Please answer this question about exposition within A Raisin in the Sun:
Exposition is very important in Drama. It sets the tone and lets the audience know what led up to the opening scene. What other information is given as exposition or back story in the opening act of "A Raisin in the Sun?" How would the lack of such exposition affect your understanding of character motivation and/or actions?
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There are several instances in Hansberry's exposition that is critical to understanding the basis for the play and the characters within it. The constant uneasiness and questioning of whether or not the life insurance check has arrived is of vital importance. It is established in the opening scenes and helps to establish the financial condition of the Younger family as well as the pressing reality of economic distress. The fact that Walter complains about Beneatha's using the bathroom helps to also explain how frustrated he is with the living conditions. Travis asking for fifty cents, being rejected by his mother, and then going to his father and getting two dollars helps to explore the challenges within the family on an emotional level, as well.
One of Hansberry's strengths in her writing is her ability to reveal information through subtext, as opposed as overtly through text or action. This is very evident when you analyze the opening of the play for exposition. There is very little given that is clearly stated. Much is left for the audience to infer and figure out. As mentioned in the previous answer, the exposition includes the looming insurance check, and the financial and living conditions of the family. We are also introduced to the major characters of the play and begin to see the dynamics of the relationships between the family members.
Also revealed in this opening scene is the groundwork for Hansberry's themes. We see tension between the generations - Mama vs. Beneatha, Mama vs. Walter, Walter vs. Beneatha. We also see the beginning of the establishing of the various dreams of the characters. This keeps us thinking back to the title of the play (referencing Langston Hughes' poem), wondering how long those dreams have been deferred and whether they will continue to be deferred.
The lack of exposition in the early scene helps to generate interest in later scenes, I believe. I leave that first scene with questions I want answered. Hansberry deftly lets those answers drop in throughout the rest of the play, giving an audience much to think about in terms of which character is "right" or "more deserving" of reaching their dream.
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