How is the theme of assimilation treated in "A Raisin in the Sun"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One aspect of this play is the way in which Hansberry explores the various responses and attitudes amongst the black community to their situation at the time and in particular their identity. The most important character in this regard is Beneatha, who is the author's main focus when it comes to assimilation. It is she who, through the two men in her life (who both represent opposite extremes in the assimilation debate), explores the various options open to blacks at the time. Asagai is the character who obviously represents rejecting assimilation and returning to embrace original African identity, whereas George to all intents and purposes does all he can to live a white man's life in a white man's world.

One useful way of exploring the theme of assimilation is to focus on the symble of Beneatha's hair. Whilst she is courting George, she wears it in the "white" fashion, straightening it so it looks like a "normal" hairstyle. Asagai encourages her to wear it naturally, as he says that it is wrong to "mutilate" her hair. When Beneatha wears her hair like this to go out on a date with George, he is appalled and ashamed, and refuses to take her like that. Note the following quote which refers to his feelings about her African heritage:

Let's face it baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!

Asagai and George therefore represent opposite extremes of the assimilation debate, and it is clear that Beneatha chooses to reject assimilation through the decline in her relationship with George. Assimilation is therefore a theme that is presented primarily through characters and the choices that they make in this particular context.

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