Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
In 1957, when Lorraine Hansberry began work on A Raisin in the Sun, she titled it Crystal Stair, taken from a line in a Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.” The final title, like the original one, also comes from a Hughes poem, “Harlem,” which asks the question, “What happens to a dream deferred/ Does it dry up like a raisin in the Sun?” Either title is appropriate, for certainly this is a play about a mother-son relationship, but it is no less a play about dreams, dreams too long deferred. These unfulfilled dreams are at the center of the play and are the source of the varied problems in the play. The manner in which Hansberry presents these problems and the skill with which she weaves them into the basic theme of the work attest the artistry of the playwright.
A Raisin in the Sun is rife with conflicts: generational conflicts, gender conflicts, ideological conflicts, and perhaps most important, conflicts of dreams, which are at the center of the play. By placing three generations in the same cramped quarters, Hansberry focuses dramatically on some of the essential differences between age and youth. Mama Younger’s concern is always for the welfare of her children. She wants to provide for Beneatha’s education and find a comfortable home for the family. She and her husband, Big Walter, had struggled to make life better for the children. Although he had literally worked himself to death, he had taken out the $10,000 life insurance policy as security for them.
Beneatha and Walter Lee, on the other hand, are more selfish in their concerns. Beneatha squanders money on frivolous pursuits and devotes her attention to her personal relationships, while Walter is oblivious to the needs of everyone else, with the possible exception of his son, in his obsession with the dream of becoming a businessman. Travis, in typical childlike fashion, manipulates all the adults in the play in order to achieve his own ends.
Ideological conflicts also abound, feeding into the major theme of the novel. Beneatha, having been newly exposed to some radical ideas in the university setting, has abandoned...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
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Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
A Raisin in the Sun deals with two problems: the discords of a family with high hopes, and the social injustice of segregation. The two Younger children, Beneatha and Walter, are both determined to improve their station in life. Walter, however, struggles only with dreams of success, while Beneatha realistically takes college courses that will lead to her becoming a doctor. In one way, both are fighting the oppression of racism, but it is Beneatha who seems coolly to understand that the oppression will be conquered only through hard work.
Wise enough to know that the family will survive only through wise management, Lena Younger uses her insurance money to buy a house. She has bought it, however, in a segregated area, and though she is willing to face that battle when it comes, the ominous appearance of Lindner, who wants to buy out the Youngers to avoid their moving it to Clybourne Park, threatens future difficulties.
Yet racial segregation is not the major theme of the play. The major theme is that families must remain united; when family members act selfishly, as Walter does when he takes his mother’s money and invests it in a fly-by-night scheme to buy a liquor store, the family may disintegrate. This very nearly happens to the Youngers. At the last minute, however, Walter realizes what he is doing and abruptly rejects Lindner’s offer (though he had threatened to accept it). The unity of the family is saved. The problem of moving into a white neighborhood lies in the future. For the present, the Youngers have proven that in unity lies strength.