What role does race play in A Raisin in the Sun?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Race plays an important role in Hansberry's play. Coupled with class issues, race functions as a delineating cultural force and an important element in the construction of the Youngers' identity (as individuals and as a family). Race determines the Younger family's social status to a large degree, which leads rather directly to the class and poverty issues in the play.

Two specific issues related to race stand out most clearly from the play: Beneatha's indentity conflict and the Younger's purchase of a house in a "white" neighborhood. 

For Beneatha, race is part of a whole matrix of issues that trouble her regarding identity. Africa, pan-Africanism, class, gender and profession also each fit into Beneatha's struggle to create an identity that will provide her with a dignified and positive self-image. Race, for Beneatha, is larger than these other issues and is inclusive of them.

When Mama buys a house in a neighborhood where people of color do not currently live, a man comes to visit the Youngers to ask them not to move in.

The most significant scene which openly portrays racism, however, is the visit with Karl Lindner. Although he does not identify himself as racist, and although his tactics are less violent than some, he wants to live in an all-white neighborhood...

Race and racism are central to this request and are also central in motivating the subsequent discussion and decisions of the Younger family. The arbirtrary attitudes on race and the limits that those biases create are entwined with the interpersonal conflicts that the family faces and, ultimately, overcomes.      


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