What are 3 dominant literary devices that appear in the play, A Raisin in the Sun? (irony, metaphor, symbolism, etc...)
Define the device, cite an example from the work, and give the page number you found it on.
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The title itself is metaphorical and allusive. It refers to Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem" in which the poet asked whether a dream that is continuously put off, like the dreams of the characters in the play, dries up "like a raisin in the sun" or explodes. The title is metaphorical as it uses a tangible object (raisin) to refer to a less concrete entity (the characters' dreams). It is allusive because it refers to another text which readers should recall to get the complete meaning it wishes to convey.
The play offers an example of the technique of foreshadowing, the contrary of a flashback as it anticipates something that will be confirmed later at the end of scene one. Ruth faints and this scene foreshadows her later annoucement that she's pregnant. Pregnancy and fainting have long been associated in theatrical conventions.
Similar to a metaphor, a symbol is a concrete object that, in addition to its material nature, expresses an idea or a concept. In the play, the ugly plant that Mama plans to take to the new house is symbolic of her family's endurance in the face of negative and disadvantaged circumstances.
One of the primary literary devices used in Hainsberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is repetition. This is a “global” device in the sense that it cannot be isolated in its single instances but has to be discussed on a structural level in the text. Repetition is not, however, difficult to find in the play and the usefulness of the device, dramatically, should be quickly apparent.
Several scenarios are repeated in the play, none of them more important than the scenario where Lindner, representing the white home owners group, visits the Younger family home to offer to buy the new house from them before they move in. Linder’s first visit unites Walter and Beneatha for the first time in the play, leading them to take sides against the offensive offer.
The subsequent action of the play reignites the disharmony between Walter and Beneatha, creating a dilemma for Walter (who has lost his investment in the liquor store) and for Beneatha (who has received a proposal of marriage wherein she would be unable to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor). When Lindner is invited back to the Younger house it is because Walter intends to accept the buy-out and “sell-out” his pride.
The challenge of denying Lindner in the second iteration of this scenario is greater than the first. The plot complications preceding this repetition of the scene have raised the importance of the choice that the family faces. Additionally, Mama directly articulates the meaning of Walter’s decision, telling her son that accepting the money would be a rejection of the family’s proud history and moral identity.
Mama: Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.
Again, Walter denies Lindner’s offer, speaking to the idea that his family’s pride is at stake (and, by extension, their moral identity and their value as people). Dramatically, the repetition of this scenario allows for a “raising of the stakes” while also giving form to the action of the play.
Also, the repetition of this scenario allows the play to pose a very loaded question to its characters twice (under different circumstances the second time). If Walter can say no to Lindner once when things are looking up, can he also say no when things have fallen apart around him? Only by repeating the episode can a question like this be posed.
Repetition is also used Beneatha’s scenes with her suitors. Each of them enters the house and is met by Mama, allowing for conversations that contrast the modes of identity/modes of being these men represent.
Additionally, as Iprono points out, symbolism is used as a literary device in the play. Mama’s plant is a great example of an object that represents an idea (or set of ideas). Mama nurtures the plant as she nurtures her own sense of hope and belief that the future can be better than the recent past.
The plant’s meaning is clear within the play, making the symbolism pointed and reinforcing the ethos of Mama’s character (which is related to the idea that trust, faith and hope are internally oriented qualities, dependent on self-determination and not outside forces).
Other symbols are used in the play as well, albeit not with such metaphorical force. The iconography of African music and style participates in A Raisin in the Sun as part of the play’s treatment of the concept(s) of African American identity. Beneatha’s choice to wear her hair in an afro for a while is commented upon by her brother in a way that shows how complex the identity issue at the heart of the play is.
Where Beneatha sees the style as a means achieve self-assertion and as a way to refuse to compromise to Western aesthetics (and values), Walter engages with the African music wildly and even madly.
Walter: (On the table, very far gone, his eyes pure glass sheets. He sees what we cannot, that he is a leader of his people, a great chief, a descendent of Chaka, and that the hour to march has come.)
This difference of perspective and relationship to the concept of African culture indicates the superficial differences between Walter and Beneatha while also suggesting the complexity of their situation vis a vis identity.
There is no obvious way for either of them to enact a sensible self-assertion, pan-African or otherwise, within the culture they live in. Only compromises are available and the style of dress and music in this scene symbolizes Beneatha’s need for outward-looking cultural references and also symbolizes Walter's deep desire to be something other than a servant.
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