The idea of race has had a significant influence on American history and how people of color are perceived. As society progresses, many attempts are made towards granting equal rights to African Americans—though progress exists, discrimination is still present. Racial prejudice has been a significant barrier for African Americans to reach for their dreams. For instance, redlining, the act of mortgage lenders to draw lines in portions of a map to indicate the areas in which they do not want to make loans, is an example of the barrier that prevents people of color from living equally as the white people. The complex racial tensions are explicated by Lorraine Hansberry in her play A Raisin in the Sun. In her literary work, Hansberry explores the challenges a typical African American family encounters in a time of segregation and disenfranchisement in 1950s Chicago, and their way to cope with these barriers. Even though Hansberry focuses on a specific period of time, her work speaks universally for the desire to improve the circumstances for the people of color while also challenging the best way to achieve them. Ultimately, Hansberry illustrates the characters in a way that reveals the racial prejudice and discrimination acted upon minorities, and how it poses a challenge to their values as well as their dreams.
To begin, Hansberry establishes the mood of the play with the widespread idea of the American Dream, and the Youngers’, an African American family, desire to achieve that kind of lifestyle. The Youngers, a three generation family of five, live in a small dwelling of two bedrooms on the South side of Chicago. In the play, we can see that the living space is cramped, with the kitchen similar to the size of a closet. This setting foreshadows the upcoming events, such as Ruth’s pregnancy, that poses a challenge and why the family longs for a new place to live. The family’s apartment stands in a poor neighborhood inhabited mainly by African Americans, most of whom migrated from the South in an attempt to escape from racial discrimination. Through this setting, Hansberry demonstrates how society establishes the white race as the norm and one that is superior, which inevitably created segregation—unofficial, but prevalent throughout the North. This discrimination is the main reason that prevented the people of color to live the same lives as the white people. The neighborhoods in this city are distinctly separated based on race, and the people of color are unwelcome in a white neighborhood, as seen through the facial expressions when the Youngers family first moved into their new home. Through the play, we can see that race is the deciding factor of a person’s fate as well as the cause of challenges they face.
Moreover, Hansberry carefully illustrates the character Walter Younger to highlight the types of responsibilities an African American man has to address as well as the internal turmoil present as a consequence of the failure of his plans. When the play begins, the author establishes Walter as one who is miserable and disrespectful to his family. This can be seen as result of his distaste for working as a chauffeur for a rich white man and dissatisfaction towards himself—the inability to provide for his family. He longs for the opportunity to be his own boss and to be able to take good care of his family the way he believe he should. This environment and attitude towards his current lifestyle is the primary motivation for Walter to invest towards a liquor store. He ignores everyone’s concern against this investment, because he sees this as an opportunity for improving himself and his family’s lives. By setting the plot in this way, Hansberry can better delineate Walter’s character and values, and ultimately highlighting the struggles encountered by a typical African American man during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. These struggles challenge individuals of their morals and personal values—as seen through Walter, who would rather invest in a liquor store than saving money for his sister Beneatha for medical school. Through Walter's character, Hansberry allows the audience to view the world through the father of a poor African American family and the responsibilities he has to face in addition to the burdens society have put on the family due to their race.
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