What is Beneatha's role in "A Raisin In The Sun"?
The play A Raisin in the Sun presents a family, the Youngers, and allows us to observe their family dynamic as they try to decide how to spend the inheritance left behind by the deceased Walter Younger Sr.
Beneatha Younger is probably the most ambitious of the Younger family. While all of the family members have dreams and goals, Beneatha's aspiration to become a doctor seems the boldest and most purposeful. Hers is the goal that most challenges the norms of race and gender at the time the play is set. Her mother wants a bigger home so the family can have room to spread out and grow. This is a noble goal, but a mother wishing for a home is an aspiration that fits right into what we might expect of a family matriarch. Her brother Walter Jr. wants to open a liquor store. He is very excited about his dream and thinks it will allow his family to benefit in the long run. He also feels it will give him confidence and self-esteem. Walter seems to resent Beneatha's education and her dream of becoming a doctor. These two characters seem to come into direct conflict with one another a bit more than other members of the family.
Beneatha's character is determined and ambitious. She stands for a younger, up-and-coming generation who want to break boundaries and achieve what people once thought was impossible. Hansberry's inclusion of Beneatha's character lets the audience contrast her dream and her fervor for it with the dreams and aspirations of other characters.
Beneatha is an extroverted, independent young woman who cherishes her African heritage and plays a refreshing role in the Younger family's makeup. Beneatha acts as a foil to Ruth and Lena, which is emphasized by her nontraditional views towards education, gender roles, and religion. Beneatha is depicted as a rather flighty, capricious girl who is confident and intelligent. She is the most educated person in her family and is not shy about expressing her controversial views. Her dreams of one day becoming a doctor create conflict with her brother Walter Jr., and Ruth disagrees with her negative feelings about marrying the wealthy George Murchison. Her romantic interest in Joseph Asagai introduces a traditional African element to the play, which allows Hansberry to comment on Pan-Africanism. Beneatha's high aspirations and unique views help characterize the Youngers as a hopeful, strong, independent family that desperately pursues its dreams of making it out of Chicago's South Side. Beneatha's sassy attitude and confidence appeal to the audience and her presence adds to the family's compelling dynamic.
Beneathea occupies a unique place in Hansberry's play. Consider the symbolism of her name, for one thing (the entire family's last name, too, is "Young," symbolic, in part, of their quest for a new position in American life) . She is "beneath" in the fact that she is indeed the younger of the siblings; she is Walter's little sister. She struggles to maintain both her place in the family and her identity as an adult. She can at times be sort of annoying and obnoxious, as younger sister's (and brothers) are wont to do.
Beneatha is also at a crossroads in terms of her heritage: is she an African, like Joseph? Or an American, all she has ever known? At the time Hansberry was writing her play, (1959), racial separatism in America was a prominent theme, both culturally and politically. Beneathea's role, therefore, is to occupy that "squishy" place in the literal terms of the play, and in African-American identity in the larger realm.
Beneatha also represents the younger generation, both in terms of her race but also independent of her race. Like many teenagers, she constantly tries new ideas--guitar one day, something else. She is unsure of the sort of man she wants, and she is easily impressed with the panache of Asagai, who wants to take her to Africa. She wants an education, which breaks free from role expectations of women both black and white in the 1950s. In being younger than Ruth, she provides an immediate foil to her for she wants all that Ruth did not have and can't even imagine. She is hopeful in ways other character, except perhaps her little brother are not. She is saucy and smart--an excellent role model for young black women and indeed any young woman in the audience.