Hopes and dreams of black US citizens as portrayed in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"

Pre-University Paper, 2015

19 Pages, Grade: 15


Table of contents

1.Choice of Topic

2.Plot Overview

3.Characterization of the main characters with special em-
phasis on their hopes and dreams
3.1 Lena Younger
3.2 Walter Younger
3.3 Beneatha Younger

4. Lorraine Hansberry’s biography and political engagement and its impact on the play

5. The black American Dream- a dream deferred?

6. The common ground between Langston Hughes “Harlem” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun

1. Choice of topic

During my time in the US as a foreign exchange student, I learned a lot about the American Dream and the American way of living. Since I have always been interested in the history and traditions of this country, I had certain knowledge about America’s racial problems today and in the past as well as its firm belief that every individual has the power to attain self-fulfillment and achieve any aim - before ever learning about it in class.

But on account of talking about the US in school, I realized that I had never giving much thought to those who have to face greater obstacles to make their dreams come true. In this particular case, I was thinking about black US citizens, a group of people which always seemed to have special problems - and even today, they are still not treated as equal members of society. Consequently, I was wondering if their dreams differ from those of the white population somehow. What do they fear? What are their greatest hopes and dreams? And is there even a difference between those “types” merican Dreams? s a result, my research paper will take a closer look on Lorraine Hansberry’s “ Raisin in the Sun” and the therein portrayed Younger family, a financially suffering black family living in Chicago in the 1950s.

This play seemed to be a great basis for research and analysis to me because it was written by a black woman who experienced discrimination herself. As a result, Lorraine Hansberry had dreams deferred, too, so that is why her work manifests itself as very vivid and credible.

2.Plot overview

The play “ raisin in the Sun”, written between 1953 and 1956 by Lorraine Hansberry, portrays a few significant weeks in the life of the Youngers, a black and financially suffering family living in Chicago’s Southside during the 1950.

The Younger family consists of five members: Mama, Walter Lee, Ruth, Beneatha, and Travis.

Mama’s husband is recently deceased, so she is now living together in an undersized apartment as the head of the family together with her two children, Walter Lee and Beneatha. Walter Lee is married to Ruth and they have a son together, Travis.

The entire play takes place in the Younger’s living room. When it opens, the family is impatiently waiting for a $10,000 check from Mr. Younger’s life insurance.

However, there is disagreement as to use this considerable sum: Mama dreams of buying a little house to escape the uncomfortable apartment and to provide more space for the family and so does Ruth. Walter Lee would rather invest the money in a liquor store he would run with his friends, and Beneatha needs some of the value to pay for her medial school tuition. As the action of the play progresses, we see that the different aims of the adult family members collide, which is the trigger for a lot of disputes and tension among them: Mama makes a down payment of $3,500 on a house in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood. This decision incurs both of her children’s anger: Beneatha is, because her Nigerian boyfriend Joseph Asagai set her thinking, trying to find her roots and her cultural identity in Africa, and as a consequence, she blames her mother for trying to assimilate to the white society by buying a house in a white neighborhood.

Walter, who alleges himself for not earning enough money to provide his family an appropriate standard of living, dreams of being self-employed and financially stable. Running an own liquor store is the key to wealth in his opinion. Thus, it is incomprehensible for him that his mother will not invest the money from the life insurance in their future but in a house. Her undertake enrages her son incredibly, yet he has to give in to his mother because she is rightful owner of the money.

A few weeks later, Mama finally decides to entrust his son with the remaining $6,500 under the condition that he has to deposit some of it into a bank account with the intention to safe it for Beneatha’s college tuition. lthough it is incommensurate with her idea of a good Christian to run a liquor store, she decides due to her love for her son to take this step which seemed to satisfy all persons involved.

The Younger’s are now all very enthusiastic about the moving when Karl Lindner, a representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, pays them a visit. He carefully explains that the colored family is unwanted in the white neighborhood and that the community raised money to buy off the Younger’s house. The Youngers, however, are furious about this offer and refuse it.

The same day, Bobo, an affiliate of Walter, enters and brings dreadful news: Willy Harris, the man that ought to take care of the money invested in the liquor store, disappeared with the entire sum, including the amount that was meant for Beneatha’s college tuition. Despite the hopeless situation, the Younger’s move out of their apartment into the new house with the determination to master their problems as a family and to have no longer dreams deferred.

3.Characterization of the main characters with special emphasis on their hopes and dreams

3.1 Lena Younger:

Lena Younger, for the most part called “Mama”, is the head of the Younger family after her husband Walter passed away only recently. In the stage directions, she is described as a “woman in her early sixties, full bodies and strong”1. Mama has grey hair, a dark-brown skin and her face is marked by all the hardship she had to endure all her life, yet she kept a certain kind of beauty and dignity over the years. Moreover, her carriage gets something out of her African roots.2

Mama is a very loving and caring person; helpfulness and the urge to share in her family’s joy and sorrow are consequently a basic part of her nature. In addition to that, devoutness and Christian ideals are the two things with whom she accounts her decisions and her behavior:3

this character trait of hers is vividly illustrated when Mama refuses to entrust Walter Lee the money from the life insurance, not because she thinks he is poor businessman, but due to her attitude to morality that running a liquor store is flagrant.4This rather conservative view causes conflicts with her two children, but especially with Beneatha who sees herself as an emancipated young woman who does not need God in her life.5

Despite the Younger’s constantly unstable financial conditions, it had always been Lena’s and Big Walter’s dream to own a house. Ironically, this dream could only come true with the help of Big Walter’s life insurance which is eventually affiliated with his death. s a result, Lena is very eager to use the money as he would have wished it, so when she finds out that her son let it go to waste, she is very furious and fierce.67

In addition to that, proof can be found that Lena is either an incurable optimist or just blind for the dangers possibly waiting for her family: she was for example warned by her neighbor Mrs. Johnsons that blacks were often violated in white vicinities8, moreover, she completely ignored the doubts uttered by her children concerning Clybourne Park. But again, this shows that her desire to leave her current behind neighborhood behind is extremely distinctive.

3.2 Walter Younger:

Walter Younger, Ruth’s husband and Beneatha’s brother, is an approximately 30 year old man living with his family in Chicago’s Southside. He works for a white upper class family as a chauffeur, a job that makes him feel very unsatisfied as it is an expression for the superiority of whites over blacks in his opinion. Walter Lee tends to behave passionate, but also volatile9, which is the reason for him to believe that “nobody in this house is ever going to understand [him΁.”[10]


1Hansberry page 69

2See Ebd. page 70

3See Ulm page 22f

4See Hansberry page 109

5See Ebd. page 85

6See Ebd. page 184

7Ulm page 23

8See Hanaberry page 150

9Ebd. page 25

10See Hansberry page 69

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Hopes and dreams of black US citizens as portrayed in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"
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Annika Fußbroich (Author), 2015, Hopes and dreams of black US citizens as portrayed in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/308067


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