In the play A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry shows that the only dreams that are successful are dreams that aren’t selfish; Mama’s dream survives because it’s not just about one person it’s about her entire family. The play portrays an African American hard-working family that struggles against economic hardship and racial prejudice in the southside of Chicago (Sparknotes editors). Lorraine Hansberry's work was all based upon the struggles “negros” faced while “white supremacists” always tried to expand on the segregation of blacks and whites (Abell 1). The play was based on a true story ( Wilkeson). The play portrays The Youngers family live in the “slums” in the Southside of Chicago. In a two-bedroom apartment in an over-crowded black ghetto(Gordon). The play opens with the Younger’s family awaiting a 10,000 dollar insurance check. The Younger’s also face multiple challenges throughout the play such as racism, prejudice, civil rights; The family all begins to dream about what they could do with the money, Mama wanted to buy a house where she has a yard so Travis can play, Walter Lee wants to invest in a business ( a liquor store), and Beneatha wants to go to medical school so she can become a doctor. These different dreams are considered “The American Dream” and those dreams can only be, ade with the help of money.
Mama is the strength of the family. “She is a woman with dreams but also with the wisdom to know when to act on them” ( Bookrags 18). She encourages her family to take pride in themselves and follow their dreams. Throughout the play, she provides insight and advice from someone from an older and different generation. Mama focuses on her family and their dreams. Also, Mama dreams of high goals for her and the Younger family. For example, she said “ of course, baby. Ain’t no need in ‘em coming all the way here and having to go back. The charges for that too. (She sits down, fingers to her brow, thinking) Lord, ever since I was a little girl, I always remember people saying, “Lena- Lena Eggleston, your aims too high all the time. You need to slow down and see life a little more like it is. Just slow down some.” That’s what they always used to say down-home - “Lord, that Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing. She’ll get her due one day!” (Hansberry 139) When she says this she’s explaining that she’s always told she’s dreaming too big or too much but she has a mindset where she has to dream so that standards are set for her throughout the play.
Although the check hasn’t come yet everybody knows what they want to use their “portion” of the check on. Mama has a very strong Christian background, so when Walter Lee shares the idea of using the money to invest in a liquor store. Mama is the motivation of the family. She told Walter “ There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing” (Hansberry 145). That quote explains that she’ll always push them no matter how hard times are getting. Mama says she will not condone such “un-Christian” behavior and business because Mama believes that is a sin, Mama says she will not participate in such un-Christian like behavior and business. Mama’s dream was to buy a house so that her grandson (Travis) could play in the yard and so that he has his own room and isn’t sleeping on the couch. Mama is the protagonist throughout the play, She cares very much about her family, and throughout the play that is shown very frequently. Although Mama has dreams of her own, She shows her “mothering nature” when she gives Walter the remaining money to pursue his dreams. Throughout the play she constantly talks about deferring and pursuing dreams, she shows those traits when she ridicules Walter for having such a crazy dream. She struggles with connection with the family because of how conservative and religious she is. That is also why she refused to give Walter the money because the act of investing in a liquor store is not Christian-like at all. Beneatha questions how a family could have so much faith in “God” when they’ve been in the struggle their whole lives. She states that “God doesn’t exist”, and Mama slaps her right in her face after saying that because of her beliefs.
Beneatha Younger is the youngest child among “Mamas” children. Throughout the play, she struggles for an adult identity. “She dreams big, she never backs down a fight, and she feels she is not understood” (Domina 71). She also provides a feminist and optimistic perspective and tone to the play. Beneatha dreams of using her portion of the insurance money to help pay for her medical school, and to help her maintain her ideal dream of becoming a doctor. Although she wants to be a doctor Walter feels as though she shouldn’t be because “women” are nurses, not doctors. For example, he said “ Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? if you were so crazy ‘ bout messing’ round with sick people - then go be a nurse like other women - or just get married and be quiet … “ (Hansberry 20). Even while facing the struggle of sexism within her own family she also struggles to find her identity in the play; constantly being reminded of who she should be, who her family wants her to be, and who she wants to be. On her journey to find her “identity”, she dates two extremely different men. The men she experienced throughout the play were Joseph Asagai and George Murchison. While dating these two men she seems to be happier and more herself alongside Asagai, and more depressed and overwhelmed with Murchison. Again is an African boy from Nigeria that Bennie met on campus. He is very intellectual. He calls Bennie “ Alaiyo” which means “One for whom Bread -- Food -- Is Not Enough”. George Murchison, however, is a pompous African American who is interested in assimilating himself into the white culture than anything else. This is probably why Beneatha relates with Asagai more, who is interested in getting in touch and discovering more about his African roots.
Beneatha is very much independent and takes pride in that. Asagai says that her independence is her downfall because she does not want to marry. He also says she is too dependent on her surroundings and her family because she does not want to leave American and go to Africa with him. Being a strong feminist, Asagai’s criticisms that she should be less independent and his wishes that she would be quieter and less ambitious, anger her. She is influenced by his critiques and encouraged by them. He says that she is dependent on the insurance money and her brother's investments towards her becoming a doctor. Once again, this encourages her. She creates a new perspective on her dream and creates new energy for her to achieve it. This also brings her closer to her brother, Walter Lee. She comes to appreciate him, even though earlier in the novel she considered him weak and question his morals and manhood.
Walter Lee Younger is one of the main characters in the play. He is a “Lean and intense young man in his middle thirties, inclined to quick nervous movements and erratic speech habits” (Domina 61). He is the typical man in the family he struggles to support the Younger’s family beings though they don’t have the funds to provide much ( Sparknotes ). He is Mama’s only son, Ruth’s husband, and Beneatha’s brother. He serves as not only the antagonist of the play but also the protagonist. He wants to invest within a business so that Travis doesn’t have to worry about going through the “struggle” or live in poverty anymore as well as the younger family. For example, Walter states “ you wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction that’s going to change our lives… That’s how come one day when you 'bout seventeen years old I’ll come home” (Sparknotes). His evolution during the play is considered the greatest, as it begins with him making mistakes to harm the family, and later shows him rising to the challenge, making sacrifices, and finding himself and his manhood. He is an “everyday man” of the play -- often providing insight into what the African- American man lived through at this time. He works somewhere “unsatisfying” but he feels this way because he shouldn’t be anyone’s “servant” (Bookrags). He is very rude to everybody ( Shmoop) Walter tends to drink a lot (James). He struggles to support his family his wife Ruth and son Travis and believes that money will solve all of his problems. He is the type of person that only hears himself, and this leads to conflict between him and each of his family members. He doesn’t pay much attention to the family which is the cause of most of their issues because he’s not able to understand where they are coming from ( Sparknotes). He fails to understand that to help fix other people’s problems, you need to hear them and understand them first. Walter is consumed mostly by greed, which proves to be his downfall throughout the play. His ignorance causes him to fail in achieving his dreams and goals. His ambition, which is normally considered a positive characteristic, is one of his most detrimental attributes. His greed and ignorance are displayed through the quotations, “ Check coming today “ (Hansberry 26) in which he is focused on when he will receive the insurance check, which contains the large sum of money. Walter Lee’s dream is to start his own business, and this shows his passion and ambition. The undoing of his dream is that he believes that by attaining this money and starting a business, all of his economic and social problems will be solved, and he will find happiness. Walter invests wrongly, which later jeopardizes not only his dreams but his sister’s dream of medical school and his mother’s dream. His ignorance is profuse in his bad business dealing, and his mindset is clouded by passion, ambition, and desperation. Although Walter Lee does eventually rise to the occasion, his negative qualities prove to be the biggest challenge he has to overcome throughout the story.
Joseph Asagai is an African student who catches the attention of Beneatha and is one of her love interests throughout the play. Unlike her other love interest, George Murchison, he showers her with gifts and shows affection. He is a persistent man and flatters her often, but is never considered overbearing. He feels as though they are dependent on the money from her father though he said “ Then isn’t there something wrong in a house in a world where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man?” (Sparknotes). He is seen as a counselor to Beneatha and helps her get in the right state of mind and “back on track” after her brother seemingly losses all of their inheritance.
Dreams in A Raisin in the Sun are a big concept. They are constantly evolving and always being challenged. The characters in the story all have different dreams with one common denominator -- the money to afford their dreams. The Younger family is awaiting the check that will help to support their dreams and create a better reality for them in a time period where black people were held against a certain stigma and were racially profiled. As said African Americans are “The world’s most backward race of people, and that's a fact (Hansberry 20). The quote explains that based upon the color of your skin you are always labeled whether it’s by your own people or outsiders. Walter wants to become an entrepreneur, Beneatha wants to attend medical school, and Mama simply wants to own a bigger house for her and her family. All of these dreams are hard to accomplish on a limited budget, but with the help of their father’s insurance money, that can all become reality for them. These dreams all help create the plot of the story ad show the true colors of each character. The reader must understand the mechanisms throughout the work.
In Conclusion, the characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that dominate their lives. Even the title itself, A Raisin in the Sun, helps reference the Langston Hughes poem he wrote about dreams that were forgotten or put off. He decides whether or not those dreams will go through or be long gone like a raisin in the sun. Every member of the Younger family, including Bennie, Walter, and Mama, all have individual dreams that they want to pursue. They want to use the money to pursue those dream Throughout the play they tend to realize the only dreams that are fulfilled is dreams that aren’t selfish but dreams that are selfless. By the end of the story, they all end up in favor of using the money to pursue Mama’s dream, to buy a house. This is because they reflect on their past actions and attitudes and realizes that they were in fact being selfish, and they soon realize that by buying a house they will unite as a family more. This is a lesson that Mama had been trying to instill, and though they’re challenges of trying to pursuing their dreams, they eventually learned. Despite the challenges faced throughout the play, it won many awards such as 1974, Tony award, and the 1974 Grammy award for best broadway show album (Carter). This play was all based upon the struggles “Negros” faced while “white supremacists” always tried to expand on segregation of blacks and whites (Abell 1).
- Abell, E. (2016). A Raisin in the Sun. In The Explicator (Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 1-3). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1080/00144940.2015.1115809
- Domina, L. (2010). Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (No. 518). Infobase Publishing.
- Gordon, M. J. (2007). Why "A Raisin in the Sun" Still Resonates Today. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-a-raisin-in-the-sun-still-resonates-today-123879238/
- Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun. Random House.
- Sparknotes editors. (n.d.). A Raisin in the Sun. SparkNotes. https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/raisin/
- Wilkeson, M. (1959, Mar 11). Negro Problem Poignantly Dramatized: Lorraine Hansberry's Play Packs Emotional Wallop. The Seattle Times.
- Bookrags. (n.d.). Walter Lee Younger Character Analysis in A Raisin in the Sun. Bookrags. https://www.bookrags.com/characters/walter-lee-younger/