A Raisin in the Sun American Dream
The play, “A Raisin In The Sun” is staged in 1959 during a time when African-Americans could not be successful in the economy due to the extreme amounts of racism that were present. The constant encounters of prejudices and racism causes them to have to put aside their hopes and dreams to focus on trying to figure out how to overcome the obstacles that are set out in front of them. During these times, the Great Depression had begun. The Great Depression of the 1930s worsened the already unpromising economic situation of African Americans. They were laid off from their jobs, and they suffered from an unemployment rate two to three times more than whites. In early public assistance programs African Americans often received substantially less aid than whites, and some charitable organizations even excluded blacks from their soup kitchens. The Civil Rights movement was also coming about. While we don’t see a single raisin in the play, we do see a lot of deferred dreams–the dreams represent the raisin. At the end, one dream is fulfilled. African-Americans believe in the American dream but do not realize how limited their success is when you are a person of color. Hansberry portrays this by showing in A Raisin In The Sun essay the different struggles the Younger family goes through during the times they are in.
The entire Younger family has different ideas of what the family’s money should be used for. Mama has dreams of moving her family out of their current house and into a house with a yard where children can play and she can tend to her own garden. Ruth’s dream is very similar to Mama’s. She wants to build a happy family and believes another step toward this goal is to buy a bigger and better place to live for the family. Beneatha’s dream is to become a doctor. She also intends “to save her race from ignorance.” Beneatha lived in a time when society expected women to focus on building homes rather than their own careers. Walter dreams of becoming a wealthy father and providing for his family like the rich people he drives around do for their families. He frames this dream in terms of his family—he dreams of giving the family what he has never had. He feels like a slave to his family’s economic hardship.
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The protagonist of, “A Raisin in the Sun” is Walter Lee. His gift is ambition. Walter has the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through determination,initiative, and hard work. Walter Lee’s, along with several other African-Americans during this time, success was limited. Success to Walter, was measured by how much money a man had in his pocket and what he could do for his family. Others, like Beneatha and Mama, see success as how comfortable you are with your lifestyle. As the date of the check coming approaches, Walter becomes more and more anxious to figure out how the family can use the insurance money to make more money. Walter wants to use the money to invest in a liquor store.
The American Dream was often deferred during the time that the Youngers live in. Their prolonged dreams, countless obstacles they faced everyday. All of the family’s dreams were deferred. Mama’s dream has been delayed since she and her husband moved into the apartment that the Youngers still stay in now. Every day, her dream provides her with an incentive to make money. But no matter how much she and her husband strived, they could not get enough money to make their dream a reality. The resulting insurance money and his death present Mama’s first opportunity to realize her dream. Ruth’s dream is also deferred by a lack of money, which forces her and Walter to live in a crowded apartment where their son must sleep on a sofa. Beneatha’s dream is deferred because of the money Walter loses. Her dream is also a dream for all women. Walter’s dream has been deferred by his poverty and inability to find decent employment. He attributes his lack of job prospects to racism, a claim that may be partially true but is also a crutch. Over the course of the play, his understanding of his dream of gaining material wealth evolves, and by play’s end, it is no longer his top priority.
Over the course of the play, Walter’s ambition starts to basically take him over. His “money-hungry” attitude causes him to spend the money in foolish and crazy ways, instead of doing what Mama intended him to do with the money. She gives him the remaining $6,500 of the insurance money and tells Walter to deposit $3,000 for Beneatha’s education and to keep the last $3,500. With this money, Mama says, Walter should become, and should act like he has become, the head of the family. Walter suddenly becomes more energized and confident. He talks to Travis about his plans, and he then says that he is going to “make a transaction” that will make the family more wealthy. Walter’s excitement builds while he talks about his dream of their future house and cars, as well as Travis’s college education.
Walter’s foolish spending of the money teaches one thing and that is that you should follow your dream and take the risk that comes along with it. If you believe in something and know there’s a potential risk that comes along with it, you should still follow through with it because the outcome could very well be in your favor. It is easy for someone to give up on something they dream about and face the harsh realities that are set out in front of them, but it takes courage and confidence for someone to overlook those harsh realities and focus on making their dream come true. Walter’s aspirations push him to strive and achieve his goals.
Beneatha’s dreams are the hardest to achieve. During these times, women were not expected to want to be doctors, lawyers, dentists,etc. They were expected to stay home and raise families while the men went out to get jobs. This was even the case for white families. White women were expected to stay home while the men went out to do labor and make the family’s money. Beneatha was proving people wrong and following her original dreams. If Beneatha had settled for staying at home and raising a family, she would be following the societal norm that had been set. Beneatha is different and set apart from the other members of the Younger family because she is far better educated and has wider horizons. Walter thinks she should let her dreams of becoming a doctor go. He thinks she should stay home and raise a family. He wants Beneatha to be a housewife.
When Walter and Ruth were in the kitchen, Walter began to rant on about how he was tired of his living conditions and wanted something better. Ruth told him to eat his eggs. Walter went on to say, “Damn these eggs!!” The quote represents all of the tension tied into their relationship. There is no tenderness. Walter also has his head in the clouds so Ruth tries to keep him within reality. Walter also jumps from dream to dream like Beneatha. He is also confused about what he wants to do in his life.
Mama compares her children to the plant in the window. The only way for the plant to see is through the one window of the house. The children are the plant and the check is the window for them. Her children have grown. She has always wanted a prosperous garden and prosperous children. Mama wants nothing more for her children but for them to have great lives and be successful in their future. She wants them to prosper in everything they do. This goes back to the American Dream. They do not have equal rights like the whites in the world. Whites in this time have little to no obstacles stopping them from being what they want to be or going where they want to go.
“A Raisin in the Sun” is mostly about dreams, the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. The title of the play references a conjecture that Langston Hughes famously posed in a poem he wrote about dreams that were forgotten. He wonders if these dreams in the play shrivel up “like a raisin in the sun.” Every member of the Younger family has an individual and separate dream—Beneatha wants to become a doctor, and Walter wants to earn more money so that he can afford certain things for his family. The Younger family continues to struggle to attain these dreams throughout the entirety of the play, and much of the family’s happiness and depression is directly related to their attainment of, or failure to attain, these dreams. At the end of the play, the family learns that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it keeps the family whole.