Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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How does A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry relate to modern youth?

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The play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is a classic that can be read, studied, and performed today. The themes of dreams and aspirations are timeless. The women in the play represent the changes that were taking place in their roles within society; however, their needs are universal to all people.

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Langston Hughes wrote: What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

A Raisin in the Sun by Loraine Hansberry centers on the theme of dreams and aspirations.  The play centers on a black family; however, the play’s appeal is not confined to one particular race. Everyone wants a better life and his share of the American dream. The "better life" may look different for each character; yet, the core inspiration is common to all men. This drama takes its place as classic literature relevant in the world today.

The Young family faces problems that were typical of the middle twentieth century. The family works in subservient jobs that do not fulfill them.  The protagonist Walter Young has a dream that he feels will give him the ability to adequately take care of his family.  What will happen if Walter’s dream is deferred? Walter wants to be defined as a “man.”

  • He wants his son to be able to respect him.
  • His greatest motivation is to have Travis go to the college of his choice.
  • He desires to be able to give his wife the things that she wants.
  • Walter would like to be like his father.
  • He craves his mother’s approval.
  • He aspires to take care of his mother in her old age.
  • He would like to be able to take care of his family. 

These are aspirations that all men want. They are not dated or racial specific.  To Walter, these are dreams that cannot be deferred. Walter almost makes a costly mistake, but he chooses the upright path.

Walter: …we are a very proud and that this is my son...Travis, come here... and he makes the sixth generation our family in this country. ..we have decided to move into our house because my father—he earned it for us brick by brick.  We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors.  And that’s all we got to say about that.  We don’t want your money.

Walter becomes the man that his wife and mother knew that he could be.

Hansberry also looks at the role of women.  Her portrayal of woman shows the growth of women in society.  The grandmother Lena grew up with the idea that she was dependent and subservient to her husband.  She had her family to take care of and her wishes were eclipsed by her family’s needs. To her, family is everything.

Ruth, Walter’s wife, takes the next step in the woman’s role in society.  She talks back to her husband and states her mind. Although she is frustrated by her husband, Ruth wants to satisfy his needs. She speaks on his behalf within the family.

Beneatha, Walter’s sister, is the new woman.  She has her own aspirations, attends college to be a doctor, and wants to go to Africa. Her mother cannot understand her; on the other hand, Lena wants her to be happy. Her dream will not be delayed because she will find a way to satisfy her own needs.

These women and their roles are not necessarily race specific.  They represent the female and the changes in their place in society. This wonderful play reaches out to all people that want to better themselves.  Dreams and choices make this play germane today.

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I think that there are a couple of lessons out of Hansberry's work that can be connected to modern society and prove relevant to young people.  The first is the enduring quality of family.  If one accepts that all of the conflicts the family faces are valid, then it becomes equally clear that the only way that the Younger family will endure such racial, economic, and social challenges is through togetherness.  The family becomes the source of strength, allowing individuals to rely on one another in order to endure and eventually triumph over trying times.  Mama sees the family falling apart and she commits to the purchase of the house to keep it together.  Ruth recognizes that she must abandon the idea of the abortion in order to maintain the cohesiveness of her family.  Walter recognizes himself as a man only when he acts in the interest of the family.  In the modern setting, the same challenges that face the Younger family confront families today.  For young people who might wish to abandon their own families, the "Young"er family proves to be instructional in this regard.  The lasting quality of the drama is the strength of the family as a collective unit to endure such challenges.  This is applicable to the modern setting.

I would also submit that one of the lessons out of the work rests in the refusal to let social conditions define one's identity.  Walter does not let race or class define him in his decision to move to Clybourne Park.  Beneatha does not let gender or social perception stop her from pursuing her dream.  Ruth does not let poverty define her love for her family.  In the end, the family understands that there are social conditions pressing down upon them.  Yet, they do not let these define them.  They act in a way that shows resistance to such conditions, as opposed to being devoured by them.  In the modern setting, particularly with young people, the need to face down challenges and not become subsumed by them is an essential lesson that the play can teach. In a social setting filled with challenges, Hansberry's characters accept these realities for what they are and do not become so subsumed with them that they lose sight of their own identities and sense of self.  This becomes another lesson out of the work that can relate to the modern young person in society today.

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