How does the setting of the apartment reflect the family’s problems in Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun? What does the plant represent in the play?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The inner-city Chicago tenement apartment of the Younger family once reflected promise and dreams, but now it is crowded with "dreams deferred" and only a limited amount of sunshine and hope.

At one time the furnishings were attractive and indicative of good taste, but now they are worn and faded and covered with crocheted doilies. Not only is the couch worn, it seems tired as it is used both day and night. This is Walter Lee's bed since the breakfast room has been converted into a bedroom for Ruth and Walter. Tables and chairs are arranged to cover worn spots in the carpet. With only one bathroom, too, the family members really have little privacy.

Clearly, the apartment evinces dreams that have not come to fruition. With a son who is ten years old, Walter should have his own place; Mama has lost her husband, and she is burdened with having her children under her roof--Beneatha shares the bedroom with her--and all that she owns is worn and weary. Suggestive of the trapped lives that dwell in this apartment is the single window in which a lone plant seeks the sunshine. Nevertheless, it lives, so there is still yearning in the hearts of the family members. Reflective of this worn and weary atmosphere that yet holds some hope is Walter's morning remarks to Ruth at the beginning of the play. He sees the youthful potential in her, but only momentarily:

WALTER Just for a second--stirrin' them eggs. Just for a second it was--you looked real young again (He reaches for her; she crosses away. Then drily) It's gone now--you look like yourself again!

As desperate for change as the worn-out furniture, the Youngers have been keeping their youthful dreams limited to a single window that sheds only a dim light. They are living, but they need to flourish. 

Read the study guide:
A Raisin in the Sun

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