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5: Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

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    A Raisin in the Sun

    Christopher Emslie

    A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a black family living in the 1950s era of American history. It showcases the struggles a black family would have to go through at the time. It showcases a version of ethnic American Literature. Lorraine Hansberry wrote this play, the most famous play she has ever written. Lorraine Hansberry was an African American writer who was very well known during her career. She has contributed so much to ethnic American literature and literature as a whole with the themes and messages she works with in her plays. I have chosen her as my author for this literature anthology because I found her work very intriguing and important. Her play A Raisin in the Sun has helped me understand the African American experience and struggles better than any history book ever has. She is a very talented writer, and she has many amazing pieces of work to show for it.

    Lorraine Hansberry, born May 19, 1930, lived a middle class lifestyle as a kid growing up in Chicago, Illinois. Just because she may have been a little more fortunate than others, does not mean she did not do her part to spread awareness of the mistreatment of African Americans at the time. Growing up her family helped with different activist groups to help make a change in America. She took up interest in writing and moved to New York to help kickstart her playwright career. Her first broadway show was none other than A Raisin in the Sun. The play was an immediate success as it played on Broadway for 530 performances starting on March 11, 1959. One of the biggest reasons for its success was its accurate ability to showcase the 1950s for traditional African American families. She showed off themes of hope, and those feelings of hope being shattered by the realities of the situation for the Younger family. She presented how the Youngers dealt with racism on a daily basis and how it was constantly straining to their daily lives. How it seemed almost impossible to advance up in the world just because of who they were. There were many conflicts in A Raisin in the Sun, but they all stemmed from the main conflict of racism.

    A Raisin in the Sun focuses on a family in Chicago named the Youngers. Walter Younger is the father of the house and he is married to Ruth. The family has been struggling in poor living conditions and are blessed when Walters mother Lena Younger gets a 10000 dollar check from her dead husband's life insurance. This introduces the main conflict of the play as all of the members in the family have different ideas on what they want to do with it. Walter wants to invest the money into a liquor business, his sister Beneatha wants to spend the money on her college education, and Mama Younger wants to use the money to buy a house in a bad neighborhood so they can live in better conditions. Lorraine Hansberry uses each character's personality traits to show the struggle of African Americans during the time. She shows that all the members in the family have the same goal, to provide a better life for their families. However, they all believe in a different way to do it. They have all struggled with these living conditions their whole lives, and they believe the money is their way out. All of them seem so afraid of messing it up, that they are hesitant to agree on what they should do with it. Hansberry does a great job showing how discrimination during this time causes conflict inside of a black families household because they all know how hard it is to make it in America when you are a person of color, so they want to make sure their way out ($10000) is used in the most effective way.

    A critical review by New York Times writer Brooks Atkinson in 1959 agreed with this, as they commended Lorraine Hansberry's ability to show the problems of society at the time through the Younger family's arguments about how to use the money. “The son is dreaming of success in a business deal. And the daughter, who is race-conscious, wants to become a physician and heal the wounds of her people. After a long delay the widow receives $10,000 as the premium on her husband's life insurance... For A Raisin in the Sun is a play about human beings who want, on the one hand, to preserve their family pride and, on the other hand, to break out of the poverty that seems to be their fate. Not having any axe to grind, Miss Hansberry has a wide range of topics to write about-some of them hilarious, some of them painful in the extreme.” Atkinson mentions how poverty seems to be the Younger's fate, and that the only chance out of this fate is with this money. For a family that has lived with nothing, Hansberry shows their desperate nature as they struggle to figure out what the best move for the family is. This desperate nature was the accurate reality of many African American families. This desperate nature comes back to haunt them later on in the story. Lorraine Hansberry uses Walter Younger as the “tragic hero” character of the story. A tragic hero is the protagonist whose major flaw ends up resulting in his/her downfall. Walter's tragic flaw was that he had a dream that he believed could get his family rich and out of poverty. That dream was the liquor store investment hitting big. However, he was so clouded by that dream that he did not see the reality of his situation. An investment like that was very risky and it was much safer to buy a house and get out of their bad living conditions. Walter's tragic flaw consumed him so much that he ended up investing the money into the liquor store without telling his family. That proves to be very costly as the man in charge of the money, Willy Harris, runs off with the money leaving Walter and his family nothing. With this tragic fall of Walters' character, Hansberry once again shows the harsh reality of life as an African American family in the 1950s, hoping to make a better life for yourselves yet again struck down by society.

    In spite of all of the negatives of this play, Lorraine Hansberry offers hope towards racism in America in the way she ends the story for the Youngers. Mama still goes through with buying the house even though they do not have the 10000 anymore. It will be harder on the Younger family but they still find a way to make it work. In spite of this racism rears its ugly head as a white man named Mr. Karl Lindner offers them money if they do not go through with purchasing the house. He lives in the area and speaks for the whole neighborhood when he says that they do not want a black family living there. Walter wants to accept the money from Mr. Lindner, and we are led to believe that he will because throughout the play Hansberry has shown us that racism always seems to keep the Youngers in the same spot. However, we finally see a change in Walter. He finally decides that his family is more important than some money. He stops giving up in the face of racism and decides to go through with the house purchase. After all the conflict and fighting the Younger family has done throughout the play, they are finally together in this decision. They know it will be hard dealing with racism in the neighborhood and their lack of money, but they will pursue it together because that is what will get them through. Lorraine Hansberry delivers the final theme of the story, that to fight racism we need to be united together as a group.

    Lorraine Hansberry is the perfect author to use for our anthology. Her play A Raisin in the Sun described racism of ethnic groups in America in the perfect way. She showed what a black family had to grow through. She showed how racism is always prevalent and how society pushes many ethnic groups to poverty, a poverty that is very hard to get out of. She is one of the many prominent authors of ethnic American literature, and her play A Raisin in the Sun was important in getting people to understand racism's effect in our society. Out of all pieces of ethnic American literature I have read, I understood this play the most. It painted American racism in a way that was so easy to understand. It showed me how bad it truly has been. But not only that, she also showed that there was a way to break out of the chains of racism. When presented with this anthology, I knew I had to use Lorraine Hansberry.

    Work Cited

    Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts. Hassell Street Press, 2021.

    Stephens, Thomas M. Dictionary of Latin American Racial and Ethnic Terminology. University Press of Florida, 1999.

    5: Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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