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A Raisin in the Sun is Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 much acclaimed Broadway play in which an African American family, the Youngers hopes to use a $10,000 legacy left to them by their late father to move out of the Chicago projects and into a white neighbourhood.

The Play’s title is take from a poem by Langston Hughes

Harlem—Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Mama Lena’s dreams

Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life. Centring Walter Lee’s dream to own his business and not work for a white man. A Raisin in The Sun critics the American dream. Mama Lena’s inherits a large sum of money then that was insurance from her dead husband. Her family hopes to benefit from it through advancing their own dreams and ambitions.

Hansberry critics this normalised financial system through, Mama and Joseph Asagai, the Nigerian scholar who is critical of a capitalist system relies on the dying of a close loved for possible opportunities that are otherwise difficult to attain in a capitalist system that benefits a few.

“Mama: Oh – So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No – it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too . . .”

Racism is a major issue that has affected the United States of America for centuries. Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (1959) deals with the impact of racism on the life of the Younger, a poor black family living in the South Side of Chicago. As the play demonstrates, the Younger suffer from racial discrimination in housing industry, living space, and employment. Their attempt to challenge the racist policies takes the form of buying a house in a predominantly white neighbourhood.

The Play is significant because it was the first play by an Afro-American woman to be presented on Broadway; and it foreshadows many of issues which the American society experienced in the 1960s and to a large extend today.

A scene from A Raisin In The Sun Play

African American culture in the 60s had many black and or people of colour who had big dreams, dreams that often remained unfulfilled due to racism and its effects. Southside Chicago was an area which catered for a segregated African American community

For Mama & Ruth they both dream of a better life, living in a large house in a safe neighbourhood (which equated at the time to White people suburbs) as well as leaving a legacy for Travis, their grandson and son respectively, and future generations.

Walter Lee who seemed to be the primary focus in the play as he often dictated the mood of the play, despised working for the white ‘master’. He dreams of owning a business and being his own boss. However, he makes an unfortunate decision which results in him getting swindled out of the balance of the insurance cheque.

Beneatha, Walter’s sister who has strong views to life dreams of helping people by becoming a Doctor. When Walter loses the reminder of the insurance money her dream is held in suspense. She will be led back to her dreams in ways she did not foresee.

When Beneatha becomes distraught at the loss of the money, she is scolded by Joseph for her materialism. She eventually accepts his point of view that things will get better with a lot of effort, along with his proposal of marriage and his invitation to move with him to Nigeria to practice medicine.

The Play through challenging the narratives we tell ourselves; we impose on those we label as ‘Other’. It articulates the nuances and complexities masked in systemic racism that society often ignores. It situates African American’s lived experiences within the context of the American dream at the interface of racism and the context of black African Americans.

Walter Lee’s character highlights this when he loses money his mother had entrusted to him. He (Walter) already feels judged and emasculated by the world he finds himself in. This is a hegemonic white patriarchal world against which he feels powerless. Walter exhibits toxic male masculinity as a result of his own weakness and those beyond his control. His mother seems to understand his struggles and challenges his sister to be more empathetic towards him.

The type of racism the Youngers face is institutional racism. Stokely Carmichael later named himself Kwame Ture is credited for coining the phrase of institutional racism in the late sixties. He defined it as “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin” (Racism, 2007, p.4.

Slavery in American, it is claimed, is responsible to a significant extent for many of the contemporary problems that plague the black community, such as- poverty, crime, unemployment, family instability, female-headed families, lack of educational and occupational achievement, and low labour force participation (Starkey, 2003, p.2).

Most blacks living in the ghetto had hopes of leaving to better suburban neighbourhoods, but segregated housing policies kept them stuck in the ghetto. The Younger, were determined to come out of the ghettoes of America, because the ghettoes are killing us; not only our dreams, as Mama says, but our very bodies.

Ruth’s reacts hilariously when Mama announces she has bought a house in Claybourne Park. Despite her distress at the prospect of living amid Chicago’s hostile whites, Ruth laughs joyously and encourages Mama to go on in her plan. Weighing the danger of the ghetto against those posed by anti-black terrorism, Ruth determines that she will “work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago…and scrub all the floors in America…if I have to…but we got  to  MOVE…  We got to get out of here” (pp.195-196; 3).

On insisting on fulfilling her dream of moving to their new house, Mama’s main aim is to improve her family’s living conditions. When Ruth observes that “We’ve put enough [money] in this rat trap to pay for four houses by now,”(p.152; 2,1) she is not making an idle statement considering the unreasonably high costs of ghetto housing. Like most blacks in the Chicago ghettos, the Younger family lives in a “tired,” run-down, “rat-trap” apartment (p.124;1,2).

Neighbourhood games further reveal poverty: Travis chases and kills a cat “as big as a cat,” with his friends (p.171;2,3). The Younger’s house is roach-infested, and a Saturday morning chore consists of “spraying insecticide into the cracks in the walls”(p.131;1,2). Like the “rat trap” of the Younger, living conditions for blacks in the ghetto were poor.   of the family

The character of Lindner symbolizes the mass of white people who are uncomfortable with their own prejudice and therefore deny it. He could satirically be called a “good” bigot. That is, he does not overtly advocate throwing bombs or committing other types of violence, but he nevertheless does have a distinct idea about whom he will call his neighbour. He will be reasonable if other people accept his reasoning.

When the Youngers refuse his logic and his offer to reimburse them if they will relinquish their new house, Lindner essentially warns them that they’ve had their chance for a peaceful solution. In doing so, he implicitly threatens them with a more violent response when they move.

OR Does it Explode?

Towards the end of the play, Walter acknowledges his links not only to his family, but also to his race through past, present, and future generations and identifies with their mutual struggle against racist restrictions. The play ends with the arrival of the moving trucks. The Younger will move into the white neighbourhood not with the goal of merely challenging the white community, but because they need, want this house, and they can afford it.

The Play by Hansberry A Raisin In The Sun raises many large questions, none of which are completely answered.This  is indicative in the poem by Hughes, Harlem which has a question mark at the end of each line. The final line in the poem “OR does it explode?” had deeper signficance as America and the rest of the world today experiences a myriad of explosions. This play is within the same league of great literary works like Death of a Saleman and Ulysses.

Enjoy the below Raisin in the Sun 1989 TV adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 Broadway play (previously filmed in 1962) acted by one of the most importants people in film, Esther Rolle and Danny Glover