Lorraine was born in 1930 to well educated colored parents who lived and worked in Chicago. Though Chicago did not officially follow segregation, whites and blacks practiced segregation. In 1938, Lorraine’s father bought a property in a white area and moved his family there. The neighbors initiated legal action against them with the case going up to the Supreme Court. The family won the right to continue living in the white dominated area though the law under which the case was filed was not declared invalid. Lorraine studied in the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was just 29 when the play A Raisin in the Sun was first staged. This play was the first one by an African American woman to be staged on Broadway. Though its success was initially in doubt, it won excellent reviews from blacks and whites alike.
Relevance of the Title
The words “a raisin in the sun”, are taken from the poem “Harlem” by the African Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. The question Hughes asks in the poem is “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” The play deals extensively with a lawsuit that the Hansberry family fought with the hostile local white community who tried to evict them from their house though laws prevented discrimination in housing by color.
Dreams – their value and purpose
The Younger family lives their lives under oppressive circumstances which prevent them from easily realizing their dreams. The members of the family have separate dreams. It is a struggle for them to hang on to their dreams; later they realize that only by having a common dream – having their own house – will help them to realize their individual dreams.
Resisting Racial Discrimination
The play develops the theme of standing up to racial discrimination by fighting it on many fronts. By cowing down to threats by whites or by accepting financial considerations to accept the demands made by the whites only make life harder for the colored people. In the play, the Younger family aspires to better living conditions and better education. They are conscientious law abiding citizens but the neighbors cannot see beyond their color.
Walter Lee Younger
He is the protagonist of the play who devises get rich soon schemes with his friends, he is a dreamer who does not have the staying power to see the schemes through. He believes having a lot of money will help the family solve their problems.
Beneatha Younger or Bennie Younger
She is the daughter of the family who dreams of becoming a doctor. She thinks being well educated will see her through troubles. She is not concerned about what the whites think of her; she is ready to live in the segregated colored area and serve people of her race. Her better education and her intellect distance her from the rest of the family.
Lena Younger or Mama
She is the matriarch who is religious, moral and spirited. For her, a house is the key to upward mobility. She wants the best for her family for she believes they deserve it.
When the play opens, the Younger family is about to receive $10,000 as insurance payment for the death of the head of the family. They are not able to come to an understanding regarding how to spend the money. The mother wants to buy a house with the money; she feels that a house will appreciate in value and give them stability. The son, Walter is a dreamer who wants to use it to fund his get-rich schemes. The daughter wants to use the money for medical school fees. The daughter-in-law wants to do as her mother in law says. A house with a yard will be good for her young son, she thinks.
The mother makes a down payment for a house in a white majority area. The wastrel son hands over a chunk of the money to a friend who promises to invest it in a liquor shop but runs away with it. The daughter-in-law discovers she is pregnant but plans to have an abortion as there is no money to provide for another child. The mother makes a down payment for a house in a white majority area as she feels that that is what everyone will benefit from. When the white neighbors learn of this, they offer them financial incentives to move away as they feel the presence of a colored family will bring down the value of their neighborhood. But they reject the offer. Bennie breaks off from her boyfriend who she feels is not involved with problems their race face. Subsequently, she receives a proposal from a Nigerian youth who wants her to train as a doctor and move to Africa with him.
At the end, the younger family decides to move into the new property and face their problems united.
Mama’s plant is a metaphor for the care and devotion she lavishes on the family. She wants only the best for them and she goes to great lengths to provide it for them. He plant lacks light and water, nevertheless it thrives from the care it gets from Mama. It makes her long for a real garden where the family can gather and where her young grandson can play.
1. BENEATHA (Dropping to her knees)
Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!
Beneatha wants to train as a doctor as she is an intelligent girl. But that costs money that is scarce in the household. Walter considers her dream of being a doctor farfetched. She sarcastically apologizes for daring to dream.
2. RUTH: Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.
Ruth is worried about what is happening to her husband, Walter. He is dissatisfied with his life and as his wife she feels the brunt of it. He feels having a little more money will ease his life. Ruth is appealing to Lena to help her to keep her marriage intact.
3. RUTH (She finally laughs aloud at him and holds out her arms to him and we see that it is a way between them, very old and practiced. He crosses to her and allows her to embrace her warmly but keeps his face fixed with masculine rigidity. She holds him back from her presently and looks at him and runs her fingers over the features of his face. With utter gentleness – )
Now – whose little old angry man are you?
Mother and son share a warm and loving relationship though they fight about lack of money and space. All relationships in the Younger family are like this. They bicker but there is much love and understanding too.
4. MAMA (Raising her eyes to meet his finally)
Son – I just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family.
Mama is justified in using the money from the insurance as she deems fit because it is hers. She is doing what she feels is the best for all of them. They have such disparate dreams; all except Mama want to fulfil their personal dreams. She dreams for the whole family.