Please identify examples of figurative language in A Raisin in the Sun.

A Raisin in the Sun includes figurative language like simile, metaphor, and personification. For example, Mama uses a simile when she says that Walter came into his manhood "like a rainbow after the rain."

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Playwright Lorraine Hansberry used lots of figurative language in her play A Raisin in The Sun, like simile and personification.

A simile is a figure of speech that compares unlike things using the words like or as. For example, consider how Mama is talking to Ruth about ...

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Playwright Lorraine Hansberry used lots of figurative language in her play A Raisin in The Sun, like simile and personification.

A simile is a figure of speech that compares unlike things using the words like or as. For example, consider how Mama is talking to Ruth about Walter’s behavior at the end of the play. She says, "He finally come into his manhood today, didn't he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain." This is a simile because Mama is using the word like to compare Walter's change to that of a rainbow coming out in the sky. She says this right after Walter makes the mature decision for his family to refuse Mr. Lindner's money. This moment brings Mama a sense of hope and peace, just like a rainbow does after a storm.

Hansberry also used a lot of personification in this play. Personification is a form of figurative language in which a writer attributes human qualities to something that is not human. For instance, recall the description of the Youngers' living room at the beginning of act 1, scene 1. It states, "The sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through this little window." Sunlight cannot fight like a person can fight, but by assigning this human action to something that is not human, Hansberry emphasizes how hard it is for light to get into the apartment.

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The dialogue in A Raisin in the Sun uses numerous figures of speech that are commonly found in everyday speech. Lorraine Hansberry incorporates this type of figurative language to make the characters seem to be real people. Metaphors are frequently employed. Ruth, for example, refers to Walter’s friends as “clowns” because of their loud behavior. To indicate that she would like a more comfortable life, she uses the metaphor of “Buckingham Palace” for a luxurious home she would prefer. Walter uses the metaphor of “choking to death” to describe his feelings of being held back in his life. When Mama talks to Ruth about Walter’s idea of the liquor store, she rejects the concept of selling liquor as immoral, saying “I don’t want that on my ledger.” Similes also appear in their speech. Mama combines one with an allusion and personification when she says that yesterday she had seen a cockroach “marching… like Napoleon.”

Ruth also uses hyperbole, extreme exaggeration, when she imitates Travis’s speech when he is annoyed with her: “I wouldn’t kiss that woman goodbye for nothing in this world….” Beneatha also uses hyperbole when talking about how her mother might use the insurance money: “I don’t care if she wants to buy… a rocket ship.” Also, in challenging her brother’s constant criticism, she asks if he wants her to quite school or “just drop dead.” When she learns that Ruth is pregnant, she asks where the new baby is going to sleep, “on the roof?”

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There are several examples of figurative language in A Raisin in the Sun. For example, in act I, Ruth uses a simile, saying, "I'm just sleepy as the devil." In the same act, Ruth says about her son, Travis, "'Bout to march out of here with that head looking just like chickens slept in it!" She uses a simile to compare her son's messy hair to a chicken's nest. Ruth often uses similes. She later says of Beneatha that she is "fresh—just fresh as salt." She is comparing Beneatha's attitude, which Ruth considers rude, to the bitterness of salt. Ruth's use of figurative language are the kinds of expressions that a person might have used in previous generations.

The characters in the play also use metaphors. For example, Beneatha says, "And then there are all those prophets who would lead us out of the wilderness . . . —into the swamps!" She sarcastically compares her brother, Walter, to a prophet who will lead the family into bad times, represented by the swamps. This metaphor is also ironic because a prophet is supposed to lead people to better times, but Beneatha suggests Walter will lead the family to disastrous ends.

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Let's start with Mama's plant. This plant shows a great example of symbolism.

  • Mama is completely devoted to this houseplant. As with her family, she provides constant care and nurture to the plant. As anyone who has tended to a plant knows, there are requirements and maintenance needed for growth. This small plant represents the bigger dreams she sees for her family, despite obstacles of racism, oppression, and poverty. She says that the plant "ain’t never had enough sunshine or nothing." Here the reader can see the relationship between the plant and her family. In what seems like futile conditions, there is a hope and encouragement. However, Mama is realistic, understanding that this simple houseplant is the closest she will get to having her garden. She leaves her apartment, houseplant in hand, in a final act of resilience in the face of her adversities. The reader can assume she will bring this plant to a new home to face new challenges, but the perseverance held within this symbol remains.

Lastly, let's focus on the title. A Raisin in the Sun, a metaphor derived from the Langston Hughes poem "Harlem."

  • Hansberry's use of this metaphor is used to connect a broken dream to a dried up raisin, devoid and empty of what it once was. Whether it is Mama, Walter, Ruth, Beneatha, or Travis, the characters in this story are dreamers. These characters want something more, something better, something that is fulfilling. The poverty and oppression faced by these characters is a direct danger to these dreams. Hansberry's title forces the reader to immediately confront this danger, to see the impact of broken dreams and their potentially to demoralize and destroy those who hold hope when hope is already so difficult to grasp.
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