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In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry paints an impressive group portrait of the Youngers, a family composed of powerful characters who are yet in many ways typical in their dreams and frustrations. There is Lena, or Mama, the widowed mother; her daughter Beneatha, a medical student; Beneatha's brother Walter, a struggling chauffeur; and Walter's wife, Ruth, and their young son. Crammed together in an airless apartment, the family dreams of better days.
The character Beneatha knows much about her African past. Mama is very proud of her African heritage and believing it's importance. During the stage directing of the play Lena has the "noble bearings of the women of the heroes of the Southwest Africa , but she totally ignores her African past and does not care much about it either" (Cheney 59). Asagai Beneatha's acquaintance talks allot about his African past and believes deeply in his culture and heritage. He is from Nigeria where there is a lot of poverty.
A Raisin in the Sun is a quiet celebration of the black
family the importance of African roots, the equality of
women, the vulnerability of marriage, the true value of
money, the survival of the individual and the nature of
mans dreams (Cheney 55).
Africa is a great part of the play because it brings out good and humorous elements in the Younger family, such as Walter yelling out "Hot Damn!" "Flaming Spear!" as Beneatha walks out in her Nigerian robes (Cheney 60). Africa becomes a symbol of heritage and a troublesome but hopeful future (Cheney 56).
With the help of Paul Robeson, W.E.B Dubois and Frederick Douglass she created the play A Raisin in the Sun. Paul Robeson was a famous baritone singer. He inspired her to write A Raisin in the Sun. She loved his voice and the songs he sang. Hansberry learned from him "...the way that most blacks lived, and the dangers of being an artist" (Cheney 45-46). W.E.B Dubois was an original thinker and a sociologist. Hansberry "...gained admiration for black intellectual, socialism, and black leadership" (Cheney 40). Frederick Douglass was a another writer. Hansberry learned about slavery and its psychology. She also learned a "...invaluable lesson that the sufferings of a people may be presented truthfully in ways that rise above propaganda to the level of art" (Cheney 36-37).
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Catherine Scheader notion was "the drama had a great sense of spiritual conflict in the area of Walter Younger's soul with an obbligato of social awareness" (Scheader 216). According to Margaret Wilkerson he thought this play was "excellent and never before in the entire history of the American theater had so much of the truth of Black peoples lives been on stage" (Wilkerson 55).
The author, Patricia C. MCKissack proclaimed "A Raisin in the Sun is one of the greatly enhanced by well ordered revelation of the events which are so important in the lives of the characters" (MCKissack). Also Lorraine Hansberry kept our interest by developing the characters through out the play. The characters are people who collaborated with other people and confronting there confusion and anger. Elizabeth Phillips thought the play was old fashion and had almost no serious playwright. However he thought "the plays strength lied in the characters and the problem of Walter Lee" (Phillips). If the play was to be written differently it would have had no real significant meaning. Steven Carter another dramatist "liked the play and thought that the characters had a big part in developing it". "The play was enjoying and revival" according to Mr. Carter. "The characters were critical to its dramatic tensions and understanding" (Carter). Beneatha had a real strong sense of her racial pride. She had a powerful believe in her culture and heritage. The play was also about dreams. Beneatha wanted to be a medical student, Ruth wanted to get away from the run-down neighborhood, and Walter wanted his liquor store. Catherine Scheader, in her work "Lorraine Hansberry: Playwright and Voice of Justice" had this to say "The plight of the Youngers enfiladed by economic insecurity from one side and by race prejudice from the other offers the author obvious opportunities to indulge in propaganda for interracial justice" (Scheader 215). Mrs. Scheader again thought the play "...stirs the emotions of some observers while pricking the conscience of others" (Scheader 215). In the end Walter Kerr thought the play "was an authentic portrait of the aspirations, anxieties, ambitions and contradictory pressures of affecting a humble Negro family in a big city" (Kerr 212).
The play itself and the characters resemble the way Lorraine lived. The four characters Lena, Ruth, Beneatha, and Walter Lee, transformed a play into a masterpiece of modern drama by their dialogue and actions. Hansberry believed strongly in her African heritage, and she incorporated her knowledge of her African past by associating it mostly between Beneatha and Asagai. The way Hansberry describes her characters each one had to depend on one another for support in survival. I thought Hansberry's drama of a Negro family struggling for survival was excellent by the way she made that play revolve around her childhood, and the way she developed each character.
Bond, Jean Carey, ed. "Lorraine Hansberry: Art of Thunder, Vision of Light." Freedomways. 19.4.
Carter, Steven. Hansberry's Drama. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar, eds. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1985.
Kerr, Walter. "A Raisin in the Sun" The New York Times Theatre Reviews March 8, 1959
MCKissack, Patricia C. and Frederick L. Young, Black, and Determined: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, 1997
Phillips, Elizabeth C. The Works of Lorraine Hansberry: A Critical Commentary. New York: Monarch Press, 1973.
Scheader, Catherine. Lorraine Hansberry: Playwright and Voice of Justice, 1998.
Wilkerson, Margaret, ed. Nine Plays By Black Women. New York: New American Library, 1986.