Younger Family in Lorraine Hansberry’s Play “A Raisin in the Sun”

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“What happened to a dream deferred?” This question, asked by Langston Hughes in his poem, “A Dream Deferred,” is one that is constantly faced by the Youngers in Lorraine Hansberry’s, “A Raisin in the Sun.” In 1959, when the poem was presented, America was in the midst of segregation and on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. These particular circumstances shape the Younger family’s beliefs and their views of reality. Hansberry does her best to try to paint a picture of a realistic situation faced by families of that time period.

Hansberry’s portrayal of the Younger family is an extremely accurate depiction of what the reality of the times were. She successfully combined the social norms that would be found in the setting of the story. She most likely used her own personal life, as well as the lives of those around her, to help her create the play. Every aspect of the story: success, aspirations, and the American Dream is an identical representation of the time period which the play was intended to portray.

The Younger family lives in an apartment project on the south side of Chicago. The head of the household, Lena Younger, commonly referred to as “Mama,” tries to keep her two children, Beneatha and Walter, as well as Walter’s wife and son, Ruth and Travis, happy and content with their lives. The family, however, tends to butt heads often. Beneatha wants to become a doctor and Mama has to pay for her schooling. Walter, on the other hand, is a businessman who is always looking for his next big project. When Mama receives a ten thousand dollar insurance check from her late husband, the family’s desires are increased tenfold.

The very first thing that should be noticed in, “A Raisin in the Sun,” are the societal views of the Younger family, more specifically, their views on the roles of women in society. For instance, in Act One, Scene One, Walter tells Beneatha that if she wants to work in health, she should just be a nurse or to, “…just get married and be quiet,” and while the women, Mama and Ruth, never directly say it, they seem to believe the same thing. They are also disturbed by the fact that Beneatha does not seem to be in a rush to get married. Both of these sentiments were held by most people of the times.

There was and, to a lesser degree, still is, a belief that women are only meant to hold certain positions in both their careers and in their personal lives. There is an expectation for them to live their lives a certain way in order for it to be considered successful. Even Asagai says that love should be enough for women (Act One, Scene Two). When women, such as Beneatha, decide to challenge the status quo, they are not only questioned, but they are looked down upon by society as well. This was true back when the play was written and still is today, so it is obvious that Lorraine Hansberry’s depiction was very accurate in this respect.

Another aspect that should be considered when evaluating Hansberry’s interpretation is Lena Younger. While everyone else seems to want to use the money to create better situations for themselves, Mama only wants to use the money to sustain themselves in their current situation. Her reasoning is that when she was younger, they were more concerned with freedom than accumulating wealth. While this does not necessarily relate to the time period, it reveals something about human nature. The generations of Younger’s under Mama have never had to worry about earning their freedom.

Freedom is all they know, so therefore, their plights lie elsewhere. For Mama, however, the situation she is currently in is better than the one she was in previously, so they have different perspectives. What Hansberry is showing is that people’s desires and dreams are at least partially dependent on their upbringing. It has been scientifically proven that it is impossible to dream about something you have not yet seen or heard. Therefore, the generational gap shows a difference in what they believe should be prioritized in life. Lorraine Hansberry was able to translate this true human nature into, “A Raisin in the Sun.”

When we look at Walter, we see another connection between the play and the realities of the time. First, Walter feels as if he has to be the man of the house and expresses his masculinity. He does this many times throughout the play. A specific instance is in Act One, Scene One when he says, “See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world.” What Walter is insinuating is that women don’t know much about life and he is undermining their intelligence simply because of their gender. He also feels emasculated from his line of work.

When Lena mentions his job, he responds by saying that his line of work, a limousine driver, is no job at all. This perpetuates the very real world stereotype that men are only successful if they make a lot of money and are the main providers of their family. All of these traits prove that Walter Younger has fallen victim to toxic masculinity. There have actually been many studies that prove that toxic masculinity, weather consciously or subconsciously, is passed on from generation to generation. An example is how the heroes in our stories seem to have the same traits, like physical strength and how they seem to attract many women. These same traits are passed from generation to generation. Whether it is to the degree of Walter or not, most men in society, both back then and now, carry many of these same ideas.

The youngest Younger, Travis also provides another connection between the play and the realities of the times. While Travis does not speak in abundance, we are able to learn a lot from the things he says and the things that the remaining Youngers say about him when he is not around. One of the first things that Travis Younger does in the the first scene of the first act is ask his father for money. While Ruth originally tries to tell him no, Walter quickly interrupts, however, and gives him the money he asks for. After he leaves, Ruth questions why Walter gave Travis the money, as they do not have a surplus of funds to just hand out indiscriminately.

Walter responds by acknowledging that they are, in fact, poor, but also says that Travis is a child and that the families money issues should not have any affect on him. In this same scene, Travis also goes outside and plays with the children in the neighborhood and does things that his caregivers really do not care for. It is also brought to our attention that Mama often spoils the child when Ruth says so (Act One, Scene One).

The innocence and somewhat mischievous nature of Travis, along with him being spoiled by his grandmother, bring the play closer to reality. In society, especially in older generations, parents try to preserve the innocence of their children. Young children also have a tendency to be disobedient and there has always been a notion that grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren. While this seems like a very minute detail, Hansberry realizes that these details help to bring out the similarities between the play and its audience.

One of the more serious parallels between the book and reality of the times happens with Ruth. Ruth Younger, while related only by marriage, seems to get along best with Mama. While on the surface she may seem a little harsh, and she sometimes does not mince words with her husband, Walter and, at times, Beneatha, she always has everyone’s best interest at heart. When Ruth becomes pregnant, she finds herself in a very perplexing dilemma. The family is already struggling to stay afloat financially and there is no space in house to put another child, as Travis already has to sleep on the couch in the living room.

This leads Ruth to contemplate the idea of getting an abortion. Of course this does not sit well with Lena, as she is a very spiritual and God- fearing person. She vehemently rejects the idea that an abortion should even be considered. In Act One, Scene Two she reminds Ruth that God still lives in the house. Ruth, however was not thinking along religious lines, but just what she felt was the only real way to deal with the problem. This dilemma is one that is all too real for many people. There is a negative light in which women who receive abortions are held, especially in those times. No matter your opinion, it is hard to deny the stigma among women with abortions. Lorraine Hansberry successfully attacks a real issue faced by women and places it in, “A Raisin in the Sun,” in order to help relate it to reality.

Perhaps one of the most unique perspectives of the book comes from Joseph Asagai. Asagai is the good friend and love interest of Beneatha. He is from Nigeria, so his American experience is much different than that of the Youngers, who have been born and raised in America. In fact, when it is revealed that Joseph might be coming over to the Youngers’ house in Act One, Scene One, Beneatha pleads with her family not to say anything ignorant or ask any questions that would be silly regarding Asagai’s African roots. Beneatha understands that there was a notion regarding African people.

Most Americans, including African-Americans, have their own varying opinions about what life on the African continent is like. These assumptions are rarely correct. Beneatha addresses that there is a disconnect between the African American community and the African community and ask that her family at least act as if they knew better than the normal African stereotypes. Especially in the years before the internet, there were few ways for people to educate themselves on other cultures, so they mostly knew what they were told, which was not correct information. Again, we see Hansberry finding a way to accurately portray society in her play.

Now, the American dream and how Hansberry correctly addresses it in the play has to be addressed. Everyone shares in the American dream. This dream, however, can differ depending on a person. America is a capitalist society, so many people’s dreams relate back to the pursuit of money. Walter is included in this group and the greed and want for financial gain control his life. The pursuit of money blinds Walter to reality so much so, that in Act Two, Scene he is unaware that he is being conned by his “business partner,” Willy, who disappears with the six thousand dollars that was supposed to go to Beneatha’s medical school funds. Not only did Walter not see he was being fooled, but he also essentially stole the money from Beneatha for his own personal goals. Beneatha, on the other hand, has aspirations of becoming a doctor. Her view of the American Dream is coming from the mindset that anybody can be anything if they work hard enough. America is often referred to as the land of opportunity and Beneatha plans to take full advantage of this.

Lorraine successfully tackles the American Dream through every character, but especially these two characters. Both of them represent the positives and negatives of different human natures. Beneatha represents the positive trait of ambition, but also shows an example of a person with a superiority complex. Walter represents drive, work ethic, and persistence, but practices all of these to a fault. While all of these traits are still found in people today, they would especially be true back in the days when the play was written. The amount of stress and the mental state of an African American person living in pre- civil rights era and the constant mental and physical belittling of they faced must have put them under extreme duress. Hansberry does a fantastic job representing these truths in her book.

The play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” has to be an accurate representation of the realities of the time. In fact, it would not be hyperbolic to say that the poem speaks to the reality today’s time. It seems as if Lorraine Hansberry took real life stories of people of the time and used them as inspiration for her book. She uses many examples of real life dreams and hopes, as well as hardships, of an everyday African American. Hansberry shows an acute attention to detail that allows her to capture the true American spirit. She was successfully able to create a story that was completely imaginary, yet it felt entirely real.

Cite this paper

Younger Family in Lorraine Hansberry’s Play “A Raisin in the Sun”. (2021, Nov 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/younger-family-in-lorraine-hansberrys-play-a-raisin-in-the-sun/

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