A Raisin in the Sun: An Analysis Lorraine Hansberry is one of the most important black playwrights not just because she is an African-American but also because she was the very first black woman to have successfully have her work staged on Broadway. Contemporary writers recognize her contribution to the American theater through her insistence on the need for diverse voices on the stage and mandated a share of the commercial artistic house for African American women. Hansberry was able to accomplish this through her critically acclaimed and overnight hit play, A Raisin in the Sun. To date, this play has been produced hundreds of times during the almost 5 decades since its 1959 Broadway debut.
A Raisin in the Sun tells of a story of the Younger family as they determine how to spend the insurance money left by the deceased Walter Younger. Every member of the family saw the insurance windfall as a way out of their squalid existence in the ghetto. This scenario created the theme for the play, as the members diverged in opinion in regard to spending the insurance money, the play became a conflict of dreams. The matriarch of the family, Lena Younger chose to buy her family a house in a white neighborhood, while her son Walter Lee used the money to open a liquor store, a faint reference to the Gilded Age and its own version of the American dream. Other members of the family have different opinions as well; one wanted the money to finance her education and one for abortion. The conflict in the play arose among several elements that have a stake in this dream – values, morals, age, youth, husband, wife, sister, brother. Hansberry crafted memorable characters who are strong-willed and that their interactions made the play remarkably poignant, moving, warm, empowering, all at the same time.
Some consider A Raisin in the Sun as some version of the American dream. Bill Duke, for instance, a veteran actor who directed one of the theater productions of the playback in 1989 said that Hansberry used a particular family in South Side Chicago in order to tell the story. (Jet 39) The protagonists of A Raisin in the Sun, as with other characters in similar works of fiction on Americana, share some acute awareness of some progress that they have to make, amid some things that obstruct such ascendancy.
In every critique on pieces of literature, it is always helpful to look to its writer’s own life in order to explain his or her fiction. This is no different than Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The narrative is closely bound to Hansberry’s own childhood and life in the racially segregated Chicago, where her family moved in 1938. Here, she experienced numerous racial prejudices. One important event in these experiences was when Hansberry’s father, Carl, a migrant from Mississippi, brought a case before the Supreme Court in 1940 to protest the hostility of the whites toward the African-Americans (Halliwell 114). Hansberry’s life was reflected in A Raisin in the Sun wherein there is an emphasis on the way she saw herself as part of a politicized black community as well as a way to answer the question about the outcome of the deferred dream. Hansberry used this theme in order to explore its consequences as well as the frustrations of aspirations and also about the possibilities.
Though the story is simple in its conceptualization and narrative, Hansberry was able to weave through it the dreams and goals of the Black people as a whole. It also explored, at the same time, the individual pursuits in order to achieve such goals. According to Norment, Raisin deals with a man who has aspirations, hopes, dreams, needs – things that the society in which he lives is not prepared for him to achieve – and that as he struggles to towards his goals, he searches and finds himself in the process (58). In addition, and certainly not the least of the themes explored, the play also touched on the importance of the Black woman especially her support to her husband, children – her family – in their welfare, religious foundations as well as in shaping and encouraging the values particularly among the young generation of African Americans.
All in all, a Raisin in the Sun showed how Hansberry was ahead of her time. The play was written years before Martin Luther King’s march on Washington and even before the slogan, I’m Black and I’m Proud, was even coined. Yet, it has fiercely advocated Black empowerment, pride and courage amidst the discrimination and racism in the white-dominated American society.
Halliwell, Martin. American culture in the 1950s. Whitmore Publishing, 2007.
Jet. “Black History: 30th Anniversary Showing of Raisin in the Sun Winning Rave Reviews.” Jet. 75.20 (1989): pp. 38-39
Norment, Lynn. “Raisin Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary.” Ebony. 39.5 (1984): pp. 57-58, 60.