In comparing Lorraine Hansberry's writing in A Raisin in the Sun to Shakespeare's, are there any similarities?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Comparing Lorraine Hansberry's writing to Shakespeare's for similarities is a difficult task. Critical components of Shakespeare's style are missing from Hansberry's. The opening lines of each show that characteristics of Shakespeare's family dramas (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest) are entirely missing from A Raisin in the Sun. There is no Shakespearean word play. There is no irony. There is no comic result from the combination of these two devices. All in A Raisin in the Sun is realism--stark, cutting realism--with no comic irony to soften it. Contrast these examples:

    No, for then we should be colliers.
    I mean, an we be in choler, we'll draw.
    Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o' the collar.
    I strike quickly, being moved.
    But thou art not quickly moved to strike. (Romeo and Juliet, I.i)

*   *   *   

    ... Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin: silence! trouble us not.

    Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.

    None that I more love than myself. You are a
    counsellor; if you can command these elements to
    silence, ... use your authority... (The Tempest, I.i)

*   *   *   *

RUTH: All right, you just go ahead and lay there and next thing you know ... Mr. Johnson'll be in there and you'll be fussing and cussing around here like a madman! And be too late! (She waits, at the end of patience.) (A Raisin in the Sun, I.i)

In Romeo and Juliet, the servants of the House of Capulet introduce the subject of the drama after first engaging in seemingly senseless wordplay that leads circuitously to the point of the drama: the House of Montague. In The Tempest, the tense situation between the sailors and the passengers is dealt with through wordplay on Gonzalo's profession of "counselor" or lawyer: he is called a "counsellor" and told to council, or "command," through his authority, that the waves be still. In addition, the response by the Boatswain that there is none aboard whom he loves better than himself adds comic irony to a tense emergency.

In A Raisin in the Sun, Ruth is at the "end of patience," in earnest, annoyed, not finding anything ironic or comic in the situation, and, as she says later, horribly sleepy though the first to awaken and the one who bears responsible for awakening the rest of the household so that it runs smoothly. In addition, there is nothing notable of poetry or poetical phrasing evident as there is in Shakespeare from the very start. Compare these examples:

What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? (Romeo and Juliet, I.i)

I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze.... (The Tempest, I.i)

RUTH: No--I'm just sleepy as the devil. (A Raisin in the Sun, I.i)

If anything is similar, then it is Hansberry's use of metaphor (as in the simile "sleepy as the devil") and rhythmic language. You have an example of metaphor (simile is a type of metaphor). Hansberry writes the dialogue in the dialect of African American Vernacular and draws upon the natural rhythms within it to give a musical rhythm to the dialogue. You can feel and hear the rhythm in this quotation:

RUTH: God you ain't going to get up here first thing this morning and start talking to me 'bout no money--'cause I 'bout don't want to hear it. (I.i)

Read the study guide:
A Raisin in the Sun

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