Filling up your heads(counting off on his fingers)with the sociology and the psychologybut they teaching you how to be a man? How to take over and run the world? They teaching you how to run a rubber plantation or a steel mill? Nawjust to talk proper and read books and wear them faggoty-looking white shoes (Hansberry 530).
Hansberry demonstrates that gender roles in a traditional black family are getting increasingly complicated as the ever-changing world and conservative society present new challenges to them. She also shows peoples helplessness, confusion and inability to adjust to their roles and fit in the society to everyones benefit. Failing to be the man of the family and the house, Walter still holds conservative views about the role a woman should play both in the house and in the society. He, for instance, is convinced that his wife Ruth is guilty of doing nothing to help him as well as of the inability to be on his side that long for nothing (Hansberry 493). Walter also believes it to be a ridiculous idea that his younger sister Beneatha wants to become a doctor, a profession traditionally held by men. He considers this choice of his sisters highly unsuitable for a young girl:
WALTER: Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy 'bout messing 'round with sick peoplethen go be a nurse like other womenor just get married and be quiet (Hansberry 497-498).
Walter is obviously certain that Beneatha is deluding herself and vexing him by pretending she is going to pursue a career in medicine and, in reality, she, as all the other women, is created for raising children and housework. Walter fails to understand his sisters search to express herself as, in his opinion, women have small minds (Hansberry 495) and if they are married to a man they are supposed to wear pearls in this world (Hansberry 571).
Religion is another thing that becomes a stumbling block in this poor family. Despite the fact that religion and spirituality has always been of high importance in every black American family, not all of the Youngers are sure that God has anything to do with their present or future. According to Harriette Pipes MacAdoo, spirituality and deep religious feelings in black families root back to the history of slavery: enslaved Africans and their descendants relied on an African-based understanding of life, death, and creation to help them to adjust to an unpredictable social environment (98). Lena Younger, Mama, as the oldest person in the family keeps to the notion of God the tightest. While her daughter Beneatha is sick of hearing about God and claims that God is just one idea she doesnt accept, Lena makes it clear that in her house there is still God (Hansberry 507). Therefore, religion in this heavily distressed family is another thing that alienates them from each other instead of uniting them.
To conclude, Lorrain Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun could be considered a manifesto of black Americans rights and certainly one of the most powerful anti-segregation literary works of art. Inspired by an episode of Hansberrys life, the play deals with the perplexity of the life the Younger family have to live. They struggle hard to preserve their identity, dignity and family relationship in the post-war America still soaked with hatred and discriminatory practices against African Americans. Each of the main characters represents one of the issues that the Youngers face in their difficult life. Beneatha claims that she aims to express herself through coming back to her African Origin. The character of Walter demonstrates that men in black families can often be weak and driven by women, while Mama symbolizes the dominant woman, caring and omnipresent, in the majority of matriarchal black families. She is also the keystone of familys religious education and makes sure the name of God is not remembered in vain in her house. Hansberrys play outlines the injustice inflicted upon the black families in America and implies that they will never stop fighting to get themselves a proper and dignified place in American society.
Ardolino, Frank. "Hansberry's a Raisin in the Sun."The Explicator 63.3 (2005): 181-183. Print.
Gordon, Michelle. "Somewhat Like War: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun."African American Review 42.1 (2008): 121-133. Web. 24 July 2016.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016 <http://www.taghawaii.net/A_Raisin_in_the_Sun.pdf>.
McAdoo, Harriette P. "Religion in African American families."Black Families. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE publications, 2006. 97-100. Print.
Rose, Tricia. "Hansberrys A Raisin in the Sun and the Illegible Politics of (Inter)personal Justice."Kalfou 1.1 (2014): 27-60. Web. 24 July 2016.
Williams, Rhonda M. Living at the Crossroads: Explorations in Race, Nationality, Sexuality, and Gender. Reprinted in The House That Race Built, edited by Wahneema Lubiano, New York: Pantheon Books, 1997. Web.
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