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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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

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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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