Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467
Hansberry, using the physical move from the ghetto as the fulcrum for the discussion of the African American place in the world of the 1950’s, has carefully avoided a number of pitfalls. Most important, although the white Lindner is far from an admirable character, it is a black man, Willy Harris, who is the real villain of the piece. In addition, it is Walter Lee’s overeagerness to move into a world he sees as the white man’s world which makes him such easy prey for Willy.
Furthermore, even Beneatha, who seems to be free from the restraints that the segregated society attempts to impose, has been lured into some imitative behavior, such as “expressing herself” through expensive hobbies that she drops in quick succession. Near the end of the play, Asagai accuses her of using her brother’s loss of her tuition money as an excuse for giving up her dream.
A major theme of A Raisin in the Sun is love, particularly love of children in African American families. Lena speaks of a child she and Big Walter had “lost to poverty,” and she appeals to Walter Lee to persuade Ruth that there is no need to abort her baby. Actually, everything Lena does she does out of love for her children, even if she is oblivious to the fact that exercising her rights as matriarch is not the best way to do so, particularly because of her son. After Walter Lee’s defeat, it is Lena who admonishes Beneatha that the time to love a person is “when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so.”
In the scenes between Asagai and Beneatha, there is a sense of what Hansberry said in her play Les Blancs (posthumously produced in 1970) about black revolutions in Africa not always being beneficial to the natives in those countries, so this too may be considered a theme of A Raisin in the Sun. Yet, it is the playwright’s conviction that any variety of racism is evil that certainly dominates.
In addition to using Langston Hughes’s poem as a metaphor for the characters in the play, Hansberry uses a plant as a symbol. The poor straggly thing struggles to get enough sunlight in the tenement flat, and it barely survives with loving care from Lena. When the family is about to move, Lena insists on taking the plant with them. Presumably, it will flourish in the new environment, just as the Younger family will.
Realistically, the family will probably have the same problems that the Hansberrys encountered after their move to Englewood, but the playwright leaves the audience with a note of hope for a future that has, in the years following her death, been partially fulfilled.
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