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Hansberry’s “A Raisin In the Sun” Play Analysis

The fight against the segregation disease turned out to be successful for the US’s people of color. However, at the time of the debut of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, the movement for the rights of black people led by Martin Luther King had not yet won its major victories. In the play A Raisin in the Sun written by Lorraine Hansberry, the reader sees the struggle with racial segregation of the 1950s and notices how it affects the Younger family and African Americans in general, their reactions and thinking in everyday lives.

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The play A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Younger family of five people – Walter and Ruth Younger, their son Travis, Walter’s mother Lena, and his younger sister Beneatha. They all live in a crowded two-room apartment on the south side of Chicago. Walter works as a limousine driver and dreams of getting rich by opening a liquor store. After Walter’s father’s death, his mother Lena receives a check from life insurance for 10 thousand dollars and decides to buy a house in a white area with this money.

Walter demands to give some of the money to him and receives 3,000 dollars; he gives this amount to his friend Willie to invest in the business, but Willie deceives Walter. The family is visited by Karl Lindner, a white representative of the area where the Youngers will buy a house. He offers to buy the house from them for a higher price since the white people from the area do not want to see Youngers as their neighbors. Walter initially intends to agree to a deal that his mother strongly disagrees with but ultimately refuses, realizing that self-esteem is more important than money.

The plot also depicts Beneatha’s relationship with two boyfriends, George and Joseph. George tries to assimilate as much as possible in white society and is ready to accept his ‘inferiority’ for the sake of material wellness. In contrast, Joseph, a Yoruba student from Nigeria, prioritizes spiritual values over material ones. He tries to introduce Beneatha to Nigerian culture and rebukes her when she becomes desperate over the lost money, some of which should have been spent on her education. Beneatha agrees with Joseph and accepts his marriage proposal.

The plot itself is exciting, but more important is the historical and cultural context of the play. The family lives in constant tension; Walter works a lot, and communication with street friends Willie and Bobo is his only recreation (Lorraine 1508). Notably, in his article “Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States,” Wright draws attention to the living conditions in which thousands and millions of people of color were forced to live (1574). Due to segregation policies and a corrupt real-estate trading scheme covered by the municipal and federal governments, most US cities have been divided into first, second, third, and fourth class districts. According to this scheme, a more significant number of black people were considered a negative indicator of the benefits and well-being of the area and determined lower prices for real estate.

According to Wright, some cunning tenants bought out abandoned white properties in less affluent neighborhoods and turned single-family homes into a group of mini-apartments, ‘kitchenettes.’ These kitchenettes were single rooms with a gas stove and washbasin, and large families lived in these rooms (Wright 1575). Such apartment buildings were an example of terrible living conditions, where people did not have enough personal space, crimes were committed, and diseases spread. It is not surprising that the residents’ emotional state was also unstable and gave rise to many conflicts, as presented in the play.

Simultaneously, despite the difficult conditions, many people found the strength to fight for a better life. According to Wright, churches became a stronghold and an outlet for people of color since they were the only place where people could feel free and be themselves, free from the oppression of the suffocating walls (1575). The heroes of the play A Raisin in the Sun do not lose hope; despite the difficult living conditions, their dreams allow them to live on and not despair.

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In his article “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. gives a more detailed description of the situation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The hero of the struggle for the rights of colored people states that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever” (Martin Luther King 1585). He describes the unhealthy situation in which American society existed when a father had to explain to his six-year-old daughter why she cannot walk in an amusement park advertised on TV because it is a “white-only” place.

The author speaks of sadness and despair when such a father observes how the child begins to feel her perceived inferiority. He also describes the fatigue and emotional pain of the ubiquitous “white” and “colored” signs and the banal physical discomfort when a colored man, who has to travel to another city, cannot stay at a motel. It is not surprising that the characters in the play experience such intense emotions that deform their personality, as in George and Walter’s case. Lorraine vividly demonstrates to the reader how much the life of the colored heroes of the play differs from their white contemporaries due to the historical and cultural context.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun” Mays, Kelly J., The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. 1506-1570. Print.

Jr., Martin Luther King. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Mays, Kelly J., The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. 1584-1586. Print.

Wright, Richard. “Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States”. Mays, Kelly J., The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2016. 1573-1577. Print.

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StudyCorgi. "Hansberry’s “A Raisin In the Sun” Play Analysis." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/hansberrys-a-raisin-in-the-sun-play-analysis-research-paper-examples/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Hansberry’s “A Raisin In the Sun” Play Analysis." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/hansberrys-a-raisin-in-the-sun-play-analysis-research-paper-examples/.

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