Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play A Raisin in the Sun about an African American family dealing with the repercussions of racial tension between blacks and whites in the 1950’s. The family struggles to achieve their dreams due to social and economic setbacks. Each family member has their own goals and dreams for themselves and their family.
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Each character experiences losses while trying to achieve their dreams, and some let their dreams get in the way of reality and family. Lorraine Hansberry has portrayed an accurate representation of the importance of family, in general, in A Raisin in the Sun through showing how the family makes sacrifices for one another, overcomes adversity together, and the consequences of their decisions. The play shows how the characters learn to appreciate each other, work through differences, and work together through hard times. Each family member makes many sacrifices for the sake of the family throughout the play. In the beginning, Ruth is pregnant but has not told Walter due to the fact that she knows it would stress him and the rest of the family out. Ruth knows they are not doing well enough financially to keep this baby, therefore she plans to abort it. She goes ahead and makes the down payment of five dollars to the woman that is going to perform the abortion. When Lena, the mother and grandmother of the household, confronts Walter about how his wife is expecting a baby, Walter is in pure shock. Lena explains to him that she thinks Ruth is thinking about aborting it, and Walter denies the thought of that and states that Ruth would never do such a thing. Lena replies when the world gets ugly enough, a woman will do anything for her family.
The part that’s already living (Hansberry, Act 1, Scene 2). This shows that Ruth is making the sacrifice of aborting her child so that it doesn’t bring stress to her family. Lena says to Walter in front of Ruth Well son I’m waiting to hear you say something…I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was your wife say she going to destroy your child say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them (Act 1, Scene 2, pg. 523). Lena is encouraging Walter to support Ruth and try to get her to keep the baby despite their financial struggles. This shows how Mama Lena understands Ruth and Beneatha’s concerns about the pregnancy, but is trying to encourage Ruth and Walter to keep the baby no matter the circumstances. In my eyes, Lena is the support system for the whole family. When Ruth and Walter needed confidence in the decision to keep the baby, she was there to tell them why not to be stressed. This supports the theme of importance of family because they all act as each other’s support system, whether that be Ruth almost aborting her child so that she was not a burden to the family or that Lena was there to take the stress away from Ruth. Another example of sacrifices made that showed the importance of family is when Travis is in need for 50 cents to bring to school, but his mother denies having any to give. In spite of Ruth, Walter looks at her directly in the eyes and hands Travis a whole dollar instead. Afterwards he had to ask Mama for a dollar to get a ride to work, because he had just given his fare money to Travis. He didn’t want Travis to know of their financial struggles and have him worried so he made the sacrifice of giving his own money in order to protect his son.
This moral theme reminds me of many of Emerson’s thoughts throughout his literary works about cultivating family, philosophy, and friendship in life. One of Emerson’s famous quotes that reads Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude (Emerson). This quote in relation to the book reminds me of my values of gratitude that are grounded in my family. How would I know the things that I know to survive without my family? I am who am I because of how I was raised by my parents and with my sister by my side. I can understand why Lena needed a support system for the decision of keeping or aborting her baby. My family has dealt with many struggles of sickness and cancer-riddled pain that has ultimately brought us together. Lena, the mother of Walter and grandmother of Travis, is determined that the only way to have her family happy and connected is for them to own a house. This had been a dream of hers for a while. The Dawn Journal states real estate agents made enormous profits manipulating white fears of integration and black desires to escape the ghetto, as evidenced by the lucrative practice of blockbusting. A real estate agent would encourage a black family to move into an all-white neighborhood… Nervous whites feared their property value would crash (Jose, 2014, p. 879) Therefore, despite the efforts of the government to end racial segregation, race problems between blacks and whites was still a huge problem during the 1950s and white people thought that if blacks moved to their neighborhood, their property value would go down. Lena Younger, the mother and grandmother of the family, did not let this stop her from purchasing a house in a white neighborhood with her insurance money from her husband’s death. Ruth and Walter both fear moving into this all white neighborhood due to the racial tension at the time.
The day that they move in, a man from Clybourne Park Improvement Association named Mr. Lindner comes to talk to them about the problems that he and the rest of the community have with the Youngers moving into their neighborhood stating that the Youngers are a part of the special community problems (Hansberry, Act 2, Scene 3, pg. 552). He calmly discusses with them that he and the community believe that negro families are happier when they live in their own communities (Hansberry, Act 2, Scene 3, pg. 553), and that the association is willing to buy the Youngers house from them with a financial gain to their family. Walter quickly gets angry and tells the man to leave. Later in the play, Walter (the father of Travis) realizes that he has completely messed up the money situation for their family, and decides that he will give in to Mr. Linder and tell him exactly what he wants to hear. He goes on a full out rant to Lena and tells her that he is going to act exactly how Mr. Lindner thinks of their family, like stinking n*ggers (Act 3, Scene 1), in order to gain the money back that he had lost due to a scam. Linder arrives at their house and Lena advises Walter to let his son, Travis, stay in the room to listen to Mr. Lindner and Walter’s conversation – hoping that Travis being in the room will help Walter realize that he is about to lose all the dignity and confidence that buying this house gave the Younger family. Realizing the affect that giving in to Mr. Lindner’s offer will have on his family, In an inspirational monologue done by Walter, he explains to Mr. Lindner that they have decided to move into this house because his father earned it for them brick by brick and states We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money (Hansberry, Act 3, Scene 1). This example shows the importance of family by portraying how the family overcame adversity.
Although the Youngers were faced with a decision based on the fact that they were not the same race as others in the neighborhood, they overcame it together. When Walter had second thoughts on whether or not they should take the money and leave the house, his mother quickly reminded him that by doing so he would lose his dignity and that it would set a bad example for his son, Travis. Walter’s selfishness and irresponsibility, however, prevent him from becoming the legitimate head of the family, and only in the end, when he vanquishes Linder and asserts his family’s pride, is Walter able to achieve his manhood (Tackach, 2010). Mama Lena was scared for Walter, she thought he was selfish and immature to be giving into the financial gain deal, but he proved his maturity and masculinity to her by standing up for the family. Being part of a family means that you have to be a friend to your family members regardless of whether or not they do you wrong or if you have wronged them. Emerson says The only way to have a friend is to be one. (Emerson). Friends support each other throughout different growing periods in life that may be unstable and people need family to stay grounded in themselves. I have been in numerous situations throughout college involving peer pressure, stress from standards, and social problems that I have had no one to help me go through. I have had to rely on my parents and my sister for advice because no one else would understand my anxiety. Without their support, I would not be on track to achieve the goals I am accomplishing now. They overcame the fact that it was a predominantly white neighborhood by together realizing that their dream was to have their own piece of land, and that no one was going to mess this up for them. This shows the importance of family by having people to count on when you need to be put back in your place, and sticking up for who your family is and their values as well. The importance of family was shown through the consequences of the characters decisions. When Lena decided she was going to trust Walter with the remainder of the insurance money, Walter was ecstatic. He had dreamed of opening up a liquor store that would hopefully bring the riches he needed to support his family to the full extent. He was told by his mother to only use some of the money towards what he wanted, but to leave the rest for Beneatha’s college tuition.
Walter proceeds to use all of the money to go towards his liquor store. He gives the money to a man who ended up scamming him, leaving Walter will absolutely no money left and the guy know where to be found. When Walter’s mother figures out that he has spent all of the money and lost it, in a time of weakness she starts hitting him on the head. She soon realizes that is not the way to go about it as she continues to tell herself strength (Act 2, Scene 3, pg. 562). Later after finding out about her brother’s decision to give away her tuition money and his fit about giving in to Mr. Lindner, Beneatha says he’s no brother of mine (Act 3, Scene 1, pg. 572). In anger, Mama Lena asks Beneatha if she thinks she is better than Walter and tells her that she thought her and her husband had taught her to love him. Beneatha replies Love him? There is nothing left to love (Hansberry, Act 3, pg. 573). This somewhat distresses Lena and she replies There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and make things easy for everybody? Well then you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so!” (Act 3, pg. 573) We can conclude that Hansberry also creates an image of a woman, through the character of Lena, who is nurturing, loving, and at times inspirational.
The character of Lena suggests a woman who carries a positive attitude towards most everything in her life – even toward the more difficult situations in her life. Therefore Hansberry created Lena to be a very forgiving, loving person, which shows with how fast she forgave Walter, and was able to teach others how to forgive and love him. This shows the importance of having family there for you through good choices and bad choices, and the importance of their forgiveness when needed. It explains how significant it is to have family to be able to count on and receive love from even at your lowest. Although Walter made a mistake, Lena is there to show everyone that if the family is able to stay connected during these tough times, they will be able to conquer anything together. Also the consequence of the purchasing of the house shows the importance of family. While the Youngers were unsure about purchasing the house in a white neighborhood, it gave them all a sense of accomplishment and showed them all that having a piece of land was their biggest dream of all. For example, when Lena says proudly to Mr. Lindner I am afraid you don’t understand. My son said we was going to move and there ain’t nothing left for me to say. You know how these young folks is nowadays, mister. Can’t do a thing with ’em! Good bye (Hansberry, Act 3, Scene 1, pg. 575). She is overjoyed with how Walter stepped up and stood up for the family and keeping the house. They were forced to compromise with each other on one dream which brought them closer together and made them appreciate each other more. Mama Lena’s plant is a big symbol of importance and growth in family throughout the play. At the beginning of the play when Mama first enters, she goes straight to the plant to feel the dirt and place it outside. She does admit that it doesn’t get taken care of properly and might die because of it, yet the plant has not died on her yet. The plant is a symbol of how her children have also not lived in great conditions, but are still making it through with what they have. Lena plans to take better care of the plant and wants it to live under better conditions, just like she would like her family to. At the end of the play, it tells of the family moving out of the apartment.
Once everything is gone, Mama stands in there for the last time with a sense of pride, she grabs her plant and curtains close. So the plant is kind of a symbol of started from the bottom now we’re here and that she accomplished what she was hoping for, for her family. The significance of the plant was to show how important family and dreams for her family were to her. Emerson parallels this underlying theme in his poem Give All to Love in his opening quote, Give all to love;Obey thy heart;Friends, kindred, days,Estate, good-fame,Plans, credit and the Muse, Nothing refuse (Emerson). This theme is important because it teaches reader that family really does come before everything else. The author shows that no matter what happens, whether it be money issues, social problems, or personal issues, family will be there for you. It is obvious that mostly Mama Lena is the one who really wants the family to be together and be good to each other through the best and hardest times. Charles Lund speaks of why he chose A Raisin in the Sun for his studies and states it shows a family’s success in resolving powerfully destructive internal conflicts (2012). Through Lena’s faith in the family and her wise advice, it teaches each character how to better appreciate their family and the true meaning of supporting your family no matter what – the importance of family. My family is the one thing that matters most to me in this world, and that is why this book keeps me grounded and inspires my everyday actions.
Jose, Sofia. Racism in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The Dawn Journal. 3.1 (2014): 876-883. Print. Gomes, Lizandra. The Visions of Lena Younger created by Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun. Undergraduate Review. 6. 1. (2010): 87-92. Print. Lund, Charles. “Teaching A Raisin in the Sun : Literature and Life.” College Teaching 37.4 (2012): 83-85. Web. Tackach, James. “A Raisin In The Sun.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 6 May 2016. Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin In The Sun; A Drama In Three Acts. n.p.: New York, Random House , 1959. University of North Georgia GIL Catalog. Web. 6 May 2016. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Give All to Love by Ralph Waldo Emerson.Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50464/give-all-to-love.
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