Of the major characters in A Raisin in the Sun (Beneatha, Walter Lee, Mama, Ruth), choose one which you would consider to be a protagonist and which to be an antagonist and explain why.
Given the variety of interactions exhibited within the play, there are a few different ways this answer could go. One could name Ruth the protagonist and Mama the antagonist if considering the situation surrounding Ruth’s unexpected pregnancy and the implied route of abortion she had begun to take. Mama, in her deeply religious ways, was adamantly against the idea and berated Ruth for even thinking of terminating the pregnancy, despite the financial situation of the family and the low point Walter Lee and Ruth’s relationship had hit.
It could be said that Beneatha was a protagonist and Walter Lee was an antagonist when it came to Beneatha’s education. She believed that her schooling was her ticket to a better life and worked hard to achieve her goal of becoming a doctor. Walter Lee, on more than one occasion, belittled her quest and remained rooted in his idea that his sister should follow the same path that his mother and wife had taken. The clash in values could almost be seen as generational, though the years between Beneatha and her brother were far less than that of a typical generation gap. His negative view of her education could also be taken as a flare of jealousy, as she was on her way to making something more of herself than Walter Lee had been able to thus far.
The main quarrel in the story, though, presented itself with Walter Lee as the protagonist and Mama as the antagonist. The coveted check had been long due for the family, long enough that every member had come up with their own way of spending it. But no one had become as dead set on a plan as Walter Lee. His plot to use the $10,000 check to invest in a neighborhood liquor store was met with fervent opposition, the most important foe to the plan being Mama. It is constantly said that “Mama knows best”, and perhaps Walter Lee should have heeded that warning since he ended up taking a good chunk of the money and handing it off to a ne’er-do-well, never to be seen again. Thankfully, Mama had kept a decent amount, and used it to see the family off into a new start in a new home.
Of the main characters (Tom, Laura, or Amanda), which face life most unrealistically? Does this contribute to the themes of illusion versus reality featured in the play?
While a stunning case can be made for Laura, in this instance, the curious case of Amanda Wingfield is the clear winner. Having grown up as a sort of southern debutante, the reality she is met with during the timeframe of the play is a far cry from what she was raised within. Somewhere along the line, the tables turned, and Amanda’s only line of defense was to allow herself to steep in a world of fantasy. She didn’t want to face the fact that her son was not the prodigal businessman he attempted to portray himself as, nor did she wish to deal with her daughter’s disability, or Laura essentially following a similar path of make-believe as a coping mechanism.
Amanda’s consistent war with reality runs right alongside the theme of illusion versus reality. Her way of life has basically set the stage for the way her children have handled and continue to handle the inevitable life events that arise. The mere fact that she all but refuses to admit that her daughter is actually disabled, though subtly adheres to the limits Laura has otherwise, is proof in point of her world of delusion. She is present and aware, but in a constant state of denial. Laura’s state is completely mowed over by her mother’s inability to handle the reality of it, a steady stream of “gentlemen callers” always somewhere out there for her daughter despite the truth of near isolation.
Each of the Wingfields lives in their own personal reality; Laura and the world of glass, Tom and his budding business ventures, Amanda and her life as a southern belle. But given the fact that her children were seemingly raised to exist this way, I dubbed Amanda’s perception of life as the most unrealistic. Somewhere along the line, her reality shifted so drastically that her main form of coping was to basically forget the change ever happened.
How might the circumstances of the character Minnie Wright compare to Mrs. Mallard from The Story of an Hour or the narrator from The Yellow Wallpaper?
Much like the aforementioned women in the other stores, Minnie Wright (formerly Foster) lived a life caught up in the trappings of her husband. Like the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper, Minnie is doomed to live in a cage of a house, no outside company to allow any sort of escape from her implied oppression. Her captor is her husband, a quiet and solemn man named John whom, after some detective work and female intuition, is shown to have been a bit of a brute (showcased by the grisly death of the canary) and a dimmer of light. Mrs. Hale is someone who can attest to the shift in Minnie Wright. A bright, cheery, young woman turned near recluse thanks to what is proven to be a form of imprisonment, much like in The Yellow Wallpaper.
I find the main similarity between Mrs. Mallard and Minnie to be the hidden aspect of their misery. Mrs. Mallard’s oppression was thinly veiled by a husband who simply seemed to always know best, and Minnie Wright’s agony was the by-product of a seeming lack of proximity to the rest of the world. In The Story of an Hour we read about Mrs. Mallard’s sister shielding her from the truth concerning her not-dead husband, implying that her sibling knew enough about the suffering Mrs. Mallard dealt with to know what her reaction might be. The same apologetic tone is taken with both Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the women coming to the realization, together, that Minnie may well have committed the crime she was accused of, but with valid reason.
All three women were found to be dealing with the throes of feminine oppression that ran rampant within the eras these stories were written. Each of them was shown reaching a life-changing breaking point; Mrs. Mallard simply dropped dead at the mere sight of her very much alive husband, the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper succumbed to what came across as a psychotic break due to her captivity, and Minnie Wright was implied to have murdered her dispiriting husband.
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