” MAMA: My children and they tempers. Lord, if this little old plant don’t get more sun than it’s been getting it ain’t never going to see spring again. (She turns from the window.) What’s the matter with you this morning, Ruth? You looks right peaked. You aiming to iron all of them things? Leave some for me. (Act I) “
The story of A Raisin in the Sun is simple but epic. Published in 1959, it’s about a family living on the south side of Chicago struggling with poverty, striving to maintain dignity, and dreaming of a better life. One of the central conflicts was loosely based on an event from Lorriane Hansberry’s own childhood. In 1938, her family, in violation of a restrictive covenant that was legal at the time, bought a house in an all-white neighborhood. The fight that ensue, against both legal system and hostile neighbors, deeply affected young Hansberry.
RUTH: Shoot—these here rich white women do it all the time. They don’t think nothing of packing up they suitcases and piling on one of them big steamships and—swoosh!—they gone, child.
MAMA: Something always told me I wasn’t no rich white woman. (Act I)
The Youngers have been living in a “rat-trap” that has become too small and crowded for their needs. Mama’s grandson Travis has to bed down in the living room that also serves as the dining room. The family has to get up earlier in the morning so the bathroom, shared with neighbors, would be available. In receipt of insurance money of her recently-deceased husband, Mama buys a house in an all-white neighborhood to provide a home for her family. Mama is cutting edge in trying to defeat segregation, for she believes “there is no such thing as white folks neighborhood except to racists and to those submitting to racism.” (Act I) She is the meek protector of the house, tending her children, though grown-up, like plants.
The play explores significant themes in American literature: dreams, identity, power, and race. Every character has a very specific dream, and they struggle to cope with oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. Mama dreams of a house for her family. Walter dreams of success in business enterprise. Ruth dreams of a place for her family and a baby. Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor. These dreams both spur the characters on and frustrate them. They become consumed by their dreams and make decisions they might not ordinarily make because they are so frustrated by their lack of fulfillment.
MAMA: Then isn’t there something wrong in a home—in a world—where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man? (Act III)
This play revolves around the conflicts within and between characters. Each one of them is a representation of something generational, a gender or race issue, and it’s a testament to Hansberry’s writing that her characters don’t come across as mouthpieces of the story. They are living, breathing human beings who have obstacles. What finally brings their inner conflicts to a boil are the demonstration of power through what one can achieve based on one’s race. Despite the myriad manifestation of racial discrimination, the core of the play is the human condition—how human beings struggle against oppression, struggle for individual fulfillment.
152 pp. Vintage Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]