Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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

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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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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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