The Struggles of the Youngers in A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun depicts the struggles of three generations of the Youngers family in the 1950's of poorer Chicago. Act 2, scene 2 of the play displays an understanding of the Youngers and the atmosphere in which they live. In just a few pages, Lorraine Hansberry reveals the struggles enforced upon the characters individually as well as with their united desires as a family. Individually, each character must overcome prejudice from his family and associates, while still enduring struggles and hardships that diminish any intended goals. Together, however, the Younger family must overcome the racial bigotry incurred by society, while still maintaining social pride and integrity. In contrast, a predominant expression of hope and encouragement is a factor in the lives of such characters, as revealed by the author. With the use of dramatic elements to interpret the events of this section of the play, in addition to the issues of race and gender, it is obvious that the Youngers represent a black family struggling towards middleclass respectability not only in society, but in their own home as well.
To interpret the significance of this scene, it is necessary to consider the environment, including the way the scene is set up and other devices used to interpret the situation. Set in the home of the Younger's, the scene represents the Youngers' living conditions. Objects such as packing crates are thrown into the scene, representing the moving of the family. All dramatic elements intertwine to offer an overall impression of the scene. With the entering and exiting of characters there is dialogue, which establishes the elements of staging as well as the element of speech and language. The initial stages of this section render the entrance of Beneatha and George, who engage in a short dialogue in the Youngers' apartment. Their dialogue gives rise to the issue of gender. The way the conversation between the two is set up and what is said, leads the reader to believe that there is friction. As a prominent member of the Younger family, Beneatha faces her own struggles with the desire to pursue her education and a path in medicine, at a time when women were less prominent in the work force.
George represents a struggle that Beneatha must face. George is a discouraging figure in Beneatha's life. He discourages her by telling her that he doesn't "go out with you [Beneatha] to...hear all about your [Beneatha's] thoughts"(p.97). This statement exemplifies George's attitude not only towards Beneatha, but also towards woman as a whole. When he says "Guys aren't going to go for the atmosphere-they're going to go for what they see"; this can be seen as a sexist attitude about the lack of importance placed on the beliefs or thoughts of woman (96). Thus, George is seen as an obstacle that Beneatha must overcome.
Beneatha represents a strong-willed young black woman, who longs for a career and must struggle with this desire due to the negative forces around her. Not only does she face oppression of race, but she must also struggle with the gender issue as well. This is clear from George's attitude towards her thoughts, which is seen early in this scene, as well as the attitude of Mrs. Johnson. When Mrs. Johnson states:
...sometimes she act like ain't got time to pass the time of day with
nobody ain't been to college. Oh-I ain't criticizing her none. It's just
-you know how some of our young people gets when they get a
And later recalling Booker T. Washington's words: "Education has spoiled many a good plow hand-" (102-103). Her words carry a negative attitude towards Beneatha's desire to become a successful, educated young woman. Although education is a positive thing, Mrs. Johnson criticizes education when referring to Beneatha and holds it against her. Although Beneatha is on a path to the working world, she is unable to escape gender division in the household. This assumption can be made due to the 'bed' that is used as a prop in this scene. Although Beneatha is engaging herself in the simple task of making "up Travis' bed"; this action can be seen as Beneatha engaging in the traditional woman's role of a domestic duty (98). This action signifies that although Beneatha is more educated than the rest of her family, the traditional division of gender roles cannot escape her in the home.
The entrance of Mama into this scene, renders hope and encouragement for Beneatha. The short and simple dialogue between mother and daughter carries a lot of significance. When Beneatha tells her mother that George is a fool and her mother responds by saying "I guess you better not waste your time with no fools" shows an agreement between the two (98). When Beneatha thanks her mother "for understanding this time" a special mother-daughter bond is witnessed (98). Instead of receiving the discouragement that she is use to, Beneatha at this point is encouraged to stick to her own opinion. This is a turnaround point for Beneatha because throughout much of the play her family encourages her to pursue a relationship with George because of his wealth. The support of her mother shows that wealth is not worth losing one's pride.
Ruth enters the scene at roughly the same time as Mrs. Johnson. Although she has a small part in this section, emphasis is placed on her pregnancy. The pregnancy, at the same time as the Younger's plan to move, can symbolize a sign of hope and the desire to bring a child into their new home and a better environment.
Ruth, also being the one who answers the phone when Mrs. Arnold calls, questions Walter about why he hasn't been to work. In much of the play, Ruth second guesses Walter and questions his decisions and actions. The phone call answered by Ruth emphasizes her lack of faith in Walter, assuming, once again, the role of questioning her husband. The radio, which Walter turns on in the midst of Ruth's questioning can be seen as a way of blocking out her words.
Walter, too, faces many struggles within his home. His struggles comply with his family's lack of faith in his dreams and his desire for wealth and a better life for his family. All throughout the story, Walter's insists on being the head of the family and he thrives on the acceptance of him in that role. Walter's idea to invest in the liquor store, throughout the story, is discouraged by Ruth and his mother.
It is in this section of the play where Walter is finally given the hope that he has desired and the money he requires to pursue his dream. The envelope of money that Mama gives to Walter represents the trust she places on her son. She puts her faith in her son by telling him to be the head of the family. Also, in this section Walter shares his dreams with his son Travis. He encourages Travis by saying to him "...tell me, what it is you want to be - and you'll be it... you just name it, son...and I hand you the world!"(p.109).
These are all individual struggles that the characters have faced and overcome in this section of the play.
Despite all these individual struggles, the Youngers as a family, must overcome the racial bigotry that society presents them with. The entrance of Mrs. Johnson is seen as a representation of these struggles. Not only is she discouraging to the Johnson's, but also, to the entire black community who are trying to make their way into mainstream society. With her appearance into this scene, Mrs. Johnson brings with her the attitudes, in regards to racism, of the outside world. She does so by bringing the newspaper, a prop used to emphasize news about "colored people that was bombed out their place..."(100). A propaganda to discourage the Youngers' decision to move to Clybourne Park. The newspaper represents the attitudes of the people of Clybourne Park, who wish to restrict the Youngers from entering the community. Mrs. Johnson, and those like her, represent another obstacle the Younger's must over come. Mrs. Johnson's attitude is seen as an extreme, this is clear because Beneatha feels that "there are two things we, as a people, have got to overcome, one is the Ku Klux Klan-and the other is Mrs. Johnson"(104).
Mrs. Johnson sees no wrong in the attitudes of bigotry; she accepts it. She feels that there "Ain't nothing wrong with being a chauffeur" and fails to see the wrongs in being forced, due to societal prejudices, into the position of being someone's servant (103). She mocks the Younger family pride when she states "you sure one proud-acting bunch of colored people", even though she shares their culture, never failing to emphasize that they are "colored" as if it were a negative feature (103).
In conclusion, Hansberry uses many dramatic elements in this scene to present the many struggles endured by the Youngers within the home environment as well as outside. The element of staging as well as language and speech elements render ideas about the significance of the different characters. Props such as the bed, the phone, the radio and the newspaper had bold meanings associated with them. The actions of the characters and the struggles they faced with issues of racial discrimination and gender differences symbolize the struggles of society as a whole. The time, the 1950's, the reference to the Ku Klux Klan, and the place Chicago, represent a period of great trials and tribulations for black people overcoming the slavery of their people in America. Throughout the entirety of the play, issues of gender and race play a recurring role. It isn't until Act 2, scene 2 of the novel when hope is sought for these issues. Through the revelation of this section, it is discovered that the Younger's are a family with a lot of pride who struggle and seek hope to better their position in the corruption around them.
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