Lorraine Hansberry’s Tony Award-nominated play, A Raisin in the Sun, spotlights the dreams and struggles of an African American family in mid-1950s Chicago. This was a time before affirmative action, when racial tensions were at their peak. Changes in public opinion and legislation were leading to race riots all over the nation. Through character relationships, dialogue and conflict, Lorraine Hansberry shows how classism, discrimination and gender roles inhibited minorities at the height of the Civl Rights Movement.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun
Beneath the glossy covers of American history books are stories of triumph and change, of a progressive society that evolves and matures, and among these stories, the most important are those that reveal the unjust, corrupt morals and flawed ideals that destroy lives and families. To redeem these families, there may be no better story than Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The play, first appearing on Broadway in 1959, portrays the insecurities, struggles, and ambitions of an African American family that lives in Chicago. This urban city, divided by race at the height of the Movement, provides the playwright with a magnificent setting to show how families and individuals endure the oppression of gender roles and classism.
Dr. Lois Tyson, professor of English at Grand Valley State University, offers a Marxist critique of the play in her book, Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. In this examination, Tyson says that the American dream is the catalyst to the play’s conflict; while lower classes try to climb the economic pillar and acquire property, a house, a secure job and financial stability, minorities in the 1950s were stuck in their situation. In the days before affirmative action, much of society disregarded their struggles instead of giving them recognition and sympathy. Despite this emotional detachment, the pursuit of this unreachable goal, which passes itself off as the “natural way of seeing the world,” continues. (Tyson, 59) It is an illusion that instigates the insecurities, struggles and ambitions of each character in the play, and through their relationships, dialogue and conflict, Lorraine Hansberry reveals how this dream fades into an American nightmare.
The characters have different personalities, goals and beliefs. These variations are essential because, by interacting with dialogue and gestures, the quirks and flaws of each character become clear. Perhaps the flaw most apparent to the reader, and most influential in the play, is the Walter Younger’s patriarchal belief system. Committed to the obligations of his maleness, and oblivious to his chauvinistic rantings, Walter’s Hubris depresses into humiliation; he is unable to provide for his family, and through the havoc that his pride causes, Hansberry proves that, in America, poverty is not just a statistic, but a demoralizing failure.