A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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How is Beneatha different from other Younger family members in A Raisin in the Sun?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Unlike the other members of the Younger family, Beneatha defies tradition by challenging society's conventional gender roles. Beneatha desires to become a female doctor, which is unheard of in her community and an idea that is dismissed by Walter Jr., Lena, and Ruth. They believe that Beneatha should aspire to become a nurse, which is a more traditional female occupation and less ambitious. Beneatha is also the most educated member of her family and has completely opposite views regarding religion and her African heritage. Beneatha is a staunch proponent of Pan-Africanism and is opposed to assimilation, while the other members of her family judge their success based on American standards. She values her African ancestry and even dresses in traditional African garb while wearing a natural hairstyle, which is something Walter Jr. finds strange and entertaining. Beneatha also has different views regarding religion and even denounces God in front of her mother. Unlike Lena, who is a Christian, Beneatha is an atheist. In regards to money, Beneatha does not seem to value wealth as much as her brother or mother. She is more concerned with attaining her personal goals than solely focusing on money, which reflects her young age and current station in life. Overall, Beneatha is depicted as an independent, intelligent woman who is a unique member of the Younger family with her own interests, beliefs, and personality traits.

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Beneatha is different from the other members of the Younger family because she is far better educated and has wider horizons. While Walter, Ruth, and Mama work hard to support the family, Beneatha has had the benefit of attending college. As a result, she speaks in a more educated manner and refers to concepts such as neuroses that she has learned in the course of her education. Unlike her mother, Beneatha does not believe in God, which irks her mother.

Beneatha also has a different type of personality than the other members of the family have, and she likes trying different things. For example, she plans to start playing guitar, and her mother makes gentle fun of the riding habit Beneatha still has in her closet but never really used. Her mother asks her, "Why you got to flit so from one thing to another, baby?" Her family doesn't understand why Beneatha wants to experiment and why she is so impractical in many ways. They think that she should marry George Murchison, who promises her a comfortable and predictable life. Beneatha, who never takes the predictable path, however, is not content to marry George. Instead, she is interested in Joseph Asagai, who is from Nigeria, and in becoming a doctor. She has wider horizons and is interested in concepts and dreams that don't seem practical to the rest of her family, who are simply struggling to survive. 

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Beneatha is different in a number of key areas. Firstly, she is a character whom Hansberry uses to explore a feminist perspective on the issues presented in her play. Beneatha's desire to train to be a doctor clearly represents a challenge to gender roles at a time when women expected to either marry and have children or work in a more "traditional" female role such as a secretary. Secondly, she, more than any other character, is shown to search for her identity. This is illustrated through the two men in her life, George Murchison and Joseph Asagai. Both of these suitors represent two different views to Black American identity: assimilation, as shown through George Murchison, who has become a successful businessman by becoming as "white" as possible, and a return to African roots, as identified in Joseph Asagai, who calls Beneatha by a Yoruba name and urges her to wear her hair naturally. Note how Beneatha rejects assimilation through her choice to wear her hair naturally, and how she explains the word to her brother:

[Assimilationist] means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture!

Beneatha is therefore different as she is the prime vehicle that Hansberry uses to explore black feminism and also identity in the play.

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