Struggling for the Dream in A Raisin in the Sun
Set in a cramped apartment in poverty-striken Southside Chicago, Lorraine Hansberry, through realistic slang, accounts the struggles of five black family members battling against racism to attain middle-class acceptance during 1959. After Walter Younger's business "partner" skipped town with a portion of the family's $10,000 inheritance money, the desolate son returns home to break the news to his family that their hopes for the future have been stolen and their dreams for a better life were dashed. Redeeming himself in the eyes of his family, Walter refuses to sell-out his race to the prejudiced white Clybourne Park spokesman Karl Lindner, who offers to pay off the Youngers to stop them from moving in the neighborhood.
Hansberry highlights the different values of a black and white culture by attempting to alienate the Youngers from the affluent white community. The attributes of pride and prejudice are assigned to Walter and Karl, respectively to define their stereotypical society's assumptions.
The play opens with Mama Younger awaiting the coming of a $10,000 insurance check from the death of her husband. Mama sees in this legacy the chance to escape the ghetto life of the Chicago Southside and decides to use part of the money as a down payment for a house in an all-white neighborhood. Her brilliant daughter Beneatha views the inheritance as a chance to live out her dream and go to medical school. Her son Walter becomes obsessed with business, ever since he learns of the $10,000 insurance check. Desperate to become higher in society and believing the money will solve all of his economic and social problems, Walter has a plea that is difficult to ignore. Thirty-five year old Walter sees this as his last chance to carry out his dream business deal and invest with some friends in a liquor store. By doing this, it might quadruple his money, and he thinks that will make him a worthier man. Walter promises that if he can just have the money, he can give back to the family all the blessings that their hard lives have denied them.
Against her better judgment, Mama gives in to the desire of her son. She has to admit that life's chances have never been good for him and that he deserves the chance that money might give him. As soon as he invested the money, his so-called "friend" skips town with it. Destitute and guilt-ridden, Walter faces his family and reports the destruction of their future aspirations .
Despite the monetary set-back, the Youngers continue with their plans to move into the all-white Clybourne Park. Middle-aged Karl Lindner acts as the spokesman for the white community into which they plan to move. White Karl tries to persuade the family against moving into the neighborhood. In fact, he has been authorized by the community to offer the Youngers a monetary incentive not to move in. Since the whites perceive blacks as amoral, Karl thought he could get Walter to sell-out his race. During this era, it was an understood norm that poor blacks do not move into more affluent white neighborhoods. Those who even attempted to do so, brought the racial prejudice on themselves.
At first, the promise of money tempted shameful Walter after the crumbling of his business partnership. Yet, despite how much money means to Walter, he chooses not give up his pride in order to obtain it. Proud Walter tries his hardest to keep from his son, Travis, the fact that they lost all of their money. When Travis asks for fifty cents for school, Walter doubles it just not the let him know they are in dire straits. Walter actually considered selling out his race from the white community and accepting Lindner's offer. At the end, Walter shows his true pride and, in front of Travis, he turns down Lindner's monetary offering and tells him that the Youngers have decided to move into Clybourne Park.
"What I am telling you is that we called you over here to tell you that we are very proud and that this is-this is my son, who makes the sixth generation of our family in this country, and that we have all thought about your offer and we have decided to move into our house because of my father-my father-he earned it. We don't want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes-but we will try to be good neighbors. That's all we got to say. We don't want your money (627)."
Just as Walter illustrated his pride above, the play relates how each character in the Younger family deals with the idea of being black and poor. The theme of pride shows itself at various times, such as, when Walter turns down Karl Lindner's proposal, or when his sister Beneatha expresses knowledge of and pride in African heritage.
Mama, despite the loss of the insurance money, expresses the pride in the moral fiber of her children. With no limit for her contempt for Walter, Beneatha lashes out at him with a barrage of despicable names. When she takes a breath in the midst of her tirade, Mama interrupts her and says, "I thought I taught you to love him."
Beneatha answers, "Love him? There is nothing left to love." Mama responds: "There's always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning-because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is (626)."
Right at this point in his life, Walter needed Mama's love. Her compassion and feelings are shown to contradict the assumptions the whites believe about them. Walter shows his integrity by not selling out his race for anything.
"Negro families are happier when they live their own communities (607)," Lindner claims, viewing blacks as poor, gutter-scum, trash, and nothing but trouble-makers. White families had the fear that if they allowed the Youngers to assimilate into their community, slowly more and more of them of would start to move in. They wanted their neighborhood to stay pure and clean, exempt from the trouble a different culture could bring in. Karl Lindner, a representative of the prejudice neighborhood, warns the family against moving, since the whites will not welcome blacks.
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?
The Youngers eventually, proudly live their dream, yet they must continue to fight the racial prejudice.
Hansberry, Lorraine. "A Raisin in the Sun." Plays of Our Time. Random House, New York, 1967. pg 540-635.
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