Petrie’s Film Adaptation: Placing A Raisin in the Sun in a New Light

The American Dream varies for individuals, but for most it includes providing a stable home for their children and ensuring future generations will have more opportunities to become successful. In the play, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, she carefully develops the characters to allow readers to understand their struggles and attempts to rise above oppression. Director Daniel Petrie adapted Hansberry’s play into a film and while the original theme of oppression is still conveyed, the delivery of the message is altered and displays the Youngers’ struggle differently. The film adaptation does not entirely present the Youngers’ as utterly impoverished African Americans as Hansberry does, but rather paints the family to be as respectable as possible without making them white. Director Petrie, although he attempts to embody the theme of the obligation of society to fight racial discrimination, he takes a far more passive approach than Lorraine Hansberry.

In the play, Beneatha is presented as hope against the oppression she is suppressed by which reinforces her central theme. However, Petrie minimizes her role in establishing the central theme. Beneatha embraces her ethnicity in the play, however Petrie removes this aspect in his film. Daniel Petrie’s directorial decisions in the movie adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun portrays Hansberry’s central message of oppression however he fails to reinforce society’s responsibilities for this oppression. In the film Petrie alters the setting of the Youngers’ living room thus revising Hansberry’s intent to present the family as impoverished. Hansberry conveys the message of oppression through the symbolic use of the setting being limited to the Younger’s living room. The play begins with a physical description of the Younger’s living conditions, making specific references to the poor condition of the furniture. The original furniture that took all Mr. and Mrs. Younger’s savings to purchase is still standing and showing its wear, “Now the once loved pattern of the couch upholstery has to fight to show itself from under acres of crocheted doilies and couch covers which have themselves finally come to be more important than the upholstery” (Hansberry, 1.1). Hansberry successful creates an image of poverty as well as creating a symbol of lost hope. The furniture is worn, past its prime and in need of being replaced but the Youngers do not have the financial means of replacing it. Hansberry allows the readers to view the living room as a symbol of the Youngers’ poverty level. What was once purchased as a sign of hope has changed, “Weariness has in fact won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but the living room itself have long since vanished from the atmosphere of this room” (Hansberry, 1.1). The living room becomes symbolic of the Younger’s plight, they are tired and worn out from trying to advance their position in life. Their chances of acquiring the American Dream has begun to fade. Petrie takes a different approach with the living room setting. Although the furniture is slightly dated, the room looks well maintained and is recognizable as furniture belonging to the middle class. The accessories such as the rug and the doilies do not appear to be hiding any imperfections but rather act as decorations. Petrie succumbs to constraints of society and alludes to their oppression but doesn’t make it the central theme. By portraying the Youngers as close to middle class, the audience is able to continue to support the Youngers’ in their quest for a better life without having to admit there is inequality based solely on the color of the Younger’s skin. This directorial decision in regards to the setting of the living room somewhat reinforces the concept of oppression but revises the role society has in being part of the solution.

Hansberry portrays Beneatha as hope that the future will rise above the oppression; however, Petrie presents her with less conviction diminishing Hansberry’s central theme. Through the conversation Beneatha has with her family in regards to her choice of men, her character is revealed. Beneatha is involved with two men: George who is wealthy and Joseph Asagai who is a mysterious man from Nigeria. Her family expects her to marry George as he will provide her with financial security, but Beneatha rejects this idea. Beneatha explains her intention, “Oh, I just mean I couldn’t ever really be serious about George. He’s – he’s so shallow” (Hansberry, 1.2). Hansberry’s stage direction for this statement is precluded with the stage direction that Beneatha is speaking wearily. The inclusion of this tone reinforces Beneatha’s frustration with societal expectations that she will marry any man who can provide her with financial stability. As an African American woman, she is on the bottom of the social hierarchy and not expected to rebel against her status. However, Beneatha refuses to submit to society’s expectation that her potential husband should be based on wealth rather than character. Hansberry portrays Beneatha exhausted with societal constraints, conveying the theme of society’s responsibility in suppressing the dreams of African Americans. Although in this scene Petrie uses Hansberry’s exact dialogue, he ignores that critical stage direction that Beneatha would speak wearily. His directorial decision revises the intended tone and shifts her frustration from society onto her family. She seems annoyed with her family for not respecting her analysis of George. She doesn’t appear independent nor as a catalyst for change but rather as immature. She has lost her credibility as hope for change. By removing a single stage direction, Petrie minimizes the impact that Hansberry intends for Beneatha and lessens society’s responsibility for oppression.

Hansberry presents Asagai as a protagonist who encourages Beneatha to refuse to accept white society’s constraints, however Petrie reduces the significance of Asagai by his directorial decisions. In the play, Joseph Asagai challenges Beneatha to learn more about herself, and her culture. Asagai’s significance in the play is portrayed when he arrives at the Youngers’ apartment. He presents Beneatha with authentic African robes and helps her to drape them properly, he says “You wear it well….very well… mutilated hair and all” (Hansberry 1.2). Joseph catches Beneatha off guard, she does not understand what is wrong with her hair. She makes the claim that she straightens her hair not because she sees it as “ugly” (Hansberry, 1.2), but because it is hard to manage. Joseph pushes Beneatha to recognize that in manipulating her natural hair she is trying to blend into the white society, rather than embrace her roots. Joseph encourages Beneatha to accept her heritage and rise above oppressive white society. It’s is her interactions with Joseph that lead Beneatha to a drastic show of rebellion as she cuts off her hair into a closely cropped, ethnic style. This is Beneatha’s way of embracing her ethnicity and making a statement to society that African Americans shouldn’t have to change their appearance to be accepted. Hansberry reveals her theme that white society oppresses African Americans by pushing them into assimilating into white society rather than encouraging them to embrace their roots. Petrie not only revises Hansberry’s central theme of society responsibility for oppression by deleting the reveal of haircut scene but also the influence of Asagai. Deleting this scene removes both her assimilation into white society and her defiance of those constraints. Petrie’s decision to make Asagai a minor character fails to reinforce Hansberry’s central theme of the responsibility society plays in the oppression of African Americans.

Daniel Petrie makes changes in his film version of A Raisin in the Sun, thus affecting Hansberry’s central theme of society’s responsibility of oppression. Petrie revises Hansberry’s play by making slight changes to the setting, character development and interactions. He alters the setting by the presentation of the Youngers furniture to give the appearance that they are less impoverished. Petrie presents Beneatha’s character as foolish and immature rather than Hansberry’s version being an African American women embracing her heritage and rebelling against societal constraints. In the play Joseph Asagai plays a pivotal role in encouraging Beneatha to break through society’s oppression by pushing her to embrace her roots. Petrie, however, downplays Joseph’s influence and in fact removes the very action that demonstrates Beneatha’s defiance of society’s oppression. Hansberry leads the reader to support the characters and their determination to rise above oppression. Petrie however, presents and develops the characters in a manner which leads the audience to conclude that although this family has been oppressed they are partially responsible. Words are more open for interpretation if they are just in print form. On the other hand, when the words come to life through interactions the tone and attitudes are less open to interpretation.

Family’s Effect on Identity: The Bean Trees and A Raisin in the Sun

What describes family is not the people who are blood related or someone who has an obligation. Family is loving someone unconditionally and mutually; family is those who greet the worst self of someone without judgement and still stick around after; family is the people who support each other through arduous times; and throughout all this, they help each other find who they really are. Family is the people who play the largest role in shaping identity. Now, that identity can take the form of a number of characteristics in relation to family. No matter how adoring a family might be, with their newfound identity, it is not always in the best interest of the individual to stay close to home. Other times, that recently developed identity may actually be found in a home. Whether it be attracting an individual to family life, like Taylor in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, or repulsing them, like Beneatha in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, they will always help the individual find their true identity.

Taylor Greer from Pittman County, Kentucky is an ideal example of how family life will attract an individual and they will find their identity in the home. In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, Taylor had always valued being independent. In the beginning of the book, she clearly did not believe she needed to rely on anybody, and set out into the world all by herself with just her car and the desire to go far away from home. Taylor takes her pride in being an individual too far and becomes angry when someone just tries to help her, such as when her roommate Lou Anne tries to help out with Turtle. Finally, something changes in Taylor after Turtle buries her dolly, “You know there’s no such thing as promises. But I’ll try as hard as I can to stay with you.” (211) In this pivotal moment, Taylor realizes the gravity of Turtle’s abandonment and that she must be the most stable force in Turtle’s life. Yet she also comes to term with the fact that some things are out of her control, like the evil in other people or death.Taylor finally registers that she should stop running away from the promise of family, because her true self is being a mother. Before, it was very clear she believed that by staying away from family, she would find herself. Taylor thought she would find her identity through solitude, only relying on herself. Rather than pushing her away, family turned out to be the element that brought her in and encouraged her to find her identity as a mother.

Family life is not suited for everyone though, especially not for Beneatha Younger. Every so often, family can repulse an individual and they will find their true selves far away from home. The character Beneatha from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, is a prime example of this. Beneatha had trouble discovering her own identity so she tried out a number of hobbies and activities. She even went through quite a few suitors as well. Throughout all of this, the only steady thing in Bennie’s life was her family and she relied on them heavily. By sticking close to her family and not venturing out as an individual, Beneatha could not answer the questions about the world she held close to her heart. Her boyfriend, Asagai, notices that she is struggling to find herself in her situation and gives her a nickname, Alaiyo, BENEATHA You didn’t tell us what Alaiyo means… for all I know it could mean Little Idiot or something…….ASAGAI No– really it is difficult… (Thinking) It means… it means One for Whom Bread- Food- Is Not Enough. (He looks at her) Is that alright? BENEATHA (Understanding, softly) Thank you. (Hansberry 65) Finally Beneatha understands. Asagai makes her realize that the situation she’s in with her family, is not good enough for her. It is most advantageous for Beneatha to separate from her family and become an individual. She will not find her true self if she stays with her family. That is why when Asagai later asks her to move back to Africa with him and become a doctor, Beneatha really considers it. Before, Beneatha relied on her family and because of this, she was unsure about herself. Finally, she steps out and becomes an individual. By becoming a lone doctor with Asagai in Africa, Bennie gets the stepping stone to discovering herself that she never would have received if she stayed with her family.

Though Beneatha steps away from her family and Taylor creates one to find their true selves, both the Youngers and the Ruizs will always support the newfound identity of their loved one. For instance, both families at the end on The Bean Trees and A Raisin in the Sun support Taylor and Beneatha’s decision. Taylor discovers this support when Lou Ann says, “Somebody and work said, ‘Do you have a family at home?’ And I said ‘Sure,’ without thinking. I meant you all. Mainly I guess because we’ve been through hell and high water together. We know each other’s good and bad sides, stuff nobody else knows.” (Kingsolver 231) In reaction to this, Taylor becomes unable to speak for she is too emotional. After years of running away from family and avoiding becoming a mother, Taylor gives in. She realizes that she has found her truest and happiest self as a mother to Turtle in a home with Lou Ann. In addition to this, Taylor finally understands that she has gained support for this identity. In this phone call with Lou Ann, Taylor realizes that since she and Lou Ann have already been through some tough times together and supported each other then, they will definitely continue to encourage each other in the future. As for Bennie, she cannot be pushed by her family to make decisions, such as dating George Murchison just because he has a lot of money. She tries to do her own thing. Thus support goes hand in hand with understanding. Therefore, when Mama supports the decision to dump George, it means a lot to Beneatha, BENEATHA Mama, George is a fool– honest. (She rises)…. MAMA Well– I guess you better not waste your time with no fools. (BENEATHA looks at her mother, watching her put groceries in the refrigerator. Finally she gathers up her things and starts into the bedroom. At the door she stops and looks back at her mother) BENEATHA Mama– MAMA Yes baby–BENEATHA Thank you.MAMA For what?BENEATHA For understanding me this time (Hansberry 98) The reader can infer that the Youngers will let Beneatha go to Africa, if she chooses to do so, with a blessing.

After Taylor and Beneatha find themselves, their families will both do anything to help their loved one’s new identities thrive. Families like the Ruiz’ or the Youngers will always help their struggling loved ones find their true identity as they did with Taylor and Beneatha. Regardless if a life revolving family ends up being enticing, like it did for Taylor in Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, or family life drives them away, as with Beneatha in Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The characters can now build their lives and their home the way they want these aspects of their existences to be, because they have a strong foundation: themselves. Those closest to one’s heart will always help the individual find a true self.

Development of the Family Melodrama Genre: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun

A melodrama is a film which appeals to the emotions of its audience, on a higher level than the simple “drama” genre. The characters of a melodrama are often stereotyped and exaggerated to indicate something about the culture of the times, making their traits illustrations of the writer’s thoughts on society. Both A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961) are family melodramas of the classical and postclassical periods, respectively. There are three main elements which were altered, or rather developed, from 1945 to 1961 which change the qualities of the melodrama genre: historical context, conventions and icons. Therefore, while the general understanding of the genre remains the same, and while the themes within the two films are very similar, the elements change according to the attitudes of the times and the development of societal issues, or indeed their progressive nature.

Before analysing and comparing the genre which links these two films, it is important to note the periods in which they were set and made, and the social constructions behind both their main themes and their characters’ actions. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was made in 1945, the year in which the Second World War ended. However, the story is set between the years of 1900 and 1918, the last four of which would have occurred during the First World War. Bordwell and Thompson highlight features characteristic of classical Hollywood cinema. These include features such as the “narrative form”, direction of “focus” on central character, “a process of change”, motivations of a psychological nature, and finally “closure” (Bordwell and Thompson, 98). A Tree Grows in Booklyn clearly demonstrates all of these characteristics, as discussed later. A Raisin in the Sun was made sixteen years after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in 1965, when the classical period had ended and the post classical period was coming to an end. The post-classical era began right after the Second World War and ended, in 1962. It was characterised by its experimental and transitional nature, as its position in the film-period time-line was the next step towards the Modernist Period.

The change from classical to post-classical was a result of the progression in sophistication of both “creator and consumer” (Casper, Lecture) of the film, and the technologies used to create it. According to Casper with Edwards in Introduction to Film Reader, there were various types of experimentation that occurred within this period such as using “genre as a vehicle”, “nostalgia”, “topical accommodation”, amongst others (Casper with Edwards, 308). Due to the cultural differences of the times in which these films were made, it is no surprise that the ways in which the themes of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun are demonstrated, and the melodrama genre which they fall into, are seemingly different. In Reality Television, Melodrama, and the Great Recession, Susan Schuyler states that “melodrama fluidly adapt to changing public tastes, borrowing tropes and techniques from diverse dramatic genres” (Schuyler, 44). The phrase “fluidly adapted” supports the idea that melodramas focus on real issues, their characters caricatures of the men and women of the time in which they are based, a method of commenting on our ever-changing society through entertainment.

The conflicts in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun lie in the aspirations of the main characters and money. The dreams that both Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner) and Walter Lee Young (Sidney Poitier) have are simple dreams. However, the introduction of stronger narratives in the post-classical era changes the way in which the Family Melodrama genre is portrayed, as societal issues are enhanced through the presentations of the characters. Francie Nolan is a young girl who aspires to become a writer, and Walter Lee Young is a man who dreams of buying a house which he can be proud of. Both of these ambitions are relatable, and would be achievable if these two families did not live in poverty. However, the differences between the dreams can be explained by the cultural context which surrounds these two stories. Francie Nolan’s dream is one which must be achieved by hard work, and perseverance against all odds, such as her alcoholic father Johnny Nolan (James Dunn) who dies at the height of her motivation. Francie is not supported by her family until the very end of the film as her mother lies in bed and tells her that she regrets not reading her compositions: “I ain’t read any of your compositions. It’s on my conscience”, (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945) Francie’s situation could have been applied to young people from any culture with a similar class background.

In contrast, A Raisin in the Sun pushes the boundaries of the Family Melodrama genre by providing an alternate culture to the classic Hollywood family portrayal, by using an African American family. Thompson and Chappell argue that “In culturally influenced resources, the culture is not essential to the underlying message of the movie, but it has a unique effect on the message and viewers’ responses to it… African American culture uniquely influences the messages conveyed” (Thompson and Chappell, 223). The dynamic of the dreams in A Raisin in the Sun is different to that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because Francie’s ambitions are more personal, while Walter struggles with his personal dreams and dreams of his family members, and the decisions which he must make for his succeeding generation. Because the Young family are African American, and are subject to prejudice and racism, the decision that Walter ultimately makes is tied in with the unity of the family against the white people who attempt to oppress them: “And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick” (A Raisin in the Sun, 1961). In this way, the Family Melodrama genre progresses as a stronger narrative is introduced. A narrative is, according to Bordwell and Thompson, “a type of filmic organization in which the parts relate to one another through a series of causally related events taking place in time and space” (Bordwell and Thompson, G-4). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has a clear storyline, a beginning, middle and end which all contribute to the Bildungsroman nature of its plot. However, the stronger narrative occurs in A Raisin in the Sun, as the Melodrama acquires its drama through events which are linked by the moral question of the house that Walter wants to move into. In this way, through the symbol of the house, A Raisin in the Sun comments more on society, and is less focused on the individual characters, but instead uses them as a vehicle to enhance its melodramatic qualities.

Conventional film form, techniques and patterns changed from the 1940s to the 1960s, as presented in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun. The classical era was one which is known for its studio system, which relied on big studios such as 20th Century Fox Studios for its shooting locations. As seen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the settings of the classical era Hollywood films were elaborate and costly. It is easy to see that this film was shot in a professional studio, due to the visible camera angles and lighting used in its scenes. For example, the shots of the staircase in many of the scenes would have needed mounted cameras in order to show the height of the space. This is indicative of the focus of family in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The inclusion of the different floors and levels in the house helps to capture the focus on the Nolan family as a whole. The three point lighting used creates beautiful portraits of all the characters, highlighting the importance of individual character development in the plot. In Behind the Silver Screen Series: Cinematography, Keating and Cagle argue that in the classical period, lighting was used to “primarily to suggest three-dimensionality, to differentiate stars, and to provide glamour” (Keating and Cagle, 40) Three point lighting includes back-light, fill light, and key light which shines directly on the subject – to “to achieve the desired portraiture” (Keating and Cagle, 40). The surrounding lights allowed for the visual prioritisation of the most important subjects. Keating and Cagle argue that “Paired with an encouraging director and an appropriate script, cinematographers pushed the classical envelope and experimented with convention” (Keating and Cagle, 61). This progression and experimentation was driven by economic and social change. After the economic boom which occurred after World War II in the 1940s, “1947 initiated a sharp financial decline for the motion picture industry”, and “the studios slashed their overhead” (Keating and Cagle, 60). This lack of money is evident in the way that A Raisin in the Sun was filmed. The majority of the film occurs in the small apartment of the Young family, venturing away from this location occasionally for plot-related purposes. The more simple set of this film helps the audience to focus more on the historical and social context of its story.

Without the elaborate settings, and the beautiful portraiture that is displayed in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Raisin in the Sun relies more heavily on the importance of the construction of society at the time in which it was set. According to Keating and Cagle, in the post-classical period, “cinematographers began to mix the visual markers of newsreel authenticity with different stylistic choices that also connoted realism, many of which deemphasized glamour”(Keating and Cagle, 65). This heightened sense of realism can be seen in A Raisin in the Sun as the simplified setting contributes to the realistic nature of the plot. It focuses on the truthful problem of racism in America in the 1950s, and the struggle of immigrants to progress in society, and their strive to challenge the seemingly insurmountable immobility of the class system. Because it does not concentrate as heavily on the development of the individual character, as done in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Raisin in the Sun shows the development of the family melodrama genre as it becomes a “bourgeois tragedy, dependent upon an awareness of the existence of society” (Keith Grant, 73). The conflict that the Young family faces highlights their culture being introduced into Hollywood film, and the unified response of African Americans towards feelings of white supremacy. The decision Walter has to make between pride and money, involves his entire family. The Youngs appear to be a representation, and an inspirational symbol for African American families in 1950s America as Walter chooses to stand up against social normalities and oppression. In this way, the iconography of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun differ in that A Raisin in the Sun strives to create icons out of its characters, for the purpose of discussing the racism aforementioned, while the symbolism in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is less obvious, as it is more standardised and can be widely understood without the need for background historical knowledge. It is, as put by Judith E. Smith, “a plotless story, in the way that life itself never seems to offer much in the standard notions of plot” (Smith, 42).

Family melodrama is an ever-evolving genre as it is subject to changes that occur within society. Therefore, the alterations to this genre are difficult to anticipate, but in the future are interesting to study with the advantage of historical hindsight. Cultural changes and societal issues manifest and present themselves in the comparison of films such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Raisin in the Sun. In the words of Barry Keith Grant, “The case of melodrama is significant because of its centrality and extreme adaptability in the history of cinema” (Keith Grant, 232).

Opposite Takes on the “American Dream” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Money is one way to achieve one of the “American Dreams.” The “American Dream” is different for everyone and that dream for most people depends on how they were raised. There are many plays that critique the “American Dream” but only two will be focused on, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; these two plays have opposite views of the “American Dream” and two very different families. Miller’s play presents a very pessimistic view of the “American Dream” and perhaps all the “American Dream” is just a myth and can no longer be achieved. Lorraine Hansberry’s play on the other hand presents a play in which shows that the “American Dream” is alive and can be achieved, achieved by anyone. A Raisin in the Sun presents an optimistic view of the future and the “American Dream.”

Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun deals with an African-American family in the ghetto of Chicago. The Youngers receive a life insurance check for 10,000 dollars. Each member of the family has their own idea of how the money should be spent. Walter Lee wants to invest in getting a liquor store; in theory this would help his family improve their future. Lena Younger, along with Ruth Younger, wish to buy a house with a yard in hopes of leaving the ghetto; this would give Travis, Ruth’s and Walter’s son, a better upbringing, one outside of the ghetto. Walter’s sister Beneatha wishes to use the money to pay for her college tuition so that she can become a doctor. Walter Lee’s father’s death is what propels the situations throughout the play. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman presents a middle class white family that is struggling to move up in the world. Willy Loman is the primary protagonist of the play and believes that through a good personality and being well-liked one can move up the ladder life and reach success. Willy’s beliefs have been engrained into his two sons, Biff and Hap; the result of Willy’s beliefs has caused one son to be unsuccessful due to his actions and the other son is on verge of repeating the same life as Willy. Both of the plays have a strong theme of the “American Dream.” Hansberry’s brings forth the optimistic view while Miller’s play shows a very grim outlook on the dream.

Walter Lee wishes to be more than just another man’s driver. He wants more for his wife and his son. Walter realizes that he can never be anything more, he can never move up in his position as a driver nor can his wife move up in her position as another woman’s maid. The insurance money has the ability to alleviate the problem of being static. In order for Walter to feel like a man and in order for Walter to achieve his dreams he must create a business himself. Creating a business will give him stability, money, and assurance that he is the head of the household. Walter is frustrated because he cannot ever achieve this goal, head of the house; his dream is thwarted by Mama because she takes authority more than Walter. Starting a business will alleviate the problem of authority and place Walter into the masculine role. Walter does not want to work for another man which is a big contrast to what Willy Loman believes.

Miller’s protagonist Willy Loman believes that being well liked can achieve anything in the business world, but not once does he ever mention owning his own business. Willy only thinks about moving up in the company at which he already works. Walter has a bigger dream and knows what it takes. Walter also knows that he might fail and even says, “Invest big, gamble big, hell, lose big if you have to, you know what I mean” (Raisin 2.1). Walter knows that taking a chance might mean losing everything. Willy represents someone that is stuck in the old ways, unwilling to change. Walter should have a tougher time succeeding because of his race, whereas Willy, in theory, should not have a difficult time succeeding. Miller’s play presents an America where no one, not even white people are able to move up. However, Hansberry’s play shows that anyone can succeed and have the “American Dream.”

Hansberry’s play shows an “American Dream” for all Americans. The social implications are not as great in Miller’s play, but the end goal is still happiness. Lee Jacobus argues that A Raisin in the Sun shows all the traditional values of the “American Dream:” This play illustrates the American dream as it is felt not just by African-Americans but by all Americans: If you work hard and save your money, if you hold to the proper values and hope, then you can buy your own home and have a kind of space and privacy that permits people to live in dignity. (Jacobus 1214) Willy Loman wanted to be well-liked and the Younger’s just wanted to live somewhere with more dignity. The apartment that the Younger’s occupy shows the indecency in which they are surrounded, which alludes to the horrible circumstances that surround their entire race. As soon as Ruth finds out that Mama bought a house she rejoices, “my time—to say good-bye—to these God-damned cracking walls!—and these marching roaches!—and this cramped little closet which ain’t now or never was no kitchen” (Raisin 2.1)! To Mama and Ruth living in that place was indecent; it belittled them. Walter’s and Ruth’s son did not have his own room; he had to sleep on the couch in the living room. The Youngers are worse off than the Lomans; that’s not to say that one worked harder than the other, but possible greater motivation and a better understanding of the “American Dream” did the Youngers have. Arthur Miller’s play can serve as a reminder that the “American Dream” is just a dream and will not always come true no matter how hard one works. On the flip side there is A Raisin in the Sun which gives reason to believe that the “American Dream” is alive and real.

Both Miller’s and Hansberry’s plays have the death of a father which brings hope in both plays. In Death of a Salesman Willy believed that the life insurance would help his son Biff. Willy does the ultimate sacrifice because he believes that Biff has a better chance to succeed with the money. Biff has the ability to let his full potential shine and be out from under his father’s shadow. The audience does not know what ever happens to Biff, but at least there is some hope at the end of the play. In A Raisin in the Sun Walter Sr.’s death gives the Youngers the ability to make a better life. Walter Sr. worked his entire life in order for his family to have a better life; his death was the final payment which would allow his family the chance to live their dream. Death gave both families hope; however, in Miller’s play there was not much hope until the end, but in Hansberry’s play hope is seen through the majority of the play. Walter and Ruth are talking about coming together and how things do not have to be so hard; speaking of the past Ruth says, “Honey…life don’t have to be like this. I mean sometimes people can do things so that things are better…you remember how we used to talk when Travis was born…about the way we were going to live…” (2.1). Ruth and Walter both had hope that they would achieve their dreams and help pave a better future for Travis. The “American Dream” is alive even before Walter Sr.’s death and prospers after because of his hard work. In both plays death brings hope and strengthens the idea of the “American Dream.”

As stated earlier, the dream in Hansberry’s play can be applied to all Americans white or black. Many critics criticized Hansberry for writing the play in this fashion, but no matter what Walter Lee strives to get out of the ghetto and achieve his dream. Walter’s dream is to be independent, a dream in which Darwin Turner claims to be widely accepted by whites, “Resenting his economic dependence upon his white employer and his mother, he defines manhood as the ability to support and provide luxuries for a family—a concept certainly accepted by most white Americans” (Turner 5). This notion that only whites want to be independent is absurd because independence is the same as freedom. Slaves wanted freedom; the next thing for them to want would be independence in order to ensure their happiness. The “American Dream” is not just for one race but for all people that come to and are born into the United States of America.

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman both have a strong sense of the “American Dream;” both have their own views on the reality of the dream, but only one gives an optimistic view in its ending, A Raisin in the Sun. David Cooper believes this to be an extremely uplifting play and states, “It is a play about distress, futility, and tragedy, but also about hope and pride and what kind of conviction and commitment it takes to bring hope out of hopelessness, courage out of fear, and idealism out of fatalism” (Cooper 59). Many critics believed that Walter Lee was aspiring to be like the oppressive white men who were over him, but the “American Dream” is not just for those men; it is for anyone, even African-Americans. In Miller’s play a pessimistic view of the “American Dream” is seen and it is not until the end that a little glimpse of hope peaks through for Biff. The audience however, still does not know what will come of Biff which causes the ending to be abstract, like a dream or a myth; this ending leaves a pessimistic outlook on the “American Dream.” Hansberry’s play ends with Walter Lee stepping into his manhood and achieving his dream, leaving hope.

Works Cited

Cooper, David D. “Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun.” Explicator 52.1 (1993): 59. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

Jacobus, Lee. Bedford Introduction to Drama, 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Mays, Kelly J. “A Raisin in the Sun.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 11th ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2013. 1911-974. Print.

Mays, Kelly J. “Death of a Salesman.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 11th ed. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2013. 2109-176. Print.

Turner, Darwin T. “Visions Of Love And Manliness In A Blackening World: Dramas Of Black Life Since 1953.” Black Scholar 25.2 (1995): 2. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.

A Dream Deferred: An Analysis of “A Raisin in the Sun”

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? (qtd. in Hansberry 1771)

Lorraine Hansberry chooses to open her play, Raisin in the Sun, with a provocative poem by Langston Hughes. The poem foreshadows the conflict in the drama and the internal struggles of all of the main characters. The entire Younger family had to constantly contend with the obstacles that are presented by life on the Southside of Chicago. As Ralph A. Austen writes, “The term ‘bildungsroman’ (novel of ‘formation/’ ‘cultivation/’ or ‘development’) has, since the 1980s, come into wide use among critics of African…literature.” Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun can be considered a dramatic version of a bildungsroman because, although the main characters are physical adults, each of them experiences an obstacle that ironically ushers him or her into true adulthood.

Raisin in the Sun is written around a family of African Americans struggling to achieve a version of the American dream in a society where the odds are stacked against them. According to Michelle Gordon, “Raisin’s forthright engagement with Chicago segregation at the grass roots exposes and denaturalizes the workings of mid-century urban segregation and massive white resistance to black self-determination. Like other influential black urban writers—including Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, and Langston Hughes—Hansberry deploys her aesthetics of segregation to uncover ‘not only the results of [segregation], but also the true and inescapable cause of it—which of course is the present organization of American society’” (122). To address the ‘results of segregation’ that each character faces, one must focus on the first line of Hughes’ poem. What actually happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Before addressing the man characters of this drama it is important to mention a character who never makes an appearance in the drama but has an important role in the dreams of the Younger family– Mr. Younger. The drama starts with the Younger family anticipating the ten thousand dollar payout on Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Every character has his or her own idea of how the insurance money should be spent. In fact, the excitement about their newfound financial stability is so dominant that it is hard to believe that it comes at the price of losing the patriarch of their family.

One is led to believe that Mr. Younger had a dream to move his family from the small three-bedroom apartment that they shared and into a home that they could call their own. After the family finds out that Walter was scammed and lost all the insurance money, Lena (Mama) Younger laments: “I seen… him… night after night… come in… and look at that rug… and then look at me… the red showing in his eyes… the veins moving in his head… I seen him grow thin and old before he was forty… working and working like somebody’s workhorse… killing himself… and you–you give it all away in a day” (1819). Mr. Younger dream was deferred, even in death. He worked his entire life to give his family the security and life they all craved. His efforts may have even caused him to succumb to an early death. Hopes of his dream being realized are resurrected with his death only to be crushed again when Walter loses all the money in his attempts to fund a liquor store. Mr. Younger’s dream caused him to physically wither away. In addition, after the insurance money is lost, Mama Younger realizes that all his hard work and, inevitably, his life amount to is money that none of the family members could benefit from.

Does it fester like a sore-and then run? Walter Lee Younger is a man with big dreams and even bigger disappointments. He is continuously taking his frustrations out on the people who are closest to him. Throughout the majority of the novel, Walter Younger so concerned with making money that he continuously blames his family because he has been unable to obtain the riches he desires. Walter lashes out at his wife, Ruth, because he feels she never supports his dreams. Walter quips, “That’s what’s wrong with the colored woman in this world…Don’t understand about building their men up and making them feel like somebody. Like they can do something” (1777). Walter is jealous of his sister, Beneatha, because his mother is willing to financially support her dreams of becoming a doctor but won’t endorse any of his “ideas”. Naturally, Walter Lee is prone to having temper tantrums when he doesn’t get what he desires but he lacks the responsibility to carry out tasks like going to work and making good financial choices.

Although Walter’s stunted maturity is partly due to his domestic upbringing, it is also be contributed to the social setting that he is forced to live in. He is a man with a wife and child who, because of poverty, is forced to reside with his mother and sister in a small two-bedroom residence. Who wouldn’t be desperate for more? In a 1961 unfilmed screenplay of Raisin in the the Sun that was also written by Hansberry, Walter Lee, struggling with the knowledge that his mother has just used the insurance money to purchase a home in Clybourne Park, skips work and drives to a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Chicago where he stands to observe cows awaiting slaughter: “These open-air scenes are effectively juxtaposed with the claustrophobic apartment that is often the site of the drama in the play. Walter lives in two cramped rooms with his sister, mother, wife, and son, and feels cooped up as well in his job which requires him to spend much of the day in a car, at the beck and call of his boss” (Tritt 52). Walter’s anger stems not from hatred or jealousy towards the members of his family but from a frustration with his place in a society where all the odds are stacked against the black family unit. The result is a bitter man who unconsciously sets out on a path of self-sabotage that threatens to destroy him and his family.

Thankfully, Walter doesn’t end the play in this same arrested state, and it is through another dashed hope that Walter Lee reaches maturity. After he is conned out of the remaining insurance money, it seems as if all hope is lost for Walter. He makes plans to sell their recently purchased home back to the Clybourne Park Improvement Association for a profit. When Mr. Linder arrives to complete the purchase, Walter begins to think of his family, the hard work, sacrifice and the resilience it took to get them to a place where they could be homeowners. Walter states, “…We have all thought about your offer and we have decided to move into our house because my father–my father–he earned it…We don’t want your money” (1829). In that moment, Walter comes to the realization that the structure of his family is more important than any amount of economic wealth he could amass. Through this realization, he is able to make the dreams of his entire family, including himself and Mr. Younger, come true.

Does it stink like rotten meat? By all accounts, Beneatha is the great hope of her mother and her family. This intelligent, vivacious women is the epitome of early black feminism and self-awareness. Beneatha knows exactly what she wants and won’t be forced to settle for less by her brother or her potential suitor, George Murchison. However, somewhere along the lines Beneatha seems to have bought into her own hype, and instead of using her education to elevate her relatives she uses it to demean them. There is no mistaking the fact that Beneatha loves her family members but, because of her education, she views herself as superior to them and often belittles their beliefs, world views, and aspirations. When Lena says, “God willing” about Beneatha’s tuition payment, Beneatha’s begins an anti-religious rant in attempt to “educate” her mother on the allusion of theology. Beneatha proclaims: Mama, you don’t understand. It’s all a matter of ideas, and God is just one idea I don’t accept. It’s not important…I just get tired of Him getting all the credit for all the things the human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simply is no blasted God–there is only man and it is he who makes who makes miracles!” (1785) Although Beneatha raises some valid questions, the delivery of her opinion is disrespectful, demeaning, and off-putting. Beneatha has a strong personality; this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. However, Beneatha’s lack of tact and constant need to assert herself as the family intellect often lead to arguments that affect the mood of the entire household.

Beneatha’s true enlightenment comes by way of her Nigerian suitor, Asagai. In the 2008 film version of Raisin in the Sun, Asagai points out, “There is something very wrong when all the dreams of a house depend on one man dying.” Beneatha eventually realizes that one setback should not be an excuse to give up on one’s dream. It is through this realization that Beneatha gains a renewed sense of purpose. Beneatha also begins to see her imperfection and the limitations of her education, an awareness which in turn helps her gain empathy for her family members and an understanding of the decisions that they have made for the family.

Does it crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? One of the most frequently glossed-over characters is Ruth Younger. Ruth does serves as a mirror of the matriarch of the family, but she also faces her own personal trials in the play. In a family that seems to be at constant odds, Ruth is the voice of reason: she is the peacemaker and the homemaker. Ruth is the only character besides Mama Younger who is constantly considering what is best for the entire family as opposed to what will benefit her. It is her selflessness that causes her to contemplate getting an illegal abortion when she finds out she is pregnant. After enduring the constant verbal jabs of her husband and negative input from Beneatha about her adding another person to their already cramped quarters, Ruth decides that the best thing for the family would be for her to terminate her pregnancy. In the 2008 film A Raisin in the Sun, a scene shows Ruth anticipating her “back alley” abortion. As she waits in the rear of the beauty salon, the camera does an extreme close-up on the pot of boiling water that is sterilizing the abortion instruments. With tears in her eyes, Ruth turns the stove off and rushes out of the salon and into the pouring rain. Although the scene has no dialogue, the scene highlights how the financial stress of a family threatens to corrupt even most incorruptible of characters. When Ruth makes the decision to keep her child, she solidifies her position as the moral compass of her family. Ironically, keeping her child was the best thing for her family because it is what helps heal the rift between her and Walter Lee.

Does it sag like a heavy load? Lena (Mama) Younger is a hard-working woman who carries the hopes and dreams of her entire family. Her life has not been picturesque. Until recently, she has had to contend with a mean and unfaithful husband but, like her mirror Ruth, she will do what she must to keep her family united. It is this overwhelming sense of responsibility to her family that causes her to also be one of the biggest hindrances to her family’s maturity. Mama Younger’s love for her children causes her to enable their bad behavior.

Mama Younger smothers her two adult children, a fact that is apparent because they still live with her. Mama Younger is constantly nurturing her daughter Beneatha and treats her like she is a teenager rather than a twenty year-old woman: “MAMA:…Bennie honey, it’s too drafty for you to be sitting ‘round half dressed. Where’s your robe? BENEATHA: In the cleaners. MAMA: Well, go get mine and put it on. BENEATHA: I’m not cold, Mama, honest. MAMA: I know-but you so thin… BEANEATHA: [Irritably.] Mama, I’m not cold” (1780). Mama Younger is constantly meddling in the smallest affairs of her family. In fact, she takes her enabling behaviors to an all-time high when she decides to give Walter Lee the bulk of Mr. Younger’s insurance money after he throws a supersized temper tantrum because Mama would not financially support his get-rich-quick scheme.

Through the course of the play, Mama Younger has to learn to take a step back and allow her children the opportunity to make their own decisions. Lena has to learn how to guide her children without outright telling them what they should do. For example, near the end of act three, Mama cautions Lena, “When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is” (1827). Soon after, Lena gives Walter the opportunity to make the decision about the sale of their new house and, thankfully, he does not disappoint. Mama’s ability to allow her children to make adult decisions is the catalyst for their maturity. In addition, Lena’s efforts also help lighten her burden of having to be the ever-watchful mother; when Beneatha and Walter make good choices on their own, she can rest assured that they have come into manhood and womanhood.

Unbeknownst to many, A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by actual events in Lorraine Hansberry’s childhood. In the 1940s, the Hansberrys faced the issue of housing segregation head-on when they moved into a segregated residential neighborhood. In her essay, Michelle Gordon records how Hansberry recalls, “ [my] desperate and courageous mother, patrolling [the] house all night with a loaded German luger, doggedly guarding her four children, while [her] father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court”(qtd. in Gordon 121). It was the Hansberrys’ stance that paved the way for the ruling of Shelley v. Kramer, which declared residential segregation unconstitutional (Gordon). Reflecting this difficult reality, all of the main characters in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun are flawed. However, each character also has very honorable qualities that make him or her sympathetic to audiences. Walter is irresponsible, yet his aspirations are fueled by his desire to see his family prosper. Beneatha can be an opinionated know-it–all, yet she is intelligent, self-assured, and wants to heal people. Ruth could be viewed as a pushover, yet she is always willing to help the family reconcile and she selflessly puts the needs of her family before her own desires. Mama is the meddling matriarch of the family, yet she loves and protects her family with unparalleled fierceness.

Throughout A Raisin in the Sun, each family member goes through a period of turmoil which inevitably ushers him or her into a new level of maturity. Each of the characters has choices and eventually makes the choices that keep the family united. Even though A Raisin in the Sun is a play about urbanization and the effects of segregation, it can also be viewed as an African-American bildungsroman because each of the main character experiences a transition to another level of maturity. Again, one can ask, “What happens to a dream deferred?” A Raisin in the Sun teaches audiences that people don’t have to yield to the negative effects of their environment. Lorraine Hansberry shows that deferred dreams can give birth to resilience, unity, and new dreams.

Works Cited Primary Source Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton & Company, 2004. 1771-1830. Print. Secondary Sources A Raisin in the Sun. Dir. Kenny Leon. Perf. Sean Combs, Sanaa Lathan, and Phylicia Rashad. Paris Qualles,2008. Film. Austen, Ralph A. “Struggling With The African Bildungsroman.” Research In African Literatures 46.3 (2015): 214-231. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. Gordon, Michelle. “‘Somewhat Like War’: The Aesthetics Of Segregation, Black Liberation, And A Raisin In The Sun. “African American Review 42.1 (2008): 121-133. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. Tritt, Michael. “A View From The Stockyards: Lorraine Hansberry’s Allusion To The Jungle In The Unfilmed Screenplay Of A Raisin In The Sun.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal Of Short Articles, Notes, And Reviews 21.1 (2008): 51-57. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

The Struggle of Finding a Home in African-American Literature

The “American Dream” connotes a vision of a house with a white picket fence, a place of warmth and family, a secure place to lay one’s head at night, a place to just be. Much of African-American literature since the 1900’s demonstrates that the quest of a “home” for most African-Americans, complicated by racism, segregation, and oppression, becomes a frustrating and nearly impossible dream. In Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat,” Delia permits her husband Sykes’ unemployment and infidelity; she even allows him to bring a snake onto the premises regardless of her fear of the creature, but Delia balks at the thought of giving up her home. The title of the story describes the work ethic of Delia which is further demonstrated in her discussion with the errant and selfish Sykes, “Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat!” (Hurston 1023). When Sykes refers to the house as “his” in saying that he did not want white people’s clothes in his house, Delia quickly and hotly reminds him that it is her “sweat… [that has] paid for this house” (Hurston 1023). Even as Delia comes to realize that it is too late to worry over her relationship with Sykes she realizes that she can never give up “her little home. She had it built for her old days, [she had] planted…the trees and flowers there. It was lovely to her, lovely” (Hurston 1024).Richard Wright’s “Long Black Song” also describes the struggle to have a home in the rural South. “Long Black Song” is set shortly after World War II and tells the story of Sarah and Silas, so poor they “ain got not money t be fixin no clocks” (Wright 1422). Although Silas does not fill the space in her heart left by Tom, Sarah is grateful to Silas for “[giving] her her own home… more than many others had done for their women” (1431). Silas has slaved for “ten years…t git [his] farm free” (1433) and is proud to finally be doing well enough to hire another hand to work his farm. But both Sarah and Silas’ dream of a home and farm owned free and clear turns nightmare as a result of an interaction with a white man. Whether Sarah is raped, has sex willingly, or merely acquiesces, the fact infuriates Silas who has fought too long to be his own man. In his article “Charles W. Chestnutt’s ‘The Web Of Circumstance’ and Richard Wright’s ‘Long Black Song’: The Tragedy of Property” suggests that “a Black Man’s attempt to participate fully in the white economic system might very well lead to tragedy” (Delmar). Silas encounter with the white men results in the death of one of them. Knowing the white men will be back for vengeance, his choice comes down to running away and giving up his home or to stay and surely give up his life. Despising the whites, he sends Sarah and the baby elsewhere and chooses to stay and die with his self-respect and on his own grounds. In his article, “Pro & Con: “The Great Sharecropper Success Story,” Nicholas Lemann discusses the failure and success of “the overall transition of black America from being three-quarters rural to three-quarters urban in the half-century from 1910 to 1960” (Lemann). Lemann finds that the migrations did not always result in better personal circumstances for African-Americans. Langston Hughes’ two poems “Madam and the Rent Man” and “Ballad of the Landlord” both show the beginnings of ghettoization and indifferent slum lords. The speakers in both poems cite numerous, even hazardous and unsanitary conditions in their rented residences only to find that the landlords and rent agents are only concerned with the collection of money not with providing reasonable repairs. In “Madam and the Rent Man” an agent of the landlord comes by to collect the rent. While insisting that he must have the rent, Madam explains that “The sink is broke, / The water don’t run… Back window’s cracked, / Kitchen floor squeaks, / [and] There’s rats in the cellar, /And the attic leaks” (Madam 11-18). She points out that she had raised these concerns previously and yet neither “rent man” nor land lord “done a thing… [they] promised to’ve done” (Madam 13-14). While Madam ultimately refuses to pay, the poem ends with the frustration of both her and the rentman, an ironic note of agreement. “Ballad of the Landlord” takes a similar idea a step further. As the speaker refuses to pay a landlord for similar faulty conditions, the landlord threatens the speaker with eviction. The speaker reacts by threatening the landlord with bodily harm. Frustratingly, police involvement does not result in the landlord’s enforced repairs, but instead results in headlines that read “TENANT HELD NO BAIL / JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL” (Ballad 32-33).Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is about a working-class and poor family. The drama, set “sometime between World War II and the present” (Hansberry 1772), takes place in a Southside Chicago ghetto. Michelle Gordon, in her article entitled “Somewhat Like War: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun,” says that “Hansberry directly engages crises produced by ghetto economies and dehumanizing living conditions” (Gordon 123). The five member Younger family is nearly living on top of each other in a two bedroom apartment where the varying personalities begin to wear on each other. The tiny apartment was never supposed to be a permanent situation. Mama explains how she and Big Walter, upon their marriage, hadn’t “planned on living here no more than a year… [They were] going to set away [money], little by little, and buy a little place…. [They] even picked out the house” (1.1). As children came along and finances tightened the dream had faded. With the next generation Ruth has the same thoughts and bemoans how the dream of “the way [she and Walter] were going to live [is] starting to slip away” (2.1). Mama decides to buy a house so that they can have enough space for the new baby that Ruth carries, but not without reservations. While Mama buys a house they can afford, it is in a white neighborhood, and despite the attempts of the white neighborhood to buy them off, they make the move anyway. Hansberry almost ends on a happy note as the family reverts to their everyday squabbling, but their future seems perilous. More than likely they will encounter extreme and possibly violent reaction to their presence in a white neighborhood. In 1943 A.H. Maslow wrote his paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation” in which he posits that human beings most basic needs begins with physiological needs such as food, water, and sleep. Once these basic needs are met, human beings tend to look for safety. Shelter or a secure home is part of this need for safety. The quest for a secure home then becomes a need that must be essentially satisfied before human beings can consider the need for love and belonging, or the next step, esteem, and the final step, self-actualization. “Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of prepotency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more prepotent need…. Also no need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives” (Maslow 370). Further, he discusses how the chronic “deprivation” (Maslow 375) of any particular need not only becomes the sole focus of a human being, but causes major psychological trauma. If it can be conceded that the African-American literature examined in this article is a fair representation of society, then it becomes evident that racism, oppression, and segregation has impeded many African-Americans from finding a safe and secure environment in which to live. Denying the basic need of safe and secure shelter, the stepping-stone to other needs, then prevents an entire culture from achieving its full potential, certainly a major fault in American society. Works CitedDelmar, P. Jay. “Charles W. Chestnutt’s ‘The Web of Circumstance’ and Richard Wright’s ‘Long Black Song’: The Tragedy of Property.” Studies in Short Fiction 17.2 (1980): 178-181. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.Gordon, Michelle. “Somewhat Like War: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun.” African American Review 42.1 (n.d.): 121-133. Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nded. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004.1771-1830. Print. Hughes, Langston. “Madam and the Rentman.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nded. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004. 1304. Print. Hughes, Langston. “Ballad of the Landlord.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nded. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004. 1302-1303. Print. Hurston, Nora Zeale. “Sweat.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nded. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004. 1022-30. Print. Wright, Richard. “Long Black Song.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nded. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 2004.1419-36. Print. Lemann, Nicholas. “Pro & Con: “The Great Sharecropper Success Story.” Public Interest 105 (1991): 107-22. ERIC. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.Maslow, A. H. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50.4 (1943): 370-396. PsycARTICLES. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

Women, Black and Proud

“We’re people, we’re just like the birds and the bees, We’d rather die on our feet, Than be livin’ on our knees” (“James Brown Lyrics”). These lyrics for James Brown’s classic soul hit “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)” could have easily been written after the viewing of Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” or a reading of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” Both literary works are about African-American families that are trying to stay together as the family members slowly begin to part from each other. The family in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is comprised of all females, and the backbone of the Younger family in “A Raisin in the Sun” is the female characters (Hansberry; Walker). The female characters in each literary work are attempting to define themselves as African-American women while also trying to define themselves through the issues of poverty and racism.There are three major female characters in both Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” These women are very similar and easily comparable. In both stories, there is a mother and two daughters/daughters-in-law (Hansberry; Walker). In the short story written by Alice Walker, the mother is the storyteller; consequently, she is not known as anything but “Mama.” The two daughters are Maggie, a shy girl who lives at home with her mother, and Dee or Wangero, who is returning from college to visit her family (357-63). The mother in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” is Lena Younger, who is also called “Mama” by her family members. Ruth is Lena’s daughter-in-law, Walter Lee’s wife. She is most closely comparable to Maggie, and Beneatha Younger to Wangero. Beneatha is Lena’s biological daughter, and has set her sights on becoming a doctor (Hansberry 1198-1260).The two mothers are the strength of their respective families. Both mothers identify African-American women as religious, and each is the religious backbone of her family. Lena Younger will not have God being disgraced within her home, which is evident when she “powerfully” slaps Beneatha across the face for saying that there “simply is no blasted God” (Hansberry 1212). Lena then makes Beneatha repeat, “In my mother’s house there is still God” (1212). It is obvious that the mother in “Everyday Use” is also a religious woman. She hypothesizes that whenever Maggie marries John Thomas she will just sit and “sing church songs to [her]self” (Walker 359). Also, when she tells Wangero that she can not have the quilts, something hits her and she relates it as a feeling similar to when “the spirit of God touches” her and the spirit causes her to become captivated and begin to shout (363). The two mothers are also the final arbiters of good and bad. Neither of them is educated, but both decide what will happen in the household. Mama Younger is the head of the household until the very end of the play when Walter Lee starts to rightfully take over as the man of the house. She teaches Beneatha and the audience an important lesson when she implores, “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing” (Hansberry 1257). Maggie and Wangero’s mother shows that she also has the final say in her household when she seizes the quilt from Wangero’s hands and drops it in Maggie’s lap. The mothers personify the strength of the African-American woman.One can easily tell that Beneatha Younger and Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo are very similar because each wants to be independent and is searching for her individual identity. Beneatha is a twenty-year-old girl who is currently enrolled in college and studying to become a doctor (1204-5). Wangero is also an educated young woman who has either graduated from or is currently attending Paine College in Augusta, Georgia (Walker 358). Both young ladies are also attractive girls who draw the attention of young men. When Wangero comes back to visit her mother and her sister, she comes with a possible male suitor in the Muslim man who has accompanied her (359-60). The narrator, her mother, also notes the “furtive boys in pink shirts” who were around on washday when Dee was in high school (359). Throughout “A Raisin in the Sun,” Beneatha has two male suitors who come and go. Joseph Asagai, the young Nigerian, even asks Beneatha to marry him at the end of the play (Hansberry 1252-53). The difference in the two girls’ relationships is that while Beneatha is more submissive to the men, Dee dominates her peers. While in high school, she actually did the courting instead of the male. While courting Jimmy T, she “turned all of her faultfinding power on him” and “he flew” (Walker 359). Both of the young women are strong-willed to an extent that it sometimes gets on others’ nerves. Dee read to her sister and mother before she left for college, but as her mother says, “She… read …without pity; forcing words, lies… upon us two” (358). Dee is attempting to impart some of the knowledge she is learning upon her family members, but she does it in a demeaning way that makes them feel like dimwits. Beneatha is determined to become a doctor, but she becomes very cynical whenever anyone in the family, especially Walter Lee, tries to discuss anything about her schooling (1205-6).Beneatha and Wangero are each searching for individual identity in a culture that is different than that of their respective families. When Wangero steps out of the car in the midst of hot and muggy summer weather, she is wearing a brightly colored dress and bracelets that clank together when she lifts her arms (Walker 360). Beneatha also dresses in interesting and unique attire. Joesph Asagai gives Beneatha a Nigerian dress and headdress that he sent home for and got from his sister’s personal wardrobe (Hansberry 1216-7). Beneatha is ecstatic. She even goes as far as cutting her hair short to make it more “natural” (1226). The rest of the family is in disbelief when they see what she has done. Wangero’s hair is also unfamiliar to her family. Her hair is standing straight up, and she has two long pigtails that are wrapped into buns behind her ears (Walker 360). Dee then acknowledges her mother with a Muslim greeting, as does her male acquaintance. Then Dee gives news that is astonishing to her mother – she has changed her name. No longer is her name Dee but now Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. She has changed her name because she cries that she “couldn’t bear… being named after the people who oppress me” (360). However, Dee was a name that had been passed down through the family since before the Civil War. In actuality, Dee/Wangero just does not want anything to do with the tradition of her family. She wants her own unique tradition and only wants artifacts from what has become her prior family tradition. Beneatha changes her appearance and does not share her family’s religious beliefs, but she still is trying to keep her heritage. For instance, she becomes angry when her other suitor, George Murchinson, talks badly about the Ashanti tribes and tells her that her heritage is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!” (Hansberry 1226) To get their own unique identity and independence, Wangero has become Muslim and Beneatha is becoming deeply immersed in southern Africa tradition and history (Walker 360; Hansberry 1224-6). This is their individual ways of becoming true AFRICAN-American women.Maggie and Ruth are the outspoken girls of each family. Both Maggie and Ruth have had occurrences in their lives that have caused them to lose the beauty that they once had. The fire that consumed her family’s previous home has scarred Maggie. She was burned on her arms and legs and now walks like a lame animal (Walker 357-8). Ruth was once a beautiful girl, “even exceptionally so.” However, Ruth has been worn down by the woes of her life and “disappointment has already begun to hang in her face” (Hansberry 1199). One thing that Maggie strives for is to please her family. After first being upset at Wangero’s wanting of the quilts that were promised to her, Maggie comes into the bedroom where the other family members are and offers to give up the quilts to Wangero (Walker 362). Ruth is similar in that she tries to appease everyone. She wants Beneatha to be able to go to college and become a doctor. She wants the house that Lena also wants, and she also tries to talk her mother-in-law into considering Walter Lee’s liquor store investment (Hansberry 1208-9). These two try to define themselves by making everyone around them happy.The females in both families have to fight and strive to identify themselves amidst the social problems of their times, including poverty and racism. Neither of the families is so poor that they have to fight daily just to stay off of the streets and to put food on the table. However, both families are lower class African-American families. What Maggie and her mother consider home is a three-room house with a tin roof that sits in the middle of a pasture. Instead of real windows, the house has holes cut in the side of the house that are not any certain shape or size (Walker 359). The five member Younger family lives in a three-room apartment on the South Side of Chicago that is appropriately described as a “rat trap” (Hansberry 1209). The family’s living room was once “arranged with taste and pride,” but now, “weariness has, in fact, won in this room” (1199). The room and its furniture have had to “accommodate… too many people for too many years” (1199). This is one of the reasons that Lena Younger’s dream is a house, on which she puts a down payment with the insurance money from her husband’s death (1231-2). Racism is also a concern for both families, indirectly for Maggie and her mother and directly for the Younger family. Maggie’s mother tells the reader about the Muslims who live down the road from her home. She reports that the Muslims stayed up all night with rifles after some white people poisoned the Muslims’ cattle. She shows her admiration and/or disbelief for this act as she walks a mile and a half just to view the sight of these African-Americans taking a stand against the racist violence (Walker 361). Racist violence is a future threat to the Younger family because they are moving into an all white neighborhood. Also, in the newspaper there have been several reports lately of bombings aimed towards black families who have decided to occupy the wrong areas (Hansberry 1200, 1235-6). Racism is most prominent in the community that is represented by Mr. Karl Lindner, the representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. This association comprised of the current white homeowners in the Clybourne Park. Members of this association sent Mr. Lindner to offer to buy the house from the Younger family because they do not want to have blacks in their community (1242-4). However, like the Muslims in “Everyday Use,” the Younger family will not be denied and decide to move in anyways.Both “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” are literary works of families who are striving to identify, classify, and define themselves as African-Americans. Each family attempts to characterize itself through the social issues present in their surroundings, a struggle most visible through the female characters of each story. In both Hansberry’s play and Walker’s short story, women are the ones who keep their families from – as James Brown said – “livin’ on their knees.”

Viewing the World from Different Angles: Generation Gaps in Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

The African-American experience of growing up in America changed dramatically throughout the course of the twentieth century, thus leading to differing views between the older and younger generations. In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, the character of Mama was raised during a point in time when racial prejudice was prevalent and blacks had virtually no opportunity to live out their dreams. On the other hand, her children, Walter and Beneatha, and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, grow up in a world where slavery exists only in history books, and although they still face financial hardship and racial discrimination, it is possible for blacks to become successful business men or even doctors. The younger generation’s concept of the American dream reflects the changing times and the new opportunities that are now available for African-Americans. As a result of this generation gap, Mama and her children view the issues of religion, career choice, and abortion from extremely different angles, leading to much tension and anger in their relationship.By viewing the dreams of Mama in comparison to the dreams of her children, one can clearly see the generation gap that exists between them. As a result of the changing times, Mama’s dreams differ extremely from those of her children. She grew up in a time of much oppression and hardship – a time when she was unable to live out the simplest of dreams. All Mama ever wanted was a house with “a little garden in the back” (1209). After all, back then it was the most an African-American could hope for. During the 1960s however, it is much more common for an African-American to own a house, and since Walter grows up with this possibility, owning a house is not a high goal to set for himself. Instead, he sets his sights on a much more elaborate dream than his mother, in particular, being a successful businessman able to “pull [a] car up on the driveway” where his “gardener will be clipping away at the hedges” (1239-1240). Mama disapproves of Walter’s dream, for she believes that they are not “business people,” but rather “just plain working folks” (1208). She does not realize that nowadays African-Americans have more opportunities than she had growing up, and that, according to Walter, “colored people [are not] going to start getting ahead [until] they start gambling on some different kinds of things in the world, [such as] investments” (1208). Normally it would not be a problem for a grown man to make an investment that his mother does not approve of. However, Mama has the ten thousand dollars from her husband’s insurance money that Walter needs in order to start his business. Because Mama does not agree with her son’s choice to become a businessman, more specifically an owner of a liquor store, she refuses to give him the money. After Walter finds out that his mother spent the money on a down-payment for a house, thus fulfilling her own dream, he becomes enraged. When Mama wishes for Walter to tell her that he believes she did the right thing, he insults her:What you need me to say you done right for? . . . It was your money and you did what you wanted with it. So you butchered up a dream of mine – you – who always talking ’bout your children’s dreams . . . (1233).Thus, because of their differing views on how the money should be spent, Walter and Mama are constantly at odds with one another.Mama’s disapproval does not stop with Walter’s decision to invest in a liquor store, but continues with Ruth’s decision to have an abortion. Mama has lived in poverty for her entire life, and it is because of this poverty that she lost her baby, “little Claude” (1209). She believes that “[they] are . . . people who give children life, not . . . destroy [it]” (1223). Ruth, however, has had the opportunity to raise a healthy son, and since she has never known any other way, she takes this for granted. Ruth does not view her unborn child as part of the family, and thus when determining what is in her family’s best interest, she fails to think of the baby. Ruth comes to the conclusion that bringing another child into their already crowded apartment would be unfair to her family. Mama, on the other hand, is grateful for being able to have the opportunity to give birth to a healthy baby, since she knows that at the time many African-American babies were dying from poverty, and just a short time before, from slavery. It is because of this that she strongly disagrees with Ruth’s decision to have an abortion. Mama does not understand how a woman who has the opportunity to give birth to a child would even think “about getting rid of [it]” (1223). When she informs Walter of Ruth’s decision, he is unable to say anything to his wife and leaves the room. Mama angrily yells after him, “If you a son of mine, tell her [not to have the abortion]! You . . . you are a disgrace to your father’s memory” (1223). By reading this quote, one can see that more tension arises in Walter and Mama’s relationship as a result of her strong stance on the issue of abortion.Mama also disapproves with the fact that Beneatha no longer believes in God. Beneatha constantly takes for granted the life that she is living, and when good fortune comes her way, such as the opportunity to become a doctor, she believes that it is commonplace, and therefore nothing to be thankful for. Mama, on the other hand, grew up in a time when good fortune was hard to come by. Whenever she is having a rough time, she places her faith in God and prays that everything will turn out all right. For example, when Walter loses the money for his sister’s schooling, Mama asks God to “Look down here . . . and show [her] the strength” (1250). The issue of religion causes many arguments to occur between Beneatha and Mama, due to their different views. Beneatha, despite knowing that her mother is a religious woman, insists that “there simply is no blasted God – there is only man and it is he who makes miracles” (1212). Mama, deeply offended and disappointed in her daughter, is unable to control her anger. She slaps Beneatha across the face and insists she repeat the phrase “In my mother’s house there is still God” (1212). In addition to this, Beneatha often uses the Lord’s name in vain, thus further upsetting her mother. This constant conflict eventually takes its toll on their relationship, leaving them to feel bitterness and discomfort toward one another.Throughout the course of the twentieth century, the concept of the American dream changed dramatically, as displayed in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun. Through reading the play, one can tell that a generation gap exists between Mama and her children, for they view the world from extremely different angles. Their clashing views on the issues of religion, career choice, and abortion lead to many arguments between them, and as a result, their relationship is characterized by resentment and tension.Works CitedHansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Compact ed. Ed. Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 1198-1260

The Circumscribed and Tragic Hero: Lena’s role in A Raisin in the Sun

In his book Twelve Million Black Voices Richard Wright asserts that:In the Black Belts of the northern cities, our women are the most circumscribed and tragic objects to be found in our lives […] Surrounding our black women are many almost insuperable barriers: they are black, they are women, they are workers; they are triply anchored and restricted in their movements within and without of the black belts (1526). Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun,set in the south side of Chicago afterWorld War II, works as an affirmation of Wright’s statement. The play at first seems to be subjugating its women by pushing them to the background of the narrative, ignoring their contributions to the plot, and presenting Walter as the hero. However, a closer look at the script reveals that Hansberry—a black women herself—intentionally uses this framing to encourage the readers to first view Walter as a protagonist and, later, to question their original assessment and their willingness to push the true protagonist, Lena, to the side.

Although there are several subtle indications from the beginning of the novel that the main character is Lena, rather than Walter, the first instance of Lena significantly driving the plot occurs around the middle of Act II when she decides to purchase a house with her insurance money. This decision completely shifts the trajectory of the plot, changes the nature of every relationship in the house, and is arguably the most drastic action taken by any of the characters through the play. However, the narrative doesn’t allow the reader to focus too long on the fact that Lena, a side character, is taking on the role of primary influencer in the story. Instead, her actions are immediately dwarfed by Walter’s insistence on making himself, his issues, and his selfishness predominant in the narrative. Walter does this when, instead of rejoicing with the rest of the family, he turns on his mother in anger and says, “So you butchered up a dream of mine—you—who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams” (Hansberry 1494). Walter subsequently drags the plot and the attention of the reader onto himself and away from Lena as he throws a tantrum by going out and drinking. Walter’s actions then force Lena, who still has the most power to affect the narrative, into her next plot driving decision.

While Walter’s decision to entrust his and Beneatha’s money to a con-man may seem like it gives him importance as a driving force in the plot, the fault for his irrational decision ultimately rests on Lena’s shoulder’s because it was her decisions that set into motion the events that made losing the money possible in the first place. When Walter throws a fit and gets himself drunk Lena’s response, rather than to ignore him, is to give him the attention he’s asking for, shifting plot and reader attention to Walter. Lena ultimately caves into his cries of victimhood and hands him the money, not only his money but Beneatha’s as well. Walter’s response to this is to look at her in astonishment and ask, “You trust me like that, Mama” (Hansberry 1497). Her response is, “I ain’t never stopped trusting you. Like I ain’t never stopped loving you” (Hansberry 1497). This exchange of money is where the exchange of power and potential for controlling the plot happens. When Lena hands Walter the money she is handing him the power to make decisions that impact the story. It is important to note, however, that whatever power Walter has originated with Lena and her decision to give him any power in the first place. Thus, Walter’s subsequent decisions to hand over the money to an untrustworthy man, while they take up much of the plot and divert the reader’s attention to Walter, should ultimately be attributed to Lena. When Walter’s deal goes sour, he resolves to humiliate himself and his family in order to make a profit from Linder but, ultimately, chooses to maintain his pride. This pivotal decision can also be attributed to Lena. The script frames this decision as the climactic moment of the story wherein Walter finally chooses his family above monetary gain and subsequently “comes into his manhood.” But the decision is not Walter’s, it is Lena’s.

Lena does not sit idly by during this vital moment but instead chooses to put pressure on Walter to choose his pride and his family above the money. She does this by making Travis, Walter’s son, stay by her side. She then looks into Walter’s eyes, holding Travis and what he represents hostage: “And you make him understand what you’re doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show what our five generations done come to. Go ahead, son” (Hansberry 1518). After having this pressure put on him, Walter caves. Rather than agreeing to the deal, he declares that he is from “a proud people,” echoing Lana’s statements from an earlier scene. However, this would not be enough to prove Lena the primary mover without the acknowledgment of the explicit power that she holds in the situation. Leana is far from a passive bystander subject to Walter’s whims. The property belongs to Lena, not Walter. Any decision on Lena’s part to give Walter influence in the outcome of the plot is just that: a decision. At any moment Lena is able to stop the transaction from happening, to revoke her consent. Instead, she allows Walter to make the decision for her. She transfers her power to him. The plot would have us believe, at first glance, that this is a story of Walter coming into his manhood and that he finally does so by choosing to maintain his pride rather than caving to his lust for money. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Walter’s ability to acquire his “manhood” is also mediated through his mother and her decisions. If Lena’s influence over his son is not explicit in the scene where she implores him to choose his family above monetary gain, it is in the following scene when she bestows his manhood upon him. In one of the final scenes, when the family is getting ready to move out of the house, Lena addresses Ruth by saying, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain” (Hansberry 1520). In this way, Walter’s manhood is not something that he has earned on his own. Instead, it comes to him by way of his mother: by her influence over his actions and her decision to bestow manhood upon him. Any narrative praise or attention that Walter might receive here is given to him through Lena. It is, again, an exchange of power wherein Lena holds the true power and influence over the plot but her decision to transfer that power over to Walter and to put emphasis on Walter frames him in such a way that the reader is duped into believing that he is the main character.

The final scene of A Raisin in the Sun is the most overt instance where Lena is framed as the protagonist of the play. It is the moment in which Hansberry asks the reader to question Lena’s role in the script their own assumptions about Walter as the protagonist. In the final scene, Lena is left alone in the house. Rather than leaving in haste with the rest of the family, she stands for a while in the kitchen debating whether she ought to take her plant with her. She contemplates leaving the plant, steps out without it, and then comes back in and grabs it, unable to leave it behind. In order to understand this scene, one needs also to understand the plant and what it represents in the play. Throughout the play, Lena is shown nurturing the withering plant, trying to preserve it, and lamenting its unhealthy state. Several characters, including Walter, berate Lena for her careful attention to the plant, deeming it a lost cause and her efforts to preserve it a waste of time. Lena, however, never gives up on the plant. Throughout the play, Lena also acts as the binding force in the family, her efforts to preserve familial unity mimicking her efforts to preserve the plant. In this way, the plant is a representation of Lena’s care for her family. Her attention to the plant in spite of its deteriorating state represents her determination to keep her family together.

In the last scene, Lena contemplates leaving the plant behind. This is a moment where she is forced to question her role as matriarch and ask herself whether her family might not need her guidance anymore. This is the cumulation of every pivotal role that Lena has played throughout the play. It is an acknowledgment of her power as one of the main forces in the plot and the catalyst through which every other character, Walter included, was able to grow. After bestowing “manhood” on Walter, Lena is forced to question her role as the leader of the family. She decides, for a split second, that she is no longer needed, only to backpedal on her decision a moment later, concluding that her family still needs her and that she will continue to lead them. An attentive reader will notice the narrative significance of this final scene. Rather than ending with Walter, putting an emphasis on his growth as a character and his ability to lead his family, focus is put onto Lena, making her, for the first time, the most obviously important character, with no consideration of Walter and his mistakes or decisions to distract from Lena’s significance.

By using the plant to represent the family and Lena’s relationship to the family, Hansberry asks the reader to question the role that Lena has played throughout the script, to put emphasis on the fact that every event that took place was a result of Lena’s decisions and her determination to keep her family together. Subsequently, Hansberry also puts emphasis on the reader’s assumptions about Lena and her role in the play, highlighting the tendency to see Walter as the protagonist simply because he is male, the tendency to ignore Lena, who truly drove all of the major shifts in the narrative. It brings to light an inclination, one that Hansberry was doubtless herself aware of, to push black women to the background of a narrative, whether that narrative is a play script or a social script. Thus, by forcing Lena, the main character, to the background of her own narrative, Hansberry highlights how the reader also forced her there and failed to see Lena’s power in driving the narrative. In this way, Hansberry both affirms and seeks to subvert Wrights statement: “In the Black Belts of the northern cities, our women are the most circumscribed and tragic objects to be found in our lives” (Wright 1526). In essence, she pushes Lena to the background in order to bring her into the spotlight, makes Lena a circumscribed and tragic object in order to frame her as a hero.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, Norton and Company Inc. 2017, 1457-1520.Wright, Richard. “Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, Norton and Company Inc. 2017, 1523-1527.

The Ideal Man and the Flawed Pursuit of Perfection

Both Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun and Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved are works that deal predominately with race, but feature vastly different subject matter. Beloved features a group of people haunted by the memory of slavery and learning what it takes to begin to overcome it, while A Raisin in the Sun features a family in the late 1950’s grappling with systemic racism and trying to figure out whether to challenge it, or to submit to it. However, despite their differences in plot, both works deal with the subject of masculinity in the same way. Both Beloved (147-148) and A Raisin in the Sun (108-109) portray the image of the ideal man as a double-edged sword; while the image of the ideal man is well-intentioned as a standard for perfection, the pursuit of that perfection drives men to make decisions and take on character traits that are flawed, and in some cases contradictory, to the very image they are trying to epitomize.

Walter Lee Younger gives his definition of what it means to be an ideal man on pages 108-109 in A Raisin in the Sun. He begins by telling his son “When you ‘bout seventeen years old, I’ll come home pretty tired, you know what I mean, after a long day of conferences and secretaries getting things wrong the way they do…’Cause an executive’s life is hell, man.” (Hansberry 108). Although he describes an executive’s life as being “hell”, it is in fact exactly the sort of life he wants because it includes several elements he perceives as necessary in order to be a man. First and foremost, Walter Lee dreams of coming home “pretty tired”, indicating he has put in a rather difficult day at work. The image of going out, working hard, and coming home tired is reminiscent of the image of men going out to hunt and coming home with food. Although there is nothing wrong with aspiring to work hard, using an image of men that is thousands of years old to define modern men is unhealthy as it puts undue amount pressure on Walter Lee to be the sole provider for his family, and leads him to see Ruth and women in general as being beneath him. His sexist view that women are less capable, which likely stems from the archaic idea of men needing to be the provider, is evident in the line, “secretaries getting things wrong the way they do” (Hansberry 108). Considering the fact that most secretaries were women in the late 1950’s, the line shows that in his ideal world women are less capable than him and more prone to making mistakes. While his ambition to climb to the top of the ladder of success is admirable and gives his life positive direction, the same image that makes him ambitious makes him sexist, and is what ultimately causes him to invest so much money in the liquor store deal, which he did in order to feel fulfilled as a provider. As Walter Lee continues to talk about how his life as an ideal man would be, he reiterates his desire for success as well as his view of the place of women, but he goes a step further when he says, “And I’ll pull the car up on the driveway… just a plain black Chrysler, I think, with white walls—no—black tires. More elegant. Rich people don’t have to be flashy. Though I’ll get something a little sportier for Ruth—Maybe a Cadillac convertible for her to go shopping in” (Hansberry 109). In this line, the reader is introduced to the ostentatious aspect present in the image of the real man. For Walter Lee, it is not enough to only be successful in his work; he has to make sure everybody knows it. He says he would just want a “plain black Chrysler” but the cost of buying a Chrysler in 1959 would be comparable to buying a Camaro in 2015 (adjusted for inflation). He also makes a point of saying he would want the car to show off his wealth in saying “black tires…Rich people don’t have to be flashy.” This sentiment leads the reader to the conclusion that Walter Lee is not only ambitious, but competitive, and that he needs to feel other people are below him before he can feel fulfilled. Furthermore, he comes off as sexist again in saying he would provide Ruth with a car “for her to go shopping in.” Walter Lee’s desire to have nice cars and provide for his family because he wants to be a real man is by no means deplorable; however, the way that desire to be “a real man” manifests itself in his attitude towards women and his need to be better than those around him leads Walter Lee to make poor decisions and makes him a flawed character.

Walter Lee expresses his competitive nature again in discussing having a gardener. Walter Lee says that when he is successful (or feels that he is a man) he will “come up the steps to the house, and the gardener will say, ‘Good evening, Mr. Younger’ And I’ll say ‘Hello, Jefferson, how are you doing this evening?” (Hansberry 109). Walter Lee wanting to have a gardener working around the house is ironic because he works in a similar position as a chauffeur and hates it, but seems to be willing to put someone else in that situation in order to feel fulfilled as a man. Walter Lee having a servant also alludes to the masculine urge to dominate and conquer. Walter Lee’s willingness to “dominate” another person just as he has been, despite his feelings about his own situation shows how powerful the image of the ideal man is and far people can be driven to embody that image. In the last part of the passage in which Walter Lee describes what it means to be a man, he fantasizes about what he will be able to do for his son. Walter Lee tells Travis that on his seventeenth birthday, he will ask Travis “what is it you’ve decided?… Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me, what it is you want to be—and you’ll be it… whatever you want to be—Yessir! You just name it son… and I hand you the world! (Hansberry 109). Walter Lee’s promise to provide Travis with a better life than his is touching. It is the archetypal dream of father’s to want to provide a better life for their children. However, Walter Lee’s promise to give Travis the world is far from only attempting to give Travis the opportunity for a better life. The image of Walter Lee handing his son the world is reminiscent of Zeus forcing Atlas to hold the world on his shoulders, indicating that inheriting “the world” from Walter Lee, i.e. Walter Lee’s hopes, dreams, and accomplishments, would put a heavy burden on Travis, much in the same way Walter’s legacy puts a great burden on Walter Lee. Additionally, the action of giving Travis the world seems to be another act of ostentation for Walter Lee, as “the world” encompasses everything, and while giving Travis the world shows Walter Lee’s devotion to his son, it also shows others that he has a lot to give away. As selfless as the act of “giving the world” to someone sounds, because Walter Lee is doing it to feel more like a man it becomes much more of a selfish act. Throughout A Raisin in the Sun, masculinity is portrayed as being both well-intended and being a corrupting influence. Walter Lee has the best of intentions when he talks about wanting to work hard, wanting to provide for Ruth and Travis, and wanting to be a good role model in order to be a real man. At the same time, in his pursuit of being the ideal man, he becomes more sexist, competitive, condescending, selfish, stubborn, and impulsive than he otherwise would be.

asserts that living up to the image of the ideal man is a difficult balancing act between being capable, self-sufficient, and secure, and constantly needing to reassert one’s capabilities in order to feel secure. Toni Morrison expands upon the idea of positive masculinity being difficult to attain on pages 147-148 in Beloved. Faced with consistent sexual abuse and emasculation from Beloved, Paul D reflects on his time at Sweet Home before Schoolteacher took over, before he was imprisoned in Alfred Georgia, and when he felt most like a man. In reminiscing, he thinks, “of all the Blacks in Kentucky, only five of them were men” (Morrison 147). He quickly makes a distinction between being male and being a man, as there were certainly more than five black males in the entire state of Kentucky, while there were only five men. This distinction informs the reader that it is not enough to only be a man physically. Rather, in order to truly be a man one must embody a certain set of special qualities or attributes, which he discusses throughout the rest of the passage. In making manhood a status exclusive to only a select group of males, being a man becomes an idea akin to being beautiful in the sense that they are both nearly unattainable though prescriptive states of being. Paul D goes on to support the idea that ideal masculinity is nearly unattainable when he mentions being “[a]llowed, encouraged to correct Garner, even defy him” made him feel like a man (Morrison 147). Although it granted him some feeling of independence and power, being allowed to defy someone is paradoxical. While Paul D speaks favorably about his feeling of independence under Garner, the fact of the matter is Garner owned him, which created a poisonous albeit peaceful relationship between the two in which Paul D felt that he had some independence and therefore could be a man while Garner knew that he owned Paul D and therefore felt no need to assert his dominance over him. Through this relationship Morrison submits that the idea of manhood is practically unattainable, as the only black males in Kentucky who felt like men never really had the independence that made them feel like men in the first place. As Paul D continues to describe his treatment at Sweet Home under Mr. Garner, he mentions many of the same elements of manhood that Walter Lee does in A Raisin in the Sun, as well as their double-sided nature. Paul D first reflects that he was encouraged “[t]o invent ways of doing things; to see what was needed and attack it without permission (Morrison 147). While the first part of the sentence which pertains to inventing involves production and making a positive contribution to the society at Sweet Home, the second half of the sentence describes “attacking without permission” which is an extremely violent image that draws the mind of the reader to assault and battery. While both invention and attacking without permission stem from capability and independence, which are the elements of masculinity that Paul D longs for throughout the book, one leaves a decidedly positive impact while the other leaves a very negative impact. The inclusion of inventing and attacking consecutively in the same line is Morrison qualifying what it means to be a man as an ideal that has the potential to lead men to do both great and terrible acts.

Morrison then describes some of the terrible acts men have the potential to do in greater detail as Paul D lists a few more freedoms he had under Garner, which include the ability “to buy a Mother, choose a horse or a wife, handle guns…” (Morrison 147). Paul D’s statement that the ability to “buy a Mother” made him feel more like a man not only shows that he shares Walter Lee’s sexist view that men are dominant over women, but it also points to how the institution of slavery impacted Paul D’s perception of what it means to be a man. The image of the ideal man suggests that men must always be in control of their lives. In the case of slavery, the only model of control that Paul D has to work with is the slave owner, Garner. In watching Garner buying and selling people, Paul D conflates the idea of being in control with having the ability to buy and sell people, causing him to think the ability to “buy a Mother” makes him more like a man. While normally gaining control of one’s life is an important part of the maturation process, it is here shown to be a corrupted virtue that negatively impacts Paul D’s worldview. His corrupted view of control is shown again in the next line, in which he says he enjoyed the ability to “choose a horse or a wife” (Morrison 147). Again, he has been convinced that he should see livestock and women as products to be bought and sold because Garner, the “real man”, sees them that way. He finishes the line with remembering being allowed to “handle guns” which brings the idea of men using war and destruction in order to assert their dominance the scene. Morrison demonstrates that the ideals that make up the ideal man can be distorted at an individual level and lead people who want to live up to that image astray. In the next section of the passage, Paul D begins to wonder whether or not he was really a man with Garner as he asks himself “Is that it? Was that where manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to?” It is at this point at Paul D realizes that his idea of what a man is has been entirely based on Garner’s definition of what a man is. He wonders if, because Garner is a “whiteman” and a slave owner, he actually does know what it means to be a man. However, despite all the questions that Paul D raises, he brushes them aside when he maintains that “No. In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to (Morrison 147). Paul D expresses the basic need for men to feel as if they matter. Because Garner believed, trusted, and listened to Paul D, Paul D is convinced that Garner saw him as a man. However, by using the word “metal” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as being “[u]sually as a mass, noun. Hard, shiny, malleable material of the kind originally represented by gold, silver, copper, etc., esp. as used in the manufacture of objects, artefacts, and utensils” (Metal), Morrison suggests that Garner’s relationship with Paul D was one that appeared to be strong but was actually based in value, easily shapeable, and important to productivity. From this definition of metal the reader can deduce that Garner used the image of the ideal man to manipulate his slaves, and that by stroking their ego, feeding their pride, and making them feel like men, he was able to get more out of them, for if he really saw his slaves as men he would have likely set them free. This is another example of the image of the ideal man having a negative impact on Paul D, as his pursuit of it allowed Garner to easily take advantage of him.

Paul D recalls the day he realized that the man he thought he was only existed on Sweet Home. He says that for he and the other workers at Sweet Home, “One step off that ground and they [would be] trespassers among the human race. Watchdogs without teeth; steer bulls without horns; gelded work horses whose neigh and whinny could not be translated into a language responsible humans spoke” (Morrison 148). Having realized that his manhood was simply handed to him out of convenience, Paul D felt as if it was not really a part of him, and immediately thought of himself as less of a person, which is another dangerous aspect about the image of the ideal man. It does not exist on a spectrum; either someone is or someone is not a man. In this case, Paul D feels that he cannot be the ideal man in the outside world, so he identifies more with an animal than a person, specifically a farm animal, and more specifically, a farm animal that has been rendered useless. Through this sentence, Morrison asserts that although having a standard for men to strive for is good, that same standard makes men feel useless for not being perfect, which is not good. As Paul D returns to thinking about the constant sexual abuse and emasculation he faces from Beloved, he becomes enraged. He recalls everything he had been through at Sweet Home, Alfred, Georgia, and on his journey northward and is ashamed that he feels so defeated now at 124. He recounts that it was he who had “eaten raw meat barely dead, who under plum trees bursting with blossoms had crunched through a dove’s breast before its heart stopped beating. Because he was a man and a man could do what he would” (Morrison 148). In these lines, Morrison uses the image of man eating raw meat to evoke images of the hunt, and ties it into man killing the peace dove to perfectly illustrate the duality present in masculinity. While it promises capability and independence, it can also carry a mercilessly destructive element. Morrison concludes the passage on Paul D’s masculinity with the reason for the ideal man’s duality, and what is arguably the most alluring yet terrifying aspect of the ideal masculinity: “Because he was a man and a man could do what he would.” Paul D longs for the freedom to do what he wants associated with “being a man” but tragically, as Morrison points out, the ideal man Paul D wants to be may not exist.

Both Toni Morrison and Lorraine Hansberry approach the idea of the ideal man as a conceptually good idea that has the potentially devastating consequences for both the man aspiring to be ideal and those around him. Walter and Paul D both want to be providers, they both want to work hard, they both want purpose, and they both want to be people who are in control of their own destiny, independent, and capable. However, trying to live up to that image causes both Paul D and Walter to adopt unhealthy attitudes towards women, and to become at times more aggressive, egotistical, controlling and helplessly fragile, as their struggle to become men tears both of them apart. While their goal is not morally reprehensible, they become characters who at times are morally reprehensible because of how difficult society’s dream of masculinity is to realize. If being a man did not necessarily mean having to be a perfect man, it is possible that Walter Lee would not have made the same bad decisions he did with Mama’s money, and that Paul D would not have to feel so ashamed of himself. However, they both feel such pressure to live up to the standard of the ideal man in order to qualify as a man at all that they are led to make poor choices they do not want to make and put in situations they do not want to be in. Morrison and Hansberry suggest that when men are allowed to be flawed, and when they can accept that they are flawed, they will likely come closer to being the men they want to be than ever before.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Random House, 1959. Print. “Metal, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2015. Web. 23 November 2015. Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987. Print.