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The Characters Dreams in “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry

This paper will study the important characters in the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry in the context of the substance of the dreams that they have. The paper will analyze the character roles from two perspectives; the first is about the American dream regarding material prosperity and upward mobility. The second perspective is about the vision of a quality life which entails a spiritual bend of mind by way of living a life of integrity, decency, and dignity. The types of dreams may not be necessarily exclusive to each other but it is evident that the material aspect of the dream is likely to hamper and obstruct the realizing of the spiritual dream which is certainly more important. A Raisin in the Sun is mostly about the second kind of dream, whereby an examination of the influences of being black is made in considering a community that is discriminated against. It is also evident that individuals make efforts in the context of their ability to realize the two different dreams.

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Lorraine Hansberry has attempted to examine the issue of subjective racism and the practices of insensitive racist attitudes that prevailed during the 20th century in a manner that her opinion seems to give the impression that she was writing about something prevalent much before her times. Her considerate methods in examining racial discrimination in A Raisin in the Sun have helped a great deal in the examination of racialism in a very succinct and thought-inducing manner. In this regard, Conrad has aptly explained the happenings during the time by saying, “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it” (Conrad 103).

Hansberry was herself the daughter of a successful real estate agent who fought the practices that were responsible for the sufferings of the African Americans, and her family had moved into a white neighborhood primarily for the reason that her father wanted Hansberry to get away from the adverse influences of the environment prevailing in the ghettos (Goetz 687). There are several similarities between the life of Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun, and one can easily infer that the play is essentially about dreams since each of the major characters tackles the question of dealing with the unfavorable condition that he or she is faced with. The devastating situations that always control the characters’ lives are taken with a strong spirit by the characters although the dreams may or may not have been fulfilled, yet they grow in their necessary ways (Delaney, 2000). The struggles of the characters as revealed by Hansberry are in keeping with the words of Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (1998) when he says that the very nature of man is that of war. Hansberry has taken the title of the play from the poem titled A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes which truly embodies the dream world of the main characters in A Raisin in the Sun. The mood in the play has been set by such critical notions as each character’s dream constantly gets festered during the play in bringing about conclusions either for the good or for the bad. The family in the play comprises Mama, Walter Lee (Mama’s son), Ruth (Walter’s wife), Travis (Walter’s son), and Beneatha (Walter’s younger sister). All of them have a common dream of enjoying better living standards. Walter desires to get richer as soon as possible by using his dead father’s money in opening a liquor shop. His wife Ruth and Mama wish to leave their old house for a better one while Walter’s sister Beneatha wants to use the money to complete her education. The dreams of the family are deferred for too long until there is a situation when frustration reaches its peak and finally bursts out.

Mama is seen as dreaming to own a bigger house and wishes to have a garden and a courtyard where she can engage in her hobbies. She gives exceptional devotion and cares to the small plant by attending to it from the day she makes entry on the stage, which symbolizes her love (Cocola, 2008). The love and care she displays for the plant are in pure resemblance to the unreserved love that she displays for her children. The small plant also signifies her dream of owning a house and her private garden. It is amply evident that Mama and Big Walter had strived to have a bigger house throughout their lives, “I remember just as well the day me and Big Walter moved in here. Hadn’t been married two weeks and wasn’t planning on living here more than a year” (Jacobus, 2005). The financial hardships had continuously prevented them from realizing their dreams which is evident when after the death of a child Big Walter strained himself into working so hard that he ultimately died, “I guess that’s how come that man finally worked himself to death as he has done. Like he was fighting his war with this here world that took his baby from him,”(Jacobus, 2005). However, by making the sacrifice he was able to provide for the family so that they could achieve their respective dreams. Before Mama got the insurance money she too worked hard like her husband to achieve her dream of buying a house and garden, and it is pertinent that through the death of her husband she was able to achieve her dreams.

Ruth too desires a bigger house to see her weak family thrive. She loathes the very character of the apartment where she lives with her sister in law and mother, “Well—well—All I can say is—if this is my time in life—MY TIME—to say good-bye—to these Goddamned cracking walls!—and these marching roaches—and this cramped little closet which ain’t now or never was any kitchen!…then I say it loud and good, HALLELUJAH!” (Jacobus, 2005). It is only the shortage of money that stops her from going away from the soggy and unclean apartment. She too works hard in aiming to go away from the residence where her son Travis is not provided with a room and a bed (Cocola, 2008).

Beneatha is presented as different from her family in making it clear that she does not want anything extra for the family. It appears that her single most important inspiration is the self-assurance she has for herself. She requires more in broader terms for her community but is mostly portrayed as thinking more about herself than for others. She argues with Mama and Ruth in putting forth her views while never noticing and feeling good about the fact that she is the only one who has been able to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. This is possible only by using the hard-earned money of the family, and in this context, Beneatha is depicted as a rather selfish person in using her family for her selfish motives without ever thinking of paying back for what she had got. She however is much ahead of others in terms of being socially advanced, “Beneatha’s cutting of her hair is a very powerful social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful, prefiguring the 1960s cultural credo that black is beautiful” (Cocola, 2008).

The dreams that Walter has been in clear resemblance to the American Dream that entailed beautiful homes in the suburbs with at least two cars in the garage, a wife who is a homemaker, and the ideal son who is much in agreement with his dream of involving the family in the liquor trade. Although such dreams are in keeping with the aspirations of typical families in America, they have not attained the intense popularity that has been associated with the American Dream. Walter often expressed the desire for the wholeness of a family but he was more concerned about the wealth in his family. Just as his father, Walter appeared to be much burdened with his dreams for wealth and in the process loses by way of lesser unity in his family. His family’s financial hardships can be related to being a consequence of the race that they belonged to but Walter is repeatedly portrayed as looking for easy means to achieve what he desired, unlike his father who worked very hard. Walter believed that to achieve happiness it is essential to have money while Mama tries to impress upon him by teaching him the ideals of his father.

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The events in the play are viewed by Hansberry as very significant, especially after Mr. Lindner enters the scenes. The plot of the play inculcates the extreme sense of racial discrimination which is a major feature outside of the claims made by Walter when he says that the only dreams he considers fit in sharing were those that related to white men, which creates a conflict that cannot be avoided. Mr. Lindner is his neighborhood’s representative is trying to influence the family from shifting to a locality that was considered a white man’s domain. Although he makes his best attempts to show pleasantness during his visit the imminent conflict cannot be missed, more so after Mama allows Walter to spend the remaining insurance money. But it is important to consider the consequences and events that could occur if mama had not allowed Walter to spend the money received as a consequence of her husband’s death. Maybe Walter would have been tempted to take the bribe offered by Lindner to pursue his dreams. However in the end Walter recognizes the value of the pride his father always appealed to and what his mother also taught him, “I am afraid you don’t understand. My son said we was going to move and there ain’t nothing left for me to say” (Jacobus, 2005).

It is indeed ironic that people no longer make attempts to understand the deep-rooted meanings behind the personalities of the different characters in the play. The concept is not only related to the new home that the characters wanted to purchase but it is more about the dreams that made them invest their life efforts for objectives that held very dear to them. Although Mr. Lindner may not have realized it he was trying to purchase and bribe his way through depriving the characters of having a united family. At the same time, the temptations of any man cannot be reduced if he is bent upon selling his dreams just as Walter is portrayed as doing. Hence for people and families dreams play a very important role in uniting them against those who wish to take them away from them.

Works Cited

Cocola, Jim and Douthat, Ross. SparkNote on A Raisin in the Sun. 2008.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. Ann Arbor: Borders Classics. 2007.

Delaney, Robert. African-Americans in the Twentieth Century. 2000. Web.

Goetz, Philip W. Hansberry, Lorraine. Chicago: The University of Chicago. 1991.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. New York: Oxford U P. 1998.

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Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2005.

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StudyCorgi. "The Characters Dreams in “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry." November 20, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-characters-dreams-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun-by-lorraine-hansberry/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Characters Dreams in “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry." November 20, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-characters-dreams-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun-by-lorraine-hansberry/.

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