A Raisin in the Sun is a play that had its debut show in Broadway in 1959. This play is written by Lorraine Hansberry. The story is about a black family who was coming into some money. It talks about the family’s fight for identity and the problems the blacks of that time faced. Lorraine herself had witnessed many incidents of rejection and has portrayed her spirit in this play. The family wants to better themselves and progress in their lives. The title of the play is taken from the lines of the poem “Harlem”, also known as “Dreams Deferred” by Langston Hughes. In it he says dreams shrivel like the raisins in the sun. The dreams of Youngers do not become a reality and dries up like the raisn in the sun. This play was given the best play in 1959 by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.
About the Playwright
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, an African-American playwright and writer died very young. But in her short span of thirty five years wrote enough for the world to her remember her. She was the first balck woman whp wrote a play for the Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun was one of her best play which won her an award. This award had many firsts-the first black and youngest woman to get an award. She worked for a newspaper Freedom. Most of her work was about African struggle and the issues of racism. She was a lesbian and sexual freedom featured in most of the works. She died at the age of 34 suffering from cancer.
The plot of A Raisin in the Sun is two weeks in the family of Youngers, an African-American family. The members of the family are Mama, Walter, the son, and his wife Ruth, Beneatha and Travis the son of Walters and Ruth. Mr. Younger, the senior had died and the family was to get 10,000$ from the insurance. Each of the family members had plans to use this money. Mama wanted to buy a new house and move to a better locality. Walters wanted to invest into a liquor business with his friend. Beneatha wanted the money to study medicine. Ruth realises she is pregnant. Mama goes ahead and pays an advance for a house in a white locality. With the rest of the money Mama decides to help Walters and Beneatha. But Walters puts all the money into his business but is cheated by his friend. So they lose the money. There is friction and depression in the family. Meanwhile the whites, living in the area where they had bought the new house, ask them to leave the area and even offer money for that. In the end the family gets together and resists the offer, thereby keeping their self-esteem and dignity intact. Beneatha’s love and rejection also features in the plot but it is more to strengthen the character of Beneatha.
Mama Lena is the head of the family in its rue sense as she is the mother of Walter and Beneatha. She is truly the head because what she says matter in the family. She is a strong woman who believes that they must respect each other and follow their dreams in their lives. She provides the perspective of the older generation. Early in the play when Ruth and Beneatha talks about money she says, “Now don’t you start, child. It’s too early in the morning to be talking about money. It ain’t Christian.” So Beneatha’s atheist views, Ruth’s decision to abort, Walter’s decision to start a liquor business appals her but she does not insist that they change to her as per her thoughts. But there is one dream, to own a house which has a garden and a yard. This she does not let go. She is the most caring person in the play and loves all, looking into the needs of all in the family. Plants are also given the same care and this is seen right through the play.
Beneatha is the daughter of Mama and sister of Walter. She is a college student, young and attractive. Her desire is to become a doctor and she is waiting for the insurance money to pursue her education in becoming a doctor. She is against racism and is a feminist. All through the play she talks about her desire to wipe off racism. She is seeing George Murchison and when her mother asks her if she will marry him she says no and it was because they were rich and snobbish. So her mother asks why she dislikes someone just because they are rich, she replies, “Why not? It makes just as much sense as disliking people cause they are poor, and lots of people do that.” She is happier with Asagia her Nigerian boyfriend as he wants to discover his African roots. She believes she is very independent but when Asagai points out to her that she was still dependent on her father’s money to do her medicine, she pauses to think. She has a new perspective and even forgives Walter for losing the money that was meant for her education. Now she truly becomes independent.
Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Mama. She is a soft person who is very fond of her mother-in-law. She is not a go-getter and allows life to happen. However she is tired of her life with Walter and calls herself a ‘worn-out wife’. She does not have big dreams but is thrilled about her mother-in-law’s plan to move to a bigger house and a better neighbourhood. When Mama advises her on how to bring up Travis she is not too pleased but does not protest. Ruth is not educated and lacks sophistication. In spite of her financial and marital problems she remains cool and friendly.
Walter is the son of Mama Lena and the husband of Ruth. He is ambitious, full of energy and is passionate. Yet he is desperate because his dreams remain as dreams. The poverty bothers him and he wants to make quick money in liquor business much against his mother’s wishes. However he is not very good at it because he loses the money that was given to them by the insurance company. He is depressed that he is was getting old but had not settled in life. "This morning, I was lookin' in the mirror and thinking about it. . . . I'm thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room." He is a chauvinist and is not happy with Beneatha wanting to study medicine.
Asagai is a fellow student of Beneatha and a suitor. He has a Nigerian background and is keen on going back to his roots. He is charming, intelligent and is different culturally but fits into the Younger family very well.Though he was one of Beneatha’s suitor, he criticises her and for her good. He helps her to see that she is not really independent as she claims to be. She is dependent on her father’s money to pursue her medicine. Asagai is liked for his honest observance.
A Raisin in the Sun is set in the 1950s in South Chicago. 1950s was the beginning of Civil Rights Movement. South Chicago was the place where the blacks lived in large numbers. The play is set in a small apartment. There are two bedrooms but is really cramped with five people living in it. The kitchen looks more like closet. Most of the action takes place in the living room. The smallness of the apartment is also a major concern for all in the family, especially Ruth. And it is this apartment and surroundings that impels Mama to shift to Clybourne Park.
There are a few themes in the play A Raisin in the Sun. The play has ‘Dreams’ as its basis. The Younger family is full of hopes of a better life when they get $10,000. Each one of them has a dream for themselves and the family. ‘Fight against racial discrimination’ is seen especially in the words of Beneatha. It is seen in action when thye refuse to leave their new house fighting agains the demands of the whites. ‘Importance of family’ is another prominent theme seen in this play. There are arguments, anger and depression but in the end the love and care between them stands out. When they were faced with problem from outside the family, the Youngers get together as one family.
Motifs are structures or literary devices that recur in the play that compliments the theme of the play. In this play “home” is the motif. This is the place where most of the play happens. The home depicts the status of the family. The desire to leave that home states that most of their problems are because of the home. The “plants” are also seen and is the only calming factor for the family, especially for Mama Lena.