What is Beneatha's role in "A Raisin In The Sun"?
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Beneathea occupies a unique place in Hansberry's play. Consider the symbolism of her name, for one thing (the entire family's last name, too, is "Young," symbolic, in part, of their quest for a new position in American life) . She is "beneath" in the fact that she is indeed the younger of the siblings; she is Walter's little sister. She struggles to maintain both her place in the family and her identity as an adult. She can at times be sort of annoying and obnoxious, as younger sister's (and brothers) are wont to do.
Beneatha is also at a crossroads in terms of her heritage: is she an African, like Joseph? Or an American, all she has ever known? At the time Hansberry was writing her play, (1959), racial separatism in America was a prominent theme, both culturally and politically. Beneathea's role, therefore, is to occupy that "squishy" place in the literal terms of the play, and in African-American identity in the larger realm.
Beneatha also represents the younger generation, both in terms of her race but also independent of her race. Like many teenagers, she constantly tries new ideas--guitar one day, something else. She is unsure of the sort of man she wants, and she is easily impressed with the panache of Asagai, who wants to take her to Africa. She wants an education, which breaks free from role expectations of women both black and white in the 1950s. In being younger than Ruth, she provides an immediate foil to her for she wants all that Ruth did not have and can't even imagine. She is hopeful in ways other character, except perhaps her little brother are not. She is saucy and smart--an excellent role model for young black women and indeed any young woman in the audience.
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