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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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What are three aspects of how society is depicted in A Raisin in the Sun, including literary and dramatic devices?

Three aspects of the ways in which society is depicted are the challenges that African Americans faced in regard to business, home ownership, and education. Walter Younger, Jr. faces obstacles to his dream of becoming a business owner, the entire Younger family has difficulties in buying a home, and Beneatha struggles to obtain higher education. Literary devices through which these issues are presented include metaphor, simile, and allusion. The primary dramatic device employed is dialogue.

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Lorraine Hansberry depicts numerous aspects of American society in the 1950s. The Youngers faces numerous challenges as an African American family of the times, and individual characters grapple with specific problems. Walter is an employee who dreams of owning his own business but has no start-up capital. Lena and her hard-working husband had long dreamed of owning a home. When she is finally able to do so, the family encounters racist opposition. Beneatha desires to become a physician, but first she must finish her undergraduate studies; the family’s resources are strained by paying her tuition. Hansberry often employs the literary devices of metaphor and simile in the characters’ expressions of their attitudes, as well as the device of allusion. Throughout the play these attitudes are conveyed through the dramatic devices of characterization and dialogue.

Walter is dissatisfied with his chauffeur job. He discusses with his wife, Ruth, his hope that his mother will agree to using part of her late husband’s life insurance policy to help him establish his own business. With his friends as partners, he wants to open a liquor store. Walter does not have capital for the initial investment. In dialogue with Ruth, Walter expresses his frustrated desire to achieve his dream with the metaphor,

“I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby!”

She responds with a sarcastic allusion to her supposed dream of being the Queen of England through her mention of living in Buckingham Palace.

Lena and her husband, Walter Sr., had dreamed of buying a house but could not afford to do so. Lena expresses her husband’s lifelong hard work with the simile, “working and working and working like somebody’s old horse.” In the period in which the play is set, Walter Jr. and his wife, Ruth, contribute to paying the rent on a small apartment. Even their pooled resources are insufficient for a down payment on a house. When Lena locates an affordable home, the Youngers face racist opposition to their becoming the first family to integrate the all-white neighborhood where it is located. The character of Karl Lindner, who is the embodiment of this opposition, claims that “racial prejudice” is not a factor in the community members’ attitude.

Beneatha, after exploring various interests, has decided to become a physician. In the 1950s, only a tiny percentage of physicians were African-American women. She faces dual obstacles to achieving her goal. In the shorter term, she must maintain high grades in her pre-medical track, which includes the difficult biology course in which she is enrolled during the play; she sarcastically refers to the course as “lovely.” Her brother suggests that she become a nurse instead and complains about the drain on the family resource her tuition represents. Dialogue between Beneatha and Walter reveals his concerns.

Walter: … You such a nice girl—but if Mama got that money she can always take a few thousand and help you through school too—can’t she?

Beneatha: I have never asked anyone around here to do anything for me!

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