Minor characters whose contributions in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun are out of proportion to their role include Karl Lindner, whose arrival at the Youngers’ home provides the play’s most racially-tinged element, and who offers money if the Youngers agree not to move into the white neighborhood, Clybourne Park. Described as “a quiet-looking middle-aged white man in a business suit holding his hat and a briefcase in his hand and consulting a small piece of paper,” Lindner is a meek, physically unimposing figure who is clearly out of his element. The irony in his opening comments cannot be missed:
Lindner: “. . . we also have what we call our New Neighbors Orientation Committee . . .”
Beneatha (drily): Yes – and what do they do?
Lindner: . . .it’s what you might call a sort of welcoming committee . . . I mean they, we – I’m the chairman of the committee – go around and see new people who move into the neighborhood and sort of give them the lowdown on the way we do things out in Clybourne Park. . . And we also have the category of what the association calls – uh – the special community problems . . ."
That the chairman of the community welcoming committee is dispatched to try to persuade the Youngers to sell their newly-purchased home in a white neighborhood is almost comical but for the gravity of the situation.
Another minor character whose role, especially when unseen, is influential despite its limited exposure is George Murchison, the wealthy suitor of Beneatha. In Act I, Scene I, the Younger women discuss George and Beneatha’s reluctance to ever consider him as a potential mate, to which Mama remains bewildered given his financial status:
Beneatha: . . .I like George all right, Mama. . .. . .I just mean I couldn’t ever really be serious about George. He’s – he’s so shallow.
Ruth: Shallow – what do you mean he’s shallow? He’s Rich! . . .
Beneatha: I know he’s rich. He knows he’s rich too.
Ruth: Well – what other qualities a man got to have to satisfy you, little girl?
As the conversation proceeds, Beneatha emphasizes George and his family’s snobbishness and that a marriage between her and George, while lucrative for the Youngers, is not viewed favorably by the Murchisons. In other words, George’s small but important role in the play lies in his family’s representation of another kind of prejudice – one that crosses racial boundaries. As Beneatha notes,
“. . . the only people in the people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people.”
A third character is Mrs. Johnson, a neighbor whose grating personality is compounded by her own rejection of the suggestion of racial interaction within communities. Mrs. Johnson is the one who warns of the dire consequences that could accompany a move to a white neighborhood. In a hint at the racial tensions prevalent in Chicago, she observes the following: “Lord, getting so you think you right down in Mississippi!”
And, to further emphasize her point, Mrs. Johnson, commenting on Walter’s purchase of the house in a white community, good-naturedly exclaims:
“I bet it was his idea y’all moving out to Clybourne Park. Lord – I bet this time next month y’all’s names will have been in the papers plenty – ‘NEGROES INVADE CLYBOURNE PARK – BOMBED!’”
Mrs. Johnson and the Youngers can’t know that Karl Lindner will be visiting, but her admonition about moving to a white neighborhood was potentially prescient.