During the 1950s, the American Dream was one of the potential factor leading to the civil rights and feminist’s movements. This resplendent dream set a gate that keeps out African Americans due to stereotypes and social norms which makes a “raisin” dried up “in the sun”. The Youngers family has reflected on the inferior status of African American in society and their lack of chance to pursue their own ambitions in that time frame. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine has portrayed a beautiful puzzle by putting different struggle of characters in the play together such as Beneatha and Walter, along with their aspirations that needed to go through risks, racism and social norms.
In the 1950s, African Americans initiated a major campaign, which later received the support of ethnic groups and women’s groups, in order to share the American dream widely. Representatively, the civil rights movement- which is a movement with the aim for civil liberties and civil rights that every person should have an equal chance to achieve their goals in society regardless of their race. In addition, during this period although women accounted for more than half of the American population, they were still considered as second-class citizens.
In accordance with customary bias, women were marginalized in many areas that men claimed to be their exclusive monopolies. Although these movements were strongly responded, some of them did not completely succeed, a large number of African Americans and women still struggled to chase their dream due to prejudices. A Raisin in the Sun, a play which was based on “Harlem” by Langton Hughes, highlights the realistic reflections of society in this dark time for African Americans- when dreams are nightmares followed by thousands of adversities that kept haunting them.
First, Beneatha – a character represents the perfect example of who struggle against racism while attempting to fulfill her aspirations. African Americans are being discriminated in society no matter how long time passed. Beneatha is a lucky member in the family since education for her is a privilege that she is able to earn, and her entire family members are willing to sacrifice for her education. As an American African, growing up in America’s environment, it is obvious that she is somehow being “white-washed” by trying to fit in with the white culture, going out with George Murchison, and straightening her natural African American curly hair.
Beneatha. My hair—what’s wrong with my hair?
Asagai. Were you born with it like that?
Beneatha. No… of course not.
Asagai. How then?
Beneatha. You know perfectly well how… as crinkly as yours… that’s how.
Asagai. And it is ugly to you that way?
Beneatha. Oh, no—not ugly…But it’s so hard to manage when it’s, well —raw. (1561)
During this conversation, Beneatha’s hairs symbolizes her identity as an African American. However, she chooses to straighten it instead of leaving it “raw”. In other words, racism has Beneatha turning into other version away from her root, which she assumes it is an easier way to accomplish her goals. An American Dream for Beneatha might be gated by racism, but thanks to Asagai, she realizes that there is no shame to chase her dream as a color person, and she doesn’t need to change regards to all the discriminations that society has for African Americans.
Another reason that Beneatha’s ambition is complicated to obtain during this time frame is due to the social norms which are already set. The image of an independent and successful working person is male apparent dominance. In general, women are expected to stay home instead of going outside and work. Lena Younger and Ruth Younger are the two closest example of this group of housewives. There is nothing negative with the fact that they stay home and look after a family, but Beneatha aspires to become something more than just a housewife, something bigger- a doctor. However, in act I, Walter tells his own sister that there “ain’t many girls who decide to be a doctor” and “go be a nurse like other women—or just get married and be quiet…” (1548-1549). Walter reflects a social standard set that everyone has towards women- women should just take care of someone or just get married and die off a housewife after all.