Symbols and Symbolism in A Raisin in the Sun – Dream Symbolism


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A Raisin in the Sun – Dream Symbolism

 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, portrays the life of a black family living in a bad section of Chicago. There are many problems in this family, but mostly it revolves around the character of Mama and how she longs to give her family a better life through the money she receives when her husband dies. Also, the family deals with the racism in Chicago in the 1950's complicating the realization of Mama's dreams for the family as well as other family conflicts that come up when money is entered into the equation.

 

A Raisin in the Sun is basically about dreams, as the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. The Youngers struggle to attain these dreams throughout the play, and much of their happiness and depression is directly related to their attainment of, or failure to attain, these dreams. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unites the family.

 

"Oh--So now it's life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life--now it's money. I guess the world really do change." Mama is Walter and Beneatha's sensitive and loving mother and the head of the Younger household. She demands that members of her family respect themselves and take pride in their dreams. Mama demands that the apartment in which they all live always be neat and clean. She stands up for her beliefs and provides perspective from an older generation. She believes in striving to succeed while maintaining her moral boundaries. Money is only a means to an end for Mama; dreams are more important to her than material things, and her dream is to own a house with a garden and yard where Travis can play. The following quotation occurs in Act I, scene ii when Mama asks Walter why he always talks about money. Walter then replies "money is life," explaining to her that that he believes that success is all about how much money you have. This conversation takes place early in the play and reveals Mama's and Walter's money struggles, and it goes to show the difference in their generations.

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The most obvious symbol in the play for Mama is her plant that represents both Mama's care and her dream for her family. Her care for her plant is similar to her care for her children, unconditional and unending in spite of a less-than-perfect environment to grow in. The plant also symbolizes her dream to own a house and, more importantly, to have a garden and a yard.

 

"You wouldn't understand yet, son, but your daddy's gonna make a transaction ... a business transaction that's going to change our lives ... That's how come one day when you 'bout seventeen years old I'll come home ... I'll pull the car up on the driveway ... just a plain black Chrysler, I think, with white walls--no--black tires ... the gardener will be clipping away at the hedges and he'll say, "Good evening, Mr. Younger." And I'll say, "Hello, Jefferson, how are you this evening?" And I'll go inside and Ruth will come downstairs and meet me at the door and we'll kiss each other and she'll take my arm and we'll go up to your room to see you sitting on the floor with the catalogues of all the great schools in America around you.... All the great schools in the world! And--and I'll say, all right son--it's your seventeenth birthday, what is it you've decided?... 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!" This speech from Act II, scene ii, where Walters is talking to Travis as he tucks him into bed, ends an important scene and previews what you'll see at the end of the play. Walter explains to Travis, and to the audience, that he will move quickly to invest the money that Mama has just given him, part of which is supposed to help with Beneatha's college tuition. Walter tells of his dreams of having a gardener, and wanting to live a life that he obviously has only seen from the other side of his dream, by working as a chauffer to rich people. It's almost as if he's repeating conversations he's heard before from his employers. He explains his dream of the future in detail, as if it were right before his eyes. While speaking, you'd never believe that this was something he didn't believe would eventually come true for him, since he positively speaks without any uncertainty at all and only in the tense of the future, suggesting that his dreams will inevitably come true. Mostly, Walter wants to provide for his family and make their lives easier.

"I know he's rich. He knows he's rich, too."(p24)

Beneatha is Walter's younger sister and Lena's daughter, who dreams of becoming a doctor. A strong-willed woman, she takes herself a very seriously a lot of the time. She also is proud of herself for being an intellectual and a South African. Some of her liberal views that she formed in college, clash with the orthodox thoughts of her mother. The primary symbol associated with Beneatha is her straightened hair. Halfway through the play, after Asagai visits her and asks about her hairstyle, she cuts her White-seeming hair. Her new afro represents her embracing of her heritage. Beneatha's cutting of her hair is a very strong social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful. Rather than force her hair to be more acceptable to society, Beneatha chooses a style that identifies more with her culture. Beneatha's new hair is a symbol of her being conflicted with trying to fit in and wanting to go back to her roots.

 

In spite of all the problems they endure during the play, at the end we see the Youngers leaving their old house. Mama is carrying her plant, almost as if it will ensure that they are able to put down "roots" in their new home. You can tell that this is a very brave decision for the family, to move into a white neighborhood and try to finally realize their long-held dreams. The overall mood of the play is serious with just a few humorous parts. It is This play taught me to try to remember to keep my eyes focused on the important goals in life, not necessarily the material goals and that no matter what, where there's a will there's a way, that you can survive and withstand just about anything and make your dreams come true. I also learned a lesson in responsibility and putting family first, and taking responsibility for your actions. On a lighter note, everything turned out okay in the end and it was a very enjoyable and thought provoking, play to read. The overall mood of the play is serious, although there are a few attempts at humor. This play is definitely a tragic comedy. Although the insurance money is stolen by Willy, Walter is still forced to grow up and he stands up to Mr. Lindner and goes ahead with the move to the "white" neighborhood. Therefore, his bravery overcomes his fears.

 


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