The middle of the twentieth century was the period when the USA underwent major changes in many areas of social and political life. Diverse populations were affected by these shifts, but African Americans could be regarded as the group that went through the most considerable transformations in terms of their position in the American society (Washington 155). It is noteworthy that African Americans’ experiences and struggles varied across states.
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For instance, the life of this underprivileged group in Chicago was very different from the one of people of color who lived in southern states. However, although segregation was not manifested in its darkest forms as it used to be in the South, Chicago residents experienced some forms of social division. The hardships and longings of African American residents of Chicago are reflected in the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. The author described the ideas regarding and approaches to solving political, social, economic, and educational problems that African Americans faced in Chicago in the late 1950s.
Social and Political Climate in the Play
The play in question is an illustration of the way social and political issues that existed in the USA in the middle of the twentieth century affected the African American population. Increasing consumerism (as well as materialism) and the social division of the society were some of the primary trends at that period (Hooks 2). It is noteworthy that many of the problems the main characters faced were typical of that period irrespective of race as Whites also tried to adapt to the new materialistic society (Washington 306).
However, some social trends had a major impact on colored people. Although Chicago was not as segregated formally as some southern states, the society was still divided. White Americans often claimed and sincerely believed that “Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities” (Hansberry 1093). They did not say openly that they saw African Americans less worth living in their neighborhoods, but they tried to do anything to ensure that the society was divided.
At the same time, the political agenda was focused on attaining civil rights for the people of color, as well as more rights for women. The play under analysis displays three approaches to the problems mentioned above. Some African Americans tried to concentrate on their heritage and “cure the Great Sore of colonialism with Independence” like Joseph Asagai or Benetha (Hansberry 1102). Others (for example, Walter Younger or George Murchison) tried to assimilate and pursue the American Dream earning a high status in the society. Many African Americans placed the highest value on their daily routines and families like Mama or Ruth.
Economic Issues African Americans Faced
The Youngers had quite typical struggles for a colored community as they had to work hard to address their needs and overcome different types of oppression and humiliation. Čerče states that the play in question was a radical way to fight against colonialism by initiating a debate on numerous issues related to economy, politics, and social aspects (227). The author could seem radical, but she did not tell anything that was not the truth. People of color had to work hard “in somebody’s kitchen” to make ends meet (Hansberry 1072). Walter was dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for him and saw investment in a liquor store as the only chance for him to attain his dreams.
The economic struggles people of color had were numerous and rather serious. The issues made people less concerned about some values, hopes, and aspirations. The author also showed that African Americans were forced to choose money instead of dignity as Walter was ready to take the money offered by a white community for living in a place where they were supposed to be “happier” (Hansberry 1093). The play is very optimistic as it shows that Walter eventually changed his mind and refused to take White people’s money (Miller 186). Hence, the author shared her belief that African Americans would make the American society truly democratic.
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Educational Climate and Quest for Civil Rights
As far as the opportunities are concerned, Benetha can be a member of the family who achieved a lot since she was a student who could become a doctor. All the family saw education as a chance not to be wasted and something that was worth money and time. Education could also be regarded as an instrument of African Americans’ empowerment and the crystallization of anti-colonial sentiments (Washington 155). Benetha is an illustration of these aspirations although her future is rather obscure.
The young girl was successful in her academic endeavor, and she was full of hopes regarding her career path. Benetha used her academic environment as a platform for the exploration of her identity and her own way in the American society. She, as well as many other females, also saw education as her path to equality with men or at least a high degree of independence. Benetha believed that the image of the perfect woman accepted in the society who knew what “should be enough” for her (Hansberry 1067). The author depicts the way African Americans contributed to the development of the Civil Right movement.
It is noteworthy that Hansberry did not provide a clear solution to address the issues that colored people faced in the middle of the twentieth century. The author simply drew a picture of the climate African Americans had to live in when the country was undergoing substantial transformations. However, the playwright still gave a recommendation for all as she stressed that every individual had to decide for themselves. The episode from the life of the Youngers shows that only responsible decision making can bring peace and satisfaction.
On balance, it is necessary to state that the play under analysis is a detailed reflection of the ways people of color addressed the challenges they had to face in Chicago in the 1950s. The author depicted different types of African Americans who chose diverse ways to attain their goals in the political, economic, and social environment that existed at that period. Many African Americans were often too preoccupied with economic issues and had no time for political or other aspects.
Nevertheless, thousands were eager to restore the link between themselves and their heritage, as well as defeat the colonialism in the American society. Finally, there were those who focused on their families and making their close ones happy. The author unveiled the primary issues African Americans faced, which was quite a bold action and a way to struggle against the status quo that reigned in Chicago in the middle of the twentieth century.
Čerče, Danica. “Race and Politics in the Twentieth-Century Black American Play: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun”. Neohelicon, vol. 46, no. 1, 2018, pp. 227-239.
Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Alison Booth, W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 1046-1113.
Hooks, Bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015.
Miller, Henry D. Theorizing Black Theatre: Art Versus Protest in Critical Writings, 1898-1965. Mcfarland & Co., Publishers, 2011.
Washington, Mary Helen. The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary And Cultural Left Of The 1950S. Columbia University Press, 2014.