Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is a modern tragedy in which the protagonist, Walter Lee Younger, is unable to find the fulfilling life he wants so badly. A contrasting view of the quest for that fulfilling life is offered in the character of Beneatha (whose name seems a play on her socioeconomic status, i.e. she-who-is-beneath), who serves as a foil against which the character of Walter is defined. Both Walter and Beneatha, representing the new generation of blacks coming of age after World War Two, are in conflict with Mama, who represents the previous generation and its traditions. The character of George Murchison is also opposed to both Beneatha and Walter, since he symbolizes assimilation on the white man's terms. Walter and Beneatha are also in conflict with their environment, a society where they are marginalized and subject to daily humiliation because of what is called their race (not, in fact, a biological distinction but a cultural construct).
The conflict that involves Walter and Mama superficially concerns Mama's receiving an insurance check for ten thousand dollars, which she hasn't yet decided what to do with. Walter has hopes for using the money to invest in a liquor store, with the profits providing him and his family a better quality of life than what they have endured in the past. What really is at stake here, though, is more than money. Mama and Walter have different visions of what happiness is and what life is all about. For Mama, the best thing to do with the money is to make a down payment on a house. This house is to be situated within an all-white neighborhood, and represents assimilation. This is Mama's dream, and the dream ...
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...subordination and attempts to imitate and placate the powerful. For others, for Walter and Beneatha, oppression provokes a refusal to go along. In this context, it is worthwhile to consider the poem from which the play takes its title. When the dream of freedom is deferred, "does it dry up like a raisin in the sun ...or does it explode" (Hughes 534). Hansberry answers, in this play, that it does both and leaves it to the reader's judgment where to place sympathy and where condemnation.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice, 2002. 987-1042.
Hughes, Langston. "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)." Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River. Prentice, 2002. 534.
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