Thesis: In A Raisin In The Sun, Hansberry demonstrates how trying circumstances can be overcome with a familys' dignity even in the face of segregation.
I. Dreams A. Mother 1. Buy a house 2. Provide for the family 3. Make a better life for children B. Beneatha (daughter) 1. Become a doctor 2. Possibly move to Nigeria C. Walter (Son) 1. Buy liquor store 2. Stop working for others D. Ruth (Wife) 1. Make a better life for herself and family II. Obstacles A. Color barriers 1. Equal rights 2. Segregation B. Finances 1. Money for insurance lost 2. Struggle to make ends meet III. Temptations A. Mr.Linder's offer B. Stay in their own home VI. Problems Overcome A. Family comes together 1. Walter "becomes a man" 2. The move into the new house Ernest Stuart Mr. Githens American Lit.
5/1/01 In A Raisin in the Sun: The Cost of a House is Dignity A Raisin in the Sun gives readers a first-hand look into the lives of ordinary people.
These people are the Youngers. The Younger family is a family who, like many other African-American families of the time, had problems finding peace and stability because of their race. Lorriane Hansberry (the author) could easily relate to these problems. As a child, Hansberry's family integrated an all-white neighborhood despite the local real-estate laws and the opinions of the surrounding community. The plot to A Raisin in the Sun was semi-autobiographical. Therefore allowing her to relate to the Youngers and their hardships and family pride. In A Raisin In The Sun, Hansberry demonstrates how trying circumstances can be overcome with a familys' dignity even in the face of segregation.
The name of this book derived from a famous Langston Hughes poem, "Montage of a Dream Deferred." In the his poem a question is asked: What happens to a dream deferred Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?... (Brown 225) Dreams are very significant in the story. With a insurance check coming in the mail for $10,000, everyone seems to have some of their own. Every one in the story has some of their own. Lena dreams of making a better life for her children and grandchild. The way she plans to do this is to buy a house. Her determination to provide for her family that she suggest to Ruth "... if we use part o the insurance for a down payment and everybody kind of pitched in. I could maybe take on a little day work again, few days a week..." (Hansberry 44). Even still Lena feels "Some of it has got to be put away for Beneatha and E. Stuart 2 her schoolin'-- and ain't nothing going to touch that part of it'', (Hansberry 44).
Beneatha has dreams of becoming a doctor. It wasn't too common for African- American women to become physicians, however, "...Beneatha still believes the world offers her a variety of choices" (Domina 3). Her ambition is so great that when she was confronted by her family concerning marriage she aptly replies "Listen I'm going to be a doctor. I'm not worried about who I'm going to marry yet-- if I ever get married" (Hansberry50). Beneatha is later presented with an chance to go to Nigeria and practice her medicine. It's obvious that the idea of moving far from home has been a dream of this "dear young creature of the New World..." (Hansberry136). When the traditional Nigerian garments were being worn, Ruth was told by Beneatha that she was "looking at what a well dressed Nigerian women wears-- Isn't it beautiful" (Hansberry 76).
Walter's own dreams conflicts with those of Beneatha. His dreams require a great deal of money some of which belongs to Beneatha. His urge to stop working for others is causing him to behave sourly towards others. This explosive behavior causes him to ask Beneatha, "Who the hell told you to be a doctor? If you so crazy 'bout messing around with sick people-- then go be a nurse like other women-- or just get married and be quiet" (Hansberry38). Ruth proves to be unsupportive of his dreams of owning his own business by calling all of partners good-for-nothing loud mouths. Walter defends that statement by referring back to Charlie Atkins who "was just anther 'good-for-nothing loud mouth'... and now he's grossing a hundred-thousand a year" (Hansberry 32). Walter is tiered of the lack of support for his dreams from his wife. He asks her to talk to his mother for him in hope that Lena will listen to Ruth about his ideas of owning a liquor store. Ruth knows that "Mama is particularly adamant in her refusal because she not only has old conviction on her side..." (Abramson 62: 222). Walter tells her "Man say: I got to change my life, I'm choking to death, baby! And his women say... Your eggs is getting cold!" (Hansberry E. Stuart 3 62: 210).
Ruth is obviously angry and sad at her current living conditions. Life for her is starting to take toll on her appearance "we can see that she was a pretty girl, even exceptionally so, but now it is apparent that life has been little that she expected, and disappointment has already begun to hang in her face" (Handsberry 24). She wants a better life not only for herself, but for her son as well. Travis having to sleep in the living room on the couch upset her into telling Walter "It ain't his fault that he can't get to bed no earlier nights 'cause he get a bunch of crazy good-for-nothing clowns sitting up running their mouths in what is supposed to be his bedroom after ten o'clock at night..." (Hansberry 26-27). She appears to be so pleased when Lena suggest buying a house that she states that "...lord knows, we've put enough rent into this here rat trap to pay for four houses by now..." (Hansberry 44); expressing her true feelings about here living conditions.
In the 1960's segregation was very alive and real. This is evident when Lena decides to buy a house in a all-white neighborhood. She is confronted with the notion that "...Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities" (Hansberry 118). Obviously presenting an obstacle for the Younger family. The color barriers are represented by Mr.
Linder. Mr.Linder illustrates how different tactics are used by racist. He presents himself as a courteous gentleman who is willing to talk and work things out as opposed to the cross-burning racist that were expected. Mr. Linder offers the Youngers a check saying, "Our association is prepared, through the collective effort of our people; to buy the house back from you..." (Hansberry 188). Demonstrating how far the community is willing to go to stop the Youngers from moving. When the Youngers refused to agree to Mr.Linder's offer he begins to show his true colors by asking the family "...what do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren't wanted and where some E. Stuart 4 elements -- well -- people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they've ever worked for is threatened" (Hansberry 119).
Later in the story when Walter looses the insurance money, which was trusted to be put in the bank, proves to be yet anther obstacle. It is important to realize that '...the check signifies possibilities though their individual hopes differ and at times conflict." (Domina 20). This has a devastating effect on the family. It is disturbing to Lena making her recall her deceased husband's struggles: I seen -- him -- night after night -- come in -- and look at that rug -- and then look at me -- the red showing in his eyes -- the veins moving in his head -- I seen him grow thin and old before he was forty -- working and working and working like somebody's old horse -- killing himself -- and you -- you give it all away in a day... (Hansberry 129).
Walter, after being told, realized "that money is made out of my fathers flesh..." (Hansberry 128). To Walter money was freedom as he indicated in a statement towards his mother. She answers this statement "...almost to herself, 'Once upon a time freedom was life-- now it's money" (Hansberry 74). Walter appears to have no dignity.
These circumstances raise a very important and interesting question. When faced with trying circumstance do "...people simply surrender to circumstances when their aspirations are frustrated or whether those dreams retain their power and erupt in unpredictable way only after frustrations accumulate" (Domina 1). It is somewhat simple to see why one would surrender dreams. Lena knows that "sometimes you got to know when to give up some things" (Hansberry 140). With dignity she turns around and reassures her family E. Stuart 5 that she'll clean-up the apartment to make it look like new... "this place be looking fine" (Hansberry 140). This doesn't ease the mind of the family members. Cleaning the furniture wouldn't be enough "in fact part of the wear comes from being cleaned so much" (Domina 20). Turning around to not show pain to the famliy take dignity and strength Ruth would not accept this. She offered her help paying the bills in saying, "I'll work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago -- I'll strap my baby on my back if I have to and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to -- but we got to move. We got to get out of here..." (Hansberry 140). In saying this Ruth shows dignity, frustration, and desperation. Walter is coming to a realization that he created a mess and so he must clean it up. The way he feels he must do this is to accept the communities money. This is very undignified to the family, which value dignity as much as life. Walter can't see any other way to make is mistake correct because "...the obstacles which are introduced are gigantic; the weight of the loss of the money is in fact, the weight of death" (Hansberry 62: 214).
When Mr. Linder arrives Travis is told to stay in the room and learn from his father.
Up this point Walter planed on accepting the money from Mr. Linder "...but it stings Walter into a response which simultaneously gives him back his dignity and commits him to an involvement which he has sought to escape" (Bigsby 62: 219). This commitment is known as man hood. Up to this point in his life Lena was the head of the house hold Walter assumes the position when he expresses to Mr. Linder that " ...we come from a people with a lot of pride. I mean we are very proud people. And that's my sister over there and she's going to be a doctor-- and we are very proud..." (Hansberry 148) When Walter stops being selfish and start to look-out for the well being and the dignity of the family he starts to acknowledge the dreams of each individual, especially Beneatha.
E. Stuart 6 Lena can finally give her grandson a house with a yard where Travis could play in the summertime..." (Hansberry 44). The move into the house symbolizes the entering into of man-hood and the acknowledgment of dreams. Not to mention the joining together as a family and the repairing of relationships "in other words, the symbolism of moving into the new house is quite as significant" (Hansberry 62: 214). The most important part of stepping into man-hood is getting the dignity that he lacked not only as a colored man, but as the head of the household.
The Younger Familys' dream did not "dry up like a raisin in the sun" (Brown 225).
Hansberry illustrated the aspirations, anxieties, ambitions, successes, and failures of the family members in this story. Instead of giving up all hopes and dreams, like planed, this family relies on dignity and Walter stepping up and becoming a man to overcome. The family had to be push into a very uncomfortable position to spark the dignity that was always there. Hansberry accurately demonstrates how the families' dignity helped the Youngers overcome.
E. Stuart 7 Work Cited Amramsom, Doris E. "The Fifties." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991. 62: 220-220.
Bigsby, C.W.E. "Lorrian Hansberry." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991. 62: 215-219.
Brown, Lloyd W. "Lorrain Hanberry as Ironist." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed.
Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991. 62: 224-227.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991.
62: 209-211. Intro.
Clurman, Harald. "A review of 'A Raisin in the Sun'." Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Ed. Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991. 62: 211-212.
Domina, Lynn. Understanding A Raisin in the Sun. Westport: Greenwood, 1998.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Random House, 1958 Hansberry, Lourrain. "Willie Lorman, Walter Younger, and He Who Must Live." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. 125 vols. Detroit: Gale, 1991.