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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry
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In A Raisin in the Sun, how does the lighting and sound effects help tell the story?

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One feature of Hansberry’s style is to include lengthy stage directions and scene descriptions. She does this for both the actors and the sets. Part of this is, of course, sound and lighting. To illustrate how the sound and lighting impact the meaning, I will discuss a particular scene from...

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One feature of Hansberry’s style is to include lengthy stage directions and scene descriptions. She does this for both the actors and the sets. Part of this is, of course, sound and lighting. To illustrate how the sound and lighting impact the meaning, I will discuss a particular scene from the play that illustrates the relationship between these effects and the story itself.

In act 2, scene 1, Beneatha is dancing to one of the Nigerian records she received as a gift from Asagai. When the record begins to play, the stage directions describe Beneatha as “enraptured, her eyes. . . ‘back to the past.’” This shows that the sound directly influenced the actions and moods of the actors.

As she dances wildly—almost comically—Walter enters the apartment, clearly drunk. He is caught up in the music and begins to dance, shout, and hurl imaginary spears around the room. According to the text,

. . . now the lighting shifts subtly to suggest the world of WALTER’S imagination, and the mood shifts from pure comedy.

This lighting direction shows how Hansberry intends a change in lighting to reflect a change in mood. Rather than a drunken stunt, Walter’s actions become a primal urge, just because of a lighting change. Similarly, the mood changes again when the “doorbell rings” in the middle of Walter’s speech just a few lines down.

The sound effect signals George Murchison’s arrival, which will cause Walter’s mood to turn bitter and hostile.

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Lighting in A Raisin in the Sun has symbolic meanings. For example, the only natural light that enters into the Youngers' living room and kitchen (which is really one room) is through a small kitchen window. At the beginning of the play, Ruth raises the shade for this window, and a feeble light enters the apartment. This light symbolizes the way in which the family, like Mama's plant, tries to survive against the odds in their crowded and run-down apartment. Life, like the sun, gives them little sustenance, but they are determined to survive.

Sound effects also tell the story and symbolize aspects of the characters and their transformations. For example, in act one, scene two, blues music fills the apartment. This symbolizes the family's struggles and their immediate fight to clean the apartment. In act two, scene one, Ruth is listening to blues when Beneatha turns off the music, saying, "Enough of this assimilationist junk." Beneatha then puts on Nigerian music and dances to it. This change of music symbolizes her own turn away from American traditions to those of Africa.

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Sound effects in this play, as in all drama, are used to compliment what is going on stage and to help capture the feelings and emotions that are being experienced by the characters. In many ways, they are audible representations of the mood that is being experienced by the characters on stage. For example, in Act II scene 3, after Walter has been given the rest of the insurance money by his mother to invest in the liquor business that he has dreamed of setting up, the sound effects convey the lightness of mood and the happiness that settles on the Younger family. Notice how the stage directions present Ruth's voice before the curtain rises as "a strident, dramatic church alto":

It is, in the darkness, a triumphant surge, a penetrating statement of expectation: "Oh Lord! I don't want to feel no ways tired! Children, oh, glory hallelujah!"

Significantly, as the curtain rises, the audience sees that she is packing up the last few belongings to get ready for their move, which explains her joyful noise. In the same way, when Walter enters, he is "singing and wriggling and snapping his fingers" and he puts on some "soulful and sensuous" music which captures his happiness about being able to invest in his business project. Although the reasons for both characters' happiness are different, it is clear that the sound effects in this particular section of the play help to convey their mood and their sense of excitement and expectation.

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