Examine how Hansberry is challenging stereotypes of African Americans in the play.
Hansberry challenges the false stereotypes that African Americans are apathetic, helpless individuals, who are not motivated to scale the social ladder. The Younger family is depicted as a hard-working, motivated group of individuals, who each have their own goals. Both Walter Jr. and Beneatha have lofty dreams of climbing the social ladder. Walter Jr. wants to use his mother's insurance money to invest in a liquor business and attain financial security while Beneatha wishes to enroll in college to become a doctor. At the time Hansberry wrote the play, Walter's dream of being a successful business owner and Beneatha's dream of becoming a doctor challenged common stereotypes regarding African Americans. Even Lena's dream of buying a home in a white community was contrary to the false stereotype that African Americans were content living in their segregated neighborhoods.
Hansberry also challenges the false stereotype that African American females are passive, submissive individuals. Lena and Beneatha are portrayed as strong, independent females, who valiantly fight for their dreams. Beneatha is outspoken and has radical views while Lena and Ruth demonstrate their patience and poise during difficult times. Hansberry's female characters reveal that African American women are driven, honorable, and dedicated, which was contrary to the stereotypes surrounding them.
Hansberry challenges the stereotype that is associated with her subject matter in a couple of ways. The first way is that she shows the Younger family as challenged by the issues of class and gender, as much as race. Normally, the stereotype would suggest that race is the only dominant issue. Hansberry presents such a fleshed out portrait of the family because she examines how different social conditions converge in order to define the family's identity. Another way in which the family resists being stereotyped lies in their confronting issues and finding success from them. Hansberry does not show a family that capitulates to the conditions around them or fragments in the face of challenge and adversity. Walter does discover what constitutes truth and true values and while there will be struggle, the ending indicates that the family will face it together. This avoids the stereotype that shows a family of color withering under the pressure, capitulating to what is as opposed to what can be. Finally, Hansberry avoids the stereotype because she enables her characters to be complex and possess dimensions to them. Each character in the drama is complex, each member of the family unique. This prevents falling into any stereotype because the intricacy of the characters precludes any real prediction or judgement as to what will happen to form.
Unfortunately, many African Americans are stereotyped as lazy; however, this is not at all true of the Younger family in Raisin in the Sun. They are all hard working; for example, Ruth not only has to cook and clean in her own house, but she also works as a maid in rich people's homes. On cleaning day, all the female members of the family pitch in to make their house as clean and livable as it can be, though it is run down and infested with bugs. Each member of the family harbors a dream of something better, and they want to work to make it happen.
In addition, there is a stereotype of African-American women as angry and somehow less civilized than white women. However, the women in the play—Ruth, Beneatha, and Mama—are refined and intelligent. Mama is a patient soul who has waited years to buy a house for her family, and Ruth is a hard-working person who tries to be a good wife and mother in difficult circumstances. Beneatha is an intellectual who hopes to study medicine and become a doctor in Africa. They are far from the stereotype of the angry, rude, and materialistic African-American woman. Instead of being stereotypical, the African-American characters in the play are human and have universal dreams (such as providing a safe space for their families) that they hope to turn into a reality.