A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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What conflicts do you see emerging in the play "A Raisin in the Sun?"

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Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is a drama that contains the conflicts of Person vs. Self, Person vs. Person, and Person vs. Society.

Person vs. Self

Beneatha struggles with her identity as she tries various hobbies. She wants to be able to express herself honestly, and she wishes to become a doctor and be independent. She wrestles with trying to assimilate into a white world as she straightens her hair. She feels some pressure to marry into money, but she does not love George Murchison, and she is conflicted about marrying Asagi and going to Africa with him. 

Walter  is dissatisfied...

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The source of conflict in the play, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is introduced in the exposition with the Younger family’s anticipation of an insurance check that is scheduled to arrive that day. The family members’ various aspirations revolving around the insurance check fuel the conflicts that occur between them, within themselves and with society.

Lena and Walter Lee

The conflict between Lena and Walter Lee is revealed through their negotiation of what the insurance money will be used for. Lena Younger is the matriarchy of the family. The insurance check belongs to her as it is the money paid out to her after her husband’s death. Lena’s strong religious personality causes tensions between her and both her children, Walter Lee and Beneatha. Walter Lee Younger as the man of the family has aspirations for financial freedom and classism as motivation. For Walter money is life itself. The insurance check is an opportunity for him to make his aspiration a reality. He believes that by investing money in a liquor shop with two of his friends, he will be able to achieve that goal.

However, since the check belongs to his mother Lena, who morally is unwilling to invest her husband’s hard earned money in something she believes is sinfully wrong (drinking alcohol), the conflict between Walter and Lena peaks. Her response to Ruth’s observation that people will drink regardless clearly reveals her stance on the matter: “Well – whatever they drinks or not ain’t none of my business. But whether I go into business selling it to ‘em is, and I don’t want that on my ledge this late in life” (42).

This conflict culminates when Lena reveals to Walter that she is going to use the money to buy a house instead of investing it in his liquor business. Lena’s aspiration is to own a house for her family and her concerns seem highly selfless compared to the rest of the family members. Walter expresses his disappointment of Lena’s decision: “So you butchered a dream of mine – you – who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams…” (95).

Lena’s disregarding of Walter Lee’s “dreams” brings about another conflict between them – the leadership of the family. As a man, Walter Lee desires to be in financial control of the family, but the check is technically Lena’s, which infuriates him. When Lena eventually decides to give a portion of the check to Walter Lee, she is actually giving over her leadership of the family to him.

Beneatha and Walter Lee

The conflict between Beneatha and Walter Lee arises as a result of their conflicting ideas on gender roles. Walter Lee, fueled by his desire for money, cannot understand why Beneatha wants to be a doctor and expresses his annoyance with having to work to keep her in school exactly for this reason. The tension is furthered by Walter’s idea of Beneatha becoming a nurse rather than a doctor. This indicates the influence that gender stereotyping has had on him, being convinced that only men become doctors and women nurses.

Beneatha’s aspirations are to become a doctor and to find her individuality. The insurance check will allow her to study to become a doctor but when this aspiration seems to be unreachable after Walter lost the money, Beneatha expresses her anger towards him when she sarcastically calls him: “Titan of the System!”, “Symbol of a Rising Class” (138).

Ruth and Walter Lee

Ruth’s aspirations seem the simplest of the characters; however it reveals the depth of her desperation to escape the conditions they are living in. Ruth desires to escape their current living quarters and to provide a loving home for her new baby on the way. Walter Lee’s treatment of Ruth after Lena’s announcement is very bitter when he says to her: “Who even cares about you?” (87). It reveals his utter disappointment and jealousy of her moment of happiness.

A massive contribution to the conflict between Ruth and Walter is the revealing of Ruth’s pregnancy. The conflict between Lena and Walter reappears here as she is shocked at how Walter Lee treats Ruth. It culminates when she informs him that Ruth is pregnant and is considering aborting the child. Instead of addressing the matter Walter flees from the house leaving the tensions even higher and the conflict unresolved.

The insurance check’s arrival revealed a variety of conflicts between the family members of the Younger family. Walter Lee’s desperation for financial freedom, his classism motives and his need to be the leader of the house created conflict between him and Lena, Beneatha and Ruth. Ruth’s pregnancy and desire to escape her living quarters created conflict between her and Walter. Beneatha’s ambitions to become a doctor and to rise above gender stereotyping created conflict between her and Walter.

The already struggling existence of the Younger family was complicated by the arrival of the insurance check and the conflict it created.