What do the characters wear in A Raisin in the Sun?

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playsthething eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As in any play, determining what a character should wear is dependent upon two main criteria: the time period of the play and the qualities of the character.  Raisin in the Sun is set in post-WWII Chicago, and is generally seen in the context of the 1950s.  That tells us a great deal about the style of clothing that the characters should wear.  Beyond the historical accuracy of the clothing, however, the idea of the costumes helping to reveal character is where a designer's/director's vision can be utilized.  In general, all of the characters' clothing should show that the family is not wealthy, but they have pride.  Therefore, the clothing might be worn, but it is clean and well-mended.

  • Mama is a widow, so that should influence the colors that she wears -- primarily dark colors.  She is also a hard-working and modest woman; her clothes should mirror that.  She wears clothing that is utilitarian more than it is fashionable; she also probably doesn't purchase new clothes often so her clothes should be somewhat dated.
  • Beneatha is young and her clothing should reflect that her interest in the wider world -- in her African roots, in the academic world of college, and in her pursuit of identity.  Her costumes would likely have the most variety throughout the course of the play, helping to reveal her many sides.  Walter Lee remarks on her always following fashion (he makes fun of when she wore long knee socks, for example).
  • Ruth's clothing should reflect that she is a working woman; it might also show that she is still fairly young and attractive, although weary.
  • Walter Lee should have a suit that he wears to work, but when in his off-work clothing, might be more relaxed and a little bit snappy, revealing his interest in the contemporary world.  
  • George must wear the "faggoty white shoes" and he should look very preppy.  He is the symbol of assimilation.

Costumes can make a huge impact in an audience's understanding of the play -- of the individual characters and of the time.  They can also influence mood and communicate theme -- through the use of color and other design motifs.

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A Raisin in the Sun

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