Hansberry uses many literary elements to convey this theme such as symbolism, diction, imagery, and structure. Symbolism in the play includes Mama’s plant, the money Travis is given by Walter, and the new house. The plant symbolizes Mama’s family and how she nurtures the plant just as she nurtures the family. But also black people in general at that time and how the plant struggles to survive with limited exposure to sunlight just as blacks of mid-19th Century America struggle to survive with limited opportunities.
At the beginning of the play, Travis asks his mother for 50 cents for a school activity. After his mother says she does not have this meager sum, Walter gives Travis a dollar, telling him to spend the extra on himself. The 50 cents represents the legitimate needs money can buy; the dollar represents the desire for material goods beyond these needs. Money is both a blessing and a curse, depending on how people use it (Act I, Scene 1, page 28).
And the new house represents courage, hope, and growth—courage, because the family is willing to confront the prejudice it encounters in a white neighborhood; hope, because they believe the house may help provide a better future for them; growth, because—like the garden Mama plans for the yard of the house—they will be able to see their lives with new opportunities to gain respectability and achieve emotional, moral, and economic growth. The diction throughout Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun plays a very important role in the play.
Firstly, the words chosen to be said by characters such as Ruth, Walter, and Mama give important information about their personalities and intellect. For example, when Mama says, “‘I don’t think I never met no African before,’”(Act I, Scene 2, page 57). This line has more to than meets the eye by adding a double negative in this line, Hansberry lets the reader know that Mama is not the most educated person, possibly coming from a background of poverty and few opportunities.
The situation is similar for the characters Ruth and Walter, both saying something that does not fit into correct grammar standards multiple times throughout the play. The absence of such diction plays an important role as well. In this case, Beneatha is presented as a more intelligent, astute woman, as she is studying to become a doctor, but also because she does not use grammar taboos like ‘ain’t. ‘ By using different kinds of diction for different characters, Hansberry is able to indirectly present information about them.
Secondly, the diction of Mr. Lindner stood out to me while reading this. The way that Lindner danced around the subject of how the neighborhood did not want the Youngers because they were black adds to the sympathy for the Youngers in the way that their enemies did not have the fortitude and respect to come right out and declare their intentions. By employing various diction throughout the play, Hansberry was able to successfully transmit her classification of people and their intentions.
A variety of imagery is used throughout the play. The beginning of the first act introduces us to a small scene where readers are known what is going on with images and pictures. The author describes the Younger living room as a “comfortable and well-ordered room” that is home to many different people. The description of the worn and weary carpet with its “depressing uniformity, elsewhere on its surface” allows readers to imagine a house that has been cleaned many times but lives on at a really old state (Act I, Scene 1, page 23).
While everything has been polished and washed many times, the overuse of each item shows the struggles the Younger family has in not being able to buy new things and how conservative they are in using them. Imagery is also used specifically in Act II Scene 1 of the play. During this scene, Walter is drunk, but he joins Beneatha in singing and dancing folk songs from Nigeria. While they dance, readers are specifically captured by what they hear as Walter shouts out and screams many African terms such as “Ocomogosiay and Owimoweh. Also, when Walter leaps up the table and carries an imaginary spear while acting like he’s the leader of his black brothers, we are brought to the past of the African culture. The imagery of Walter thumping his chest and declaring strong phrases such as “I am much warrior” gives us a sense of what their ancestors’ lives were like before they moved to America (Act II, Scene 1, page 76-80). The firmly structured plot of the play is developed in a very traditional manner.
In the first scene, the major characters are introduced, the setting and theme are established, and the conflict is presented. All of the Youngers eagerly await the arrival of the $10,000 life insurance check. Walter, in particular, dreams about the money, believing that he will be able to use it to invest in a liquor store with his two friends. Many things help to unify the plot. There is a cast of very few characters, with one of the Youngers appearing in every scene; Walter, the protagonist, is the main character and focal point throughout.
The play also has a unity of time and place. Only a few days pass in the drama, and almost all the action takes place in the small, dingy apartment of the Youngers, located in the ghetto of South Chicago. The play is further unified by the Themes of having dreams, discrimination, and pride, which are developed throughout. Another unifying factor is the use of the symbolic potted plant, which stands for the struggling Younger family and appears several times in the play, including the touching closing scene. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is about living the “American Dream”.
Hansberry wrote her story in 1959. The “American Dream” that she describes and the one that currently exists are vastly different. In 1959, the dream was to work hard and live a comfortable life. American’s believed that you would live a good life as long as you had your family and had food on the table. Today the “American Dream” is to have two cars, a glamorous house, a pool, a 40 hour a week job, and an abundant amount of “stuff”. Works Cited Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, 1959. Print.
Bernstein, Robin. “Inventing a Fishbowl: White Supremacy and the Critical Reception of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.” Modern Drama 42.1 (1999): 16-27.
Wilkerson, Margaret B. “” A Raisin in the Sun”: Anniversary of an American Classic.” Theatre Journal 38.4 (1986): 441-452.
Washington, J. Charles. “A Raisin in the Sun revisited.” Black American Literature Forum. Vol. 22. No. 1. St. Louis University, 1988.
Lipari, Lisbeth. ““Fearful of the written word”: white fear, black writing, and lorraine hansberry’s a raisin in the sun screenplay.” Quarterly journal of Speech 90.1 (2004): 81-102.
Gordon, Michelle. “Somewhat like War”: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and” A Raisin in the Sun.” African American Review 42.1 (2008): 121-133.
Gourdine, Amgeletta. “The Drama of Lynching in Two Blackwomen’s Drama, or Relating Grimke’s Rachel to Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.” Modern Drama 41.4 (1998): 533-545.
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