A Raisin in the Sun American Dream

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The American dream is the idea that there is an equal opportunity available to any American, allowing them to achieve their highest goals and aspirations. Sadly, the reality is that African Americans historically have been at set a disadvantage. In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry demonstrates the inequality and racial injustices that leave many low-income African-American families stagnant and struggling to make ends meet.

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In the play, the mother Lena Younger receives a life insurance check from her deceased husband granting her ten thousand dollars. Mrs. Younger wants to create a better life for her two children and their current and future offspring by buying a house in an affordable white neighborhood. Throughout the play, the Younger’s attempt to achieve their version of the American dream is being challenged by Chicago whites’ racial intolerance, familial issues, and housing discrimination. Hansberry uses their experiences to illustrate her views on feminism, racial housing discrimination, and the impact of intolerance.

The themes of family and feminism are very apparent in this play. The three main characters are women: Lena Younger (Mama), Ruth, and Beneatha (Bennie). These are not your typical African American women of that era. Bennie is in medical school and is determined to become a doctor; very atypical for any woman in the 60s. Ruth is essentially a housewife, but even she broke the mold by also working outside of the home as a house servant to help her family fight poverty. Mama is the matriarch of the family and her assertiveness and resolves to better provide for her family speaks volumes.

Mama is a strong, wilted, and resilient woman. She states that in her generation; people “was worried about not getting lynched and getting to north… and still having dignity” (553). The play takes place between 1955 and 1968. This means the events occurred during the civil rights movement, which was African Americans’ struggle for social justice and racial equality under the law. This era was characterized by labor boycotts and other forms of peaceful protest.

The heavy civil rights influence leads me to correlate some of the characters’ views to those of Rosa Parks. In 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a bus for a white man. Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus protested the racial segregation of public transit and lead the much larger scale Montgomery bus boycott. Ultimately, she was arrested, and this event was one of the pivotal moments for the sparked the beginning of the civil rights movement.

Both Mrs. Younger and Mrs. Parks are strong, resilient women that stood up for what they wanted while keeping their dignity intact. Based on her character, Mama shared Parks’ conviction when it comes to fighting for what you believe in. Neither woman would be swayed from their stance; whether it be fighting for one’s family or one’s entire race. Bennie specifically shared convictions very similar to Rosa Parks. When discussing her decision to cut her hair off and go natural, Bennie expressed her feelings about racial oppression. Bennie stated how she hated “assimilationist Negroes” and described that as meaning “someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case, oppressive culture” (556). Rosa’s refusal to bend to the will of the oppressive white man may very well have had a strong influence on this character’s political views.

Bennie, while strongly opposed to assimilation, also shared Rosa’s strong conviction. Bennie took pride in her heritage and refused to be bought out by the white man.

Hansberry’s political views of the injustice in the world caused her to join the Civil rights movement in 1963. She fought many battles on behalf of rural communities in Chicago. Lorraine partook in meetings with U.S. Attorney G.R.K for matters relating to racial equality and more. But her zeal to go into politics stemmed from her childhood.

In 1937, Carl Hansberry bought a house in a predominantly white neighborhood, much like Mama. Instead of a peaceful conversation from the “welcoming committee,” the Hansberry’s were greeted with bricks being thrown at them. Eventually, the courts ran Lorraine and her family out of South Side Woodlawn by arguing “a restrictive agreement prevented the sales of blacks to the neighborhood” (Moore, 2016). Similar to the Hansberry’s, the Younger family was asked to stay in their respective community and not to move into the Clybourne Park community. Clybourne Improvement Association went out their way to even bribe the Younger’s to keep out. This goes to show you the degree of segregation between the black and white people in Chicago.

The Great Migration in Chicago caused a racist real estate system and government colludes to maintain African Americans stagnant in the Black Belt (Moore,2016). In correlation, the Brown v. Board of Education and Hansberry v. Lee both were established to keep colored citizens out of predominate white establishments. Both cases resulted in African-Americans being given the free will to live and go to school wherever they chose. The Hansberry v. Lee case was a gateway for many cases that took down many racial covenants: Shelley v. Kraemer being one of them, a case in St. Louis that prohibits racially restrictive housing covenants. That was just the beginning; Lorraine continued to take on the mass segregation in Chicago.

Lastly, A Raisin in the sun presented the impact of intolerance in Chicago. As previously stated, Chicago fought long and hard to keep blacks out their all-white community. So much so that banks went as far as denying African-Americans loans. “From the 1950 until 1960, a number of South Side neighborhood transformed to 99% blacks… continued to deal with the Jim Crow law” (Moore,2016).

In addition to being bribed not the move into the white neighborhoods, both Ruth and Walter casually mentioned bombings in Chicago while discussing the morning paper. Ruth once said to George: “Just like they always say about Chicago weather: If it’s too hot or cold for you, just wait a minute and it’ll change […] Everybody says it’s got to do with the bombs and things they keep setting off. (557)” The fact that they would speak of attacks on blacks in such a casual tone attests to how common these attacks were.

During this era, gross intolerance and violent attacks against innocent African Americans were becoming more and more prevalent. In 1951, Southside Chicago had what historians refer to as a housing riot, also known as the Cicero race riot. A mob of 4,000 whites attacked an apartment building that housed single black families in a neighborhood in Cicero, Illinois (Cicero Race Riots).

Closer to the civil rights movement was the Emmett till case of 1955. Till was a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was horribly beaten, disfigured and lynched, for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. (Nelson). Although this occurred in the South, the event is a profound example of the growing intolerance and violence towards African Americans across America during that era. Hansberry would no doubt have been influenced by the traumatic event as well.

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A Raisin in the Sun American Dream. (2020, May 12). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from
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