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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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An analysis of how literary devices develop themes and characterization in A Raisin in the Sun

Summary:

In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry uses various literary devices to develop themes and characterization. Symbolism, such as the family's plant, represents hope and resilience. Dialogue reveals the characters' dreams and conflicts, while foreshadowing hints at future struggles. These devices explore themes of racial discrimination, family unity, and the pursuit of dreams, enriching the narrative and deepening character development.

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What exciting moment in A Raisin in the Sun is developed using a specific literary device?

Many exciting moments occur in A Raisin in the Sun, though not all of them are exciting in that they are positive, rather they are exciting because they are dramatic.

For example, the author, Lorraine Hansbury, begins to develop the conflict in Act I, scene ii when Walter comes home and asks his mother, Mrs. Younger, for money to invest in a liquor store with his friend Willy Harris. Walter's mother and wife, Ruth, both know that this is another "get rich quick" scheme and that it is unlikely to pan out. Walter's mother would rather invest the money more responsibly and refuses to give Walter a share to put into what she thinks is a sinful business.

The scene becomes heated rather quickly. Walter feels he is being emasculated (not respected as a man). His mother feels like she is doing what is best for the family. Mean while, Ruth has just come back from a consultation with an abortion doctor. She is pregnant and afraid that her and Walter will not have enough money to care for the newborn child.

The whole scene explodes when Walter threatens to go out drinking again and Ruth tries to go with him. He tells his wife he doesn't want her near him and he storms out of the house leaving his wife in despair. As he leaves, his mother tells him he is a disgrace to his dead father's name.

Exciting? Absolutely. The drama keeps the audience on the edges of their seats.

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What exciting moment in A Raisin in the Sun is developed using a specific literary device?

In Act 1 of Raisin in the Sun, Walter and Ruth argue about giving their son Travis money for school.  Walter wants to give his son money and does so in opposition to his wife's wishes. This might seem like a rather insignificant scene in the play, but it is pivotal to establishing the familiar relationships in the play.  Hansberry uses foreshadowing in this scene because it suggeststhat Walter and Ruth will have a more serious disagreement (especially in regards to children) later in the play. The scene also demonstrates indirect characterization.  The audience perceives through Walter and Ruth's conversation that Walter is a man struggling with his desire to be the man in a house "ruled" by women.  He is defiant and likely to oppose anything that his wife, mother, or sister tells him.  Similarly, Hansberry portrays Ruth through the scene as a wife who is practical but does not know how to trust her husband as a leader because he seems to make foolish decisions about money.

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In A Raisin in the Sun, how does the author use literary devices to develop a theme?

The author uses the metaphor in the title—that of a raisin in the sun—from the poetry of Langston Hughes to convey the theme of deferred dreams. Each of the main characters (Mama, Walter, Ruth, Beneatha, and Travis) has a dream that is in danger of drying up, like a raisin in the sun, if they continue in their life of poverty and deprivation. This theme runs throughout the play, as the characters strive to decide which of their dreams is viable and to achieve their dreams.

Hansberry also uses symbols to represent themes. Mama's droopy plant is symbolic of the way that the family tries but fails to thrive in their cramped apartment. Mama's constant care of the plant symbolizes the way in which she continues to dream and to try to foster her family's dreams. Hair is also a symbol in this play, as Asagai, a character from Africa, speaks of Beneatha's "mutilated hair," referring to the way in which some African American people try to straighten their hair. Here "mutilated hair" is used as a symbol of assimilation into white culture.

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In A Raisin in the Sun, how does the author use literary devices to develop a theme?

Hansberry uses a great many literary devices to develop the many themes in the play. I would say that the evolution and richness of her characters help to do the most in terms of conveying the theme of how good and bad are intertwined within one another.  Showing Walter as being someone who is disenchanted with life at the start of the play and one committed to material dreams at its outset to one that begins to understand and accept his sense of responsibility throughout the play and most notably at the end when he has to fully embrace the needs of his family and reject the overtures of the Karl Lindners of the world help to best show this maturation and growth.  It is through this literary device and element of character development where Hansberry's theme of good within bad is displayed in a full and broad spectrum.

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How do literary elements develop characterization in A Raisin in the Sun?

Because A Raisin in the Sun is a play, the primary literary element that Lorraine Hansberry uses to develop characterization is dialogue. Within each character’s lines, the author uses word choice and diction that is appropriate to their personality, age, social status, and national origin. Such distinctions are evident within the Younger family, where Mama, Ruth, Walter, and Beneatha all speak differently according to their age.

The author uses vernacular or everyday speech, including such words as “ain’t,” to enhance the play’s realism. An example appears when Ruth responds to Travis’s request for fifty cents; she uses “ain’t” and a double negative:

I ain’t got no fifty cents this morning.

This is contrasted to other instances of Ruth’s word choice and diction, such as in conjunction with an allusion she employs to indicate that Walter’s dreams are improbable, if not impossible:

So you would rather be Mr. Arnold than be his chauffeur. So—I would rather be living in Buckingham Palace. (Italics in original)

She refers to the Queen of England’s home. Reading the line, one can almost hear her saying it as “rahther,” in a British accent.

In addition, figures of speech appropriate to each character are employed. Two kinds of comparison are used. Ruth uses a simile to describe her son’s messy hair, saying his head looks “just like chickens slept in it!” Walter uses a metaphor to show his contempt for the authorities who would give a liquor license, lamenting the time spent “waiting for them clowns to let your license get approved.”

Beneatha tends to exaggerate and speak emotionally. She chastises her brother about his designs on their mother’s insurance money using hyperbole:

I don’t care if she wants to buy a house or a rocket ship.

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What literary terms relate to the theme of A Raisin in the Sun?

In a subplot of A Raisin in the Sun, which involves Beneatha's character development, she is defined for the viewers by two separate men who are prototypes: the well-educated and wealthy boyfriend, George Murchison, who is a model of the new black man who has attained a certain level of sophistication and financial prestige; who also mocks those who lack his advantages; and, who denies his African heritage. He is, thus, the type of black who wants to become more like the jewish or white businessman. On the other hand, there is Joseph Asagai, who embraces his African heritage and traditions, and he tries to instruct Beneatha about her history and heritage while she imitates white people, he accuses, as she straightens her hair. Also, through these two characters, the author is able to link two themes: the African struggle for independence with the African American struggle for self-identity and self-determination.

Another literary device that is employed by the author is allusion. In her play, with the futile attempts of the Younger family to move to a neighborhood marked as white only, Hansberry alludes to Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940), a suit brought by her family because of racially motivated covenants restricting the sale of property.

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What literary terms relate to the theme of A Raisin in the Sun?

Literary terms can relate to the very title of Hansberry's drama.  The title is taken from Langston Hughes's poem entitled "Harlem."  The poem begins with the fundamental question of "What happens to a dream deferred?"  From that point, Hughes uses figurative language to illustrate what he sees as the consequence of blighted hopes. A simile that Hughes uses to illustrate the painful condition of denied aspiration is the question, "Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"  Hughes's employment of the simile causes reflection in the reader, while it pointedly criticizes a social order that perpetuates the withering of dreams like grapes that are exposed to the brutality of the sun.  In showing the struggles of the Younger family, Hansberry dramatizes the simile that Hughes employs.  

The idea of dreams being maintained and preserved despite the intensity and magnitude of the world's rejection is a critical aspect of the drama.  The Younger family struggles to dream in a world that does not immediately validate such a reality.  The American Dream and the costs it exacts in order to achieve it become a critical theme in the drama.  At different points, this theme is illuminated through dialogue.  One example is when Walter is speaking with his son, Travis, about the dreams he has and the dreams he wishes to transfer to the next generation:

And I’ll go inside and Ruth will come downstairs and meet me at the door and we’ll kiss each other and she’ll take my arm and we’ll go up to your room to see you sitting on the floor with the catalogues of all the great schools in America around you. . . . All the great schools in the world! And—and I’ll say, all right son—it’s your seventeenth birthday, what is it you’ve decided?

The ability to dream defines Walter.  He exists in a world that continually puts him down, causing his dreams to dry up "like a raisin in the sun." In this, a significant theme in the drama is evident.  The ability to dream is a vital theme in the drama.  As Walter puts Travis to sleep and expresses to him how important dreams are to the family, to preserve them despite the intensity of forces that seek to dry them "like a raisin in the sun," the theme of dreams becomes evident.

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