Inthe play "A Raisin in the Sun," Lorraine writes about theAmerican dream, and the confidence people are supposed to haveregardless of their skin color. She does not agree on taking the easyway out when trying to succeed. She also communicates to the readersto think realistically, not through fantasy, when it comes tosuccess. Consequently, Lorraine Hansberry`s interest in AfricanAmerican studies led her to write the play "A Raisin in theSun."
ARaisin in the Sun
Thestory is set in a small village in Chicago, which is racially dividedto the southern side. The Younger`s, the family in the story, are alow-income family living in an apartment that is evidently too smallfor the five occupants that live there. The daughter, BeneathaYounger, is the only one who is privileged enough to go to college.She is proud and arrogantly determined to get out of the environmentshe grew up in and become a doctor. She is very determined and verydifferent from the rest of the family, who often tease her because ofher collegiate attitude. She is not only determined in herschoolwork, but everything else about her is "the best".She spends the extra time on her hair and attire, to show she isproud of being African. Her many hardships pay off later in the storyto achieve her African-American dream of becoming a doctor. Her name“Beneatha” shows her arrogant and scholastic attitude towardssuccess. Beneatha is not different from the other Americans searchingfor their individual interpretation of the American dream (Hansberry12).
Thefamily receives insurance money left behind by their father.Consequently, a conflict erupts on how the money should be used.Walter wishes to invest in a liquor store, an idea opposed by hismother. Therefore, while she rejects Walter`s proposal, she setsaside money for his sister`s medical school. Walter is very angeredby this, and in Act 1, he makes the statement "He was my father,too!" because of his frustration for not being given a chance todecide on how to spend the money (Hansberry 27).Mama later pays aninstallment on a house that is situated in an all-white neighborhood.For this reason, the neighbors send a representative to prevent thefamily from buying the house. Mr. Lindner even offers to pay them ifthey will refrain from moving to his neighborhood. He makes it veryclear that if they do decide to move then they will not be welcomedback. Mama decides that she will entrust Walter with the rest of themoney. With Walter`s low paying job as a chauffeur, he is frustratedand invests the money into a liquor store with his so-called friend.He later comes to find that the friend has made off with the money.The family decides to move to the neighborhood anyway, and this ishow the play ended.
LorraineHansberry uses Beneatha`s ambition of becoming a doctor, to show thatwomen did not have to be restrained to the home. The Women`s Movementwas growing strong during this period of the story. Throughout theplay, Lorraine uses the characters as a way to follow the strugglesand harshness of an African American family`s yearning to realize theAmerican Dream. Along this hard road comes the importance oftogetherness and family harmony, which Mama is finally able toinstill upon Walter. The house enables them to fulfill their father`shard work and determination. They achieved his "American Dream"even after his death. The characters of Mama, Walter, and Beneathaall have their differences, but in the end, unity prevails in thefamily, and the struggles faced by the family are nothing if theyonly work together and understand each one`s wants and needs.
Despiteclass division within the isolated community, people from differentclasses were forced to be neighbors. The settlement set up was neverdetermined by the economic or the social status of an individual(Brown 28). It was common for a graduate to live across the streetjust like a school dropout who never went to school despite thedifference in their levels of education. A racketeer often lived afew apartments away from a preacher. A domestic worker might livenext door to a woman with a house cleaner of her own. AlthoughLorraine`s family belonged to the upper middle class, and she wasexpected to act befittingly, her parents also made sure that sheremained grounded as a human being. She said that living in a ghettobrings its inhabitants to some degree of intimacy with each other andthat it helps to unify the "Negroes as one people"(Hansberry 41).
Lorraine`sfather had an important status which often attracted prominent dinnerguests, including NAACP`s director Walter White, W.E.B Dubois, whoedited the NAACP`s newspaper, and later taught Lorraine, poetLangston Hughes, and performer Paul Robeson, who she later become hisworker. The Hansberry children were always encouraged to participatein the dinner table conversations alongside their intellectual andinfluential guests. In 1937, the family moved to a new home in anall-white neighborhood. After being attacked by an angry mob, it isruled by the courts that they must move. Outraged, Carl Hansberryappealed to the Supreme Court who ruled in his favor. This experiencelater became Lorraine`s first Broadway play, which won her criticalacclaim. Both the Hansberry and Perry family legacies reflectambition and a search for knowledge, which nourished Lorraine in herchildhood and throughout out her life. Following all the shortcomingsLorraine gained many experiences and insightful understanding of thedifficulties the black people faced in their lives (Gill 26).
Aspectsof Hansberry’s Life that motivated her to Write the Play
Manyaspects of Lorraine Hansberry`s life seem to be revealed in “ARaisin in the Sun." Her efforts as a child to connect with thetypical African-American community of the time appear to be shown inher play. Her father Carl endured many struggles trying to help hisfamily, but his efforts brought him an early death. Now in her play,much of the action is caused by the death of Big Walter the fatherwho has passed on leaving the insurance money. Mama always talksabout how he was a great man and how he worked hard for the family.In this part Hansberry emulating her father, she does not portray himthrough the Walter who is a leading character in the play. Herknowledge as to how to build the structure of the family came fromher experiences with friends. Stated earlier was that her family wasvery well off, but she tried to identify with the less fortunatepeople to try to get rid of her "precious girl" tag. Herfriend`s family called the Jemison had mostly modeled her charactersin her play. Ruth represented the mother and Walter had some of theirresponsible qualities of the father. Travis was the one whodescribed the friend, Emmanuel. However, Beneatha and Mama arecharacters fabricated from other sources (Harry 91).
WhenLorraine was still young, her parents shifted to an all-whiteneighborhood where they faced resistance. Her father Carl had to takethe case to the Supreme Court to fight an old segregation law. Infact, once they moved in, Lorraine was almost killed by a brickhurled through her family`s window by one of their angry neighbors.These incidences portray the extent of racial discrimination in thesociety (Brown 22). Lorraine was heartbroken by the death of herfather. The play seems to be how she had wished her life should havebeen when young. She felt the lack of unity amongst the people of thesame ethnic background. Look at the name that she gave this family"Younger" as in when she was Young.
Besides,Lorraine Hansberry`s education took her to a long path. Afterfinishing high school, she enrolled at the University of Wisconsinintending to graduate from there in four years. However, she gainedan interest in the arts. After two years she left Wisconsin and hadbrief stints at the Art Institute of Chicago, Roosevelt College, andshe studied art in Mexico. Lorraine eventually ended up at a collegein New York where got an opportunity to work for magazine productionfirm. Also, while in New York she was exposed to the theater, and shespent most of her time reading plays, and creating her own. The mostinfluential person in her life was the father who died at the age of51. She said that his constant battle with racism had caused hisearly death. Therefore, in a way Hansberry is portraying many thingsthat he father had to endure in the play.
Theexamples of strength and determination provided to Lorraine by herfamily helped to mold her into both the woman and the artist shelater became. On the 19th of May 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was born.Upon receiving the birth certificate her parents made an unmistakablealteration, replacing the word "Negro" under race with a"B" for black. At the time of Lorraine`s birth, CarlHansberry was a moderately wealthy and well-respected property owner.
Challengesencountered as a Writer
ManyAfrican Americans, such as Loraine Hansberry, have written greatplays but the plays got low ratings because of the color of theplaywright`s skin and the author`s gender. The gender, just as race,can affect the thoughts of a writer but if the audience judge a playby first looking at such things as gender or race, the stereotypicallabels that have been attached to a particular gender or race blindthem. Therefore, these negative impacts substantiate the meaning ofthe play and are not the distinct variable in which to interpret thework. The racism was a significant issue to the African Americans andbecome a great hindrance to the success of Loraine Hansberry as awriter (Wilkerson 9).
Lorraine`sstory was not a particularly common one, and because of herupbringing, and the autobiographical environment that many of herworks took, Hansberry`s writing presented images of intelligent,determined African American people, rather than domestic workers.While living in Harlem, Lorraine wrote for Paul Robeson`s publication"Freedom." She used her articles as a vehicle to informAfrican Americans about issues ignored by the mainstream, as well asa reflection of her love of art, African history, and freedom for allpeople of color, and the influence of Robeson and Dubois (Darraj 17).To provide a more active and inspiring image of African Americanpeople she wrote a collection of stories about African Americanheroes, creating an alternative to those above "half-idiotsubhuman." Her first play to make it to Broadway was named aftera line in a Langston Hughes poem- "A Raisin in the Sun." Itwas based on her experience of deciding to relocate to an all-whitearea, considering the challenges the decision may bring. The movewas a real triumph for Hansberry. Although she was not the first tochallenge "the minstrel show" portrayal of blacks, herattempts were met with the greatest success, the success thatvalidated the ideas presented in the play (Hansberry 75).
AlthoughLorraine Hansberry broke many barriers with her first play, sheremained an artist, and in the years to come, her works would notrely solely on casts comprised of black main characters. Despite thefact that many were disappointed that she refused to take on the roleof "voice of black America" she was devoted to her art andwould not be confined by that title. Her family instilled in her asense of pride and through example proved by her that withdetermination it is possible to achieve almost anything. The richnessof the environment she grew up in provided her with the experienceswhich would later be transformed into the works which would go on toredefine America`s expectation of black literature and black peoplein general. The play "A Raisin in the Sun" is consideredone of the greatest American plays and has enjoyed global success.Lorraine Hansberry though did not get to finish her work because shedied at a youthful age of 34. Her death left a significant gap intheater industry of America, and in the African American play writersof the time.
Brown,L. W. "Lorraine Hansberry as Ironist: A Reappraisal of A Raisinin the Sun." Journalof Black Studies4.3 (2002): 22-47. Web.
Darraj,Susan Muaddi. "Hansberry, Lorraine." Encyclopaedia ofActivism and Social Justice (2013). Print.
Gill,Glenda. "Techniques of Teaching Lorraine Hansberry: Liberationfrom Boredom." Negro Forum8.2 (2014): 26. Web.
Hansberry,Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: And with Sixteen Related Readings.Lodi, N.J: Ever bind Anthologies, 2003. Print.
HarryJ. Elam. "Cultural capital and the presence of Africa: LorraineHansberry, August Wilson, and the power of black theatre." TheCambridge History of African (2012): 80-102. Web
Wilkerson,Margaret B. "The Sighted Eyes and Feeling Heart of LorraineHansberry." Black Forum17.1 (2015). Print.
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