In all three of these stories, the struggles, trials, and tribulations of African-American families are all brought to life by the authors and their respective points of view. These particular selections, all written from Baldwin, Hansberry, Wilson, and Coates, present certain viewpoints and ethical themes that appeal to the African-American communities and their people. The readers can all understand these themes from the stories and selections, and relate them to their own lives.
The overall experience of being a Black American in this play is that the Younger family is a poor African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago. The family is about to receive a $10,000 check from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. The theme that the play is trying to convey is that Black Americans have often suffered through prejudice and low-living conditions, which is often why there have been many conditions in which it is harsh for them to do so.
The connection to Baldwin in this story is that there was a great explanation of the sufferings of African-Americans, such as having to make many great sacrifices for the sake of one’s family. Compared to The Fire Next Time, this is an equally important theme in the stories where two African-American families struggle to survive and do their best. One of these quotes from A Raisin in the Sun is “I don’t want nothing but for you to stop acting holy ‘round here. Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you – why can’t you do something for the family?” This was explaining how Walter was getting angry towards Beneatha from benefiting from Ruth’s hard work, but Ruth does not seem to mind. This is the theme explaining how both families must maintain a positive relationship and must work hard against all odds to secure themselves as colored folk in the United States. One of the most common and relevant themes for colored folk in literature is the story of hard work and sacrifice since they are in such poor condition. Each member of the family must do his/her part to help contribute to the family, and to the community as a whole.
In the movie Fences, the story is told of a man named Troy who works alongside his friend in his neighborhood, and he discourages his son from ultimately pursuing his dreams as an athlete by not letting him join the football team. Troy wants to help his son avoid any further conflict or trouble in his adult life, so he decides to have him not take part in it. Since Troy was too old to join the Negro baseball leagues, he discourages his son to not do what he did, in fear of him facing rejection. This story can be related to how the family in A Raisin in the Sun deals with their own personal problems, especially with them wanting to accomplish each other’s dreams. The daughter Beneatha wants to attend medical school, and eventually move to Africa with her suitor, George Murchison. Walter, on the other hand, wants to invest the money in a liquor store. A quote to explain this from A Raisin in the Sun is “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy…Mama – look at me”. This quote comes from Walter, who shows his complex desires and ambition, but is also extremely stressed out due to his living conditions and desire for his family to be more successful, especially between him and his sister Beneatha. These two stories intertwine and show that conflict can arise from people who want to pursue their dreams, but may not be able to do so due to extraneous factors.
In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates tells the story of him and his son Samori, and writes it as a memoir to his teenage son, telling him about his experiences as a black man in America, and speaking about the harsh realities and symbolisms about being black in this particular time period. There were many murders going on during this time, which is one of the main tragedies that Coates addresses in his story. He wants his son to realize how awful it was to be black during these time periods, but also why colored folk should be proud, no matter what the opinions of other people were. Compared to A Raisin in the Sun, there is more of an emphasis on brutality and mistreatment in this story because of the murder tales and such. A quote to explain this from Between the World and Me is “Why were our only heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this nonviolence”- Coates, pg.32. This quote explains Coates’ point of view on how blacks are treated during this time, with all of the police shootings and ethical unrest amongst the people. Compared to A Raisin in the Sun, Coates seems to convey a different message to his son, due to the circumstances around them, as opposed to the financial conditions for the family in A Raisin in the Sun.
Some characters who share a resemblance to one another in The Fire Next Time are James Baldwin’s nephew (of the same name) and Travis Younger in A Raisin in The Sun. They are both young boys who are simply trying to learn their worth in this world, and what it is all about to be a young black person in America with poor living conditions. They are both respectively raised by their elders to do well in life and to grasp the true meaning of what it means to be an African-American. A quote to explain this from The Fire Next Time is ‘And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.’- Baldwin, pg 7. This quote is from the adult James Baldwin offering some advice to his nephew, to tell him how to work hard in life, and not only to work hard but to survive. He recalls the day that James was born, and how his parents were scared for him as a young black boy growing up in America. Travis Younger also seems to be sheltered by his family, especially because of the modest way that he earns money by bringing grocery bags, and sleeps on the sofa. Both of these boys are taught by their elders-respectively Walter Younger and James Baldwin.
In A Raisin in The Sun, Walter seems to share some striking similarities with Troy from Fences. They are both trying to help their families in the best ways possible, but there is often a way that the two seem to either discourage their family members or do it for their own interests. For instance, Troy wants his son to avoid playing big-league sports, such as football, to avoid any discrimination or trouble from people, especially because of their race. Walter wants to use the $10,000 that his family has from Mr. Younger for his own liquor store, but Beneatha wants to use it for medical school tuition to have a successful career. They are two different characters, but they seem to intertwine with each other because of their personalities and opinions regarding the families’ condition. A quote to explain this from A Raisin in The Sun is “Mama – sometimes when I’m downtown and I pass them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ‘bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me ”- This shows that Walter has dreams and hopes, just like Troy does, but finds it difficult to obtain them due to their race and living condition.
Other characters who seem to have some common traits are Mrs. Lena Younger and Kenyatta Matthews from Between the World and Me. Both of these women play very important roles in their families as the women and wives to the husbands, and mothers to their respective children. For colored families, it is essential in this time period to have a strong motherly future to look up to, for both sons and daughters to be shown how to be proud of their black heritage and to display to them the love and compassion that society may not show. The role of parenting during these rough time periods for black Americans is essential from both mother and father, just as it is in any family. A quote to explain this is,“Big Walter used to say, he’d get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his head back with the water standing in his eyes and say, ‘Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile. in this quote, Mama Younger explains her relationship with Walter, and how the families’ dreams and hopes lie in the fate of their success and nurturing if their children to become strong, proud African-Americans. Both Mrs. Lena Younger and Kenyatta Matthews act as strong, motherly figures for their families, and want nothing but the best for their children to live on.
An overall connection I see with The Fire Next Time is the theme in which fear is very prevalent among the families and their respective situations, namely within the families and their children. Both families seem to be very afraid and externally aware of their living conditions and their peers who view them, namely because of their racial identity and living conditions. A quote from The Fire Next Time to explain this is ‘This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose. You do not need ten such men—one will do. And Elijah, I should imagine, has had nothing to lose since the day he saw his father’s blood rush out—rush down, and splash, so the legend has it, down through the leaves of a tree, on him.’-pg. 76. This quote explains why there were many things that James Baldwin feared during The Fire Next Time, such as religion, white folk, social prejudice, etc.
Another connection that can be drawn from the story of A Raisin in The Sun is the theme of dreaming and perseverance. Walter and his family each have their own dreams and motivations, as do Troy and his family. However, there have been many obstacles in the way that prevent them from doing so, such as racial and financial issues. A quote from A Raisin in The Sun that explained this is “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy…Mama – look at me.” This is how Walter explains how intense his desires are about having dreams of his own and working as hard as he can to maintain a sustainable lifestyle for himself and his family, as does Troy with his.
A third connection that can be seen in between this and Between the World and Me is the theme of oppression. It stands out between the black American community as one of the banes of the existence of being black, as stated by Coates “America makes no claim to the banal. America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation to ever exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization.” Coates, p. 8. Despite all the things that blacks are trying to accomplish and do during this time period, they will always feel undermined and defeated due to society’s perceptions of them.
Two characters that are similar in both Fences and The Fire Next Time are James Baldwin’s nephew of the same name, and Troy’s son, Corey. They are both young teenage boys who are simply trying to learn from their elders and make something out of themselves, but often have trouble doing so. A quote to explain this is “’And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.’ pg. 7. This is referring to James Baldwin’s nephew, who is in need of understanding how life is as young African-American males with dreams and a strong work ethic.
Two characters that are similar to each other are Walter and Troy. Both of them are father figures with enormous pressure on them as the primary workers and caretakers of their families, who are both stuck in lowly positions and want to reach higher for their children and families. A quote from a Raisin in the Sun is ”Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me, what it is you want to be – and you’ll be it! Whatever you want to be – Yessir! You just name it, son… and I hand you the world!”. This shows the love that Walter has for his dear son, as does Troy as a father figure.
Last but not least, two characters that can be compared in both Fences and Between the World and Me are ultimately Troy and Coates himself. Just as Troy and Walter were compared to be important father figures, Coates himself is one as well. He shows great care towards his son, as he quotes “I saw them lost in conversation with each other, mother and father, while their sons commanded entire sidewalks with their tricycles. The galaxy belonged to them, and as terror was communicated to our children, I saw mastery communicated to theirs.” Coates, p. 89. Fatherhood is a very common theme among these African-American selections because the fathers themselves seem to have it the hardest out of anybody in the family, with being the primary “breadwinners”, and to show a good example to their children on how blacks can adapt and thrive in an ever-changing society.
An important connection between this story and Baldwin is love, more so in a parently sense. The story itself is dedicated to Coates’ son as an expression of parental love and care, warning him of the dangers of being a young African-American in society. A quote to explain this is “I saw them lost in conversation with each other, mother and father, while their sons commanded entire sidewalks with their tricycles. The galaxy belonged to them, and as terror was communicated to our children, I saw mastery communicated to theirs.”-Coates, p. 89. This quote shows the amount of love that families bring to one another, especially in like-minded communities and neighborhoods. In The Fire Next Time, it is equally an important theme as James Baldwin recalls his stories of love towards his fellow black folk, as does Coates in this story.
Another great connection is the parenthood of children, which is a very common theme with all of these stories, with Coates and Troy being the fathers of the children in stories of Between the World and Me and Fences. They dedicate their lives to their families and completely give everything they have to become better family men, as quoted “They had worked two and three jobs, put children through high school and college, and become pillars of their community. I admired them, but I knew the whole time that I was merely encountering the survivors…” Coates, p. 110. This quote may not relate directly to Coates or Troy himself, as it talks about the people of Chicago, but it does explain how selfless love is around the black community in abundance, and how families everywhere are striving to take care of their children and raise them in an unforgiving and hostile culture in America.
Last but not least, a theme that is relevant in both A Raisin in the Sun and Between the World and Me is the theme of sacrifice. Sacrifice is an extremely important topic in black American culture, as it is what both families relate to in all aspects. A quote to explain this from A Raisin in the Sun is, “The sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through this little window.” (1.1.stage directions). This quote explains that black families have had their fair share of disappointing moments in both selections, as it has happened to both Coates and Walter’s families while growing up and maintaining themselves in these two selections, and how the strength of the working family is what makes the African-American community proud of their sacrifices that they made to be where they are.
To conclude, all of these selections share extremely important themes and discussions when explaining the struggles of African-American families and how they became to be one of the most successful ethnic groups around today. The authors all have their own personal messages and details about their own experiences and memoirs that they pass down to their families, and how these types of stories can be read and interpreted by all who are willing to understand Black-American literature for generations to come.
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