The issue of African-American dreams is present in a number of black writers’ literary works. Hansberry as a famous Afro-American playwright illustrates the suffering of black individuals in the so-called democratic American society. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is one of the most important productions raising such issues. The American Dream is an ideal desired by every American resident with equal opportunities to pursue success through motivation, determination, as well as hard work. In her play, Lorraine Hansberry outlines the dreams of a black family and the attempts of each member to realize them. Basing her plays on the problems of racism and prevailing housing discrimination of the 1950s, the author tries to portray the unattainability of the dreams of such black families (Brown 242). A Raisin in the Sun is a play that addresses its major characters dreams and personal tribulations that are amplified by the struggle against racial discrimination. The significance of depicting the American Dream in the play lies in the illustration that such dreams are usually deferred and deterred because of their wrong background. Each of the family representatives bases his or her dreams on materialistic aspects. Besides, these desires appear in a racial society, in which people are treated according to their color and race. An analysis of the study shows that in the process of pursuing their dreams, characters redefine their American Dreams to the extent at which they begin to realize that the most valuable thing in their lives is living together.
The idea of the American Dream is still present in modern society, even if it presupposes the achievement of love, wealth, as well as fame. The primary thing that never alters about it is that each person deserves something in life and all people should strive to obtain it. Every individual in the United States desires to achieve financial success and pursue happiness in her or his life. Oxford English Dictionary defines the American Dream as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved” (“The American Dream”). However, the aspiration of every person is determined by the setting and his or her social status in the society. In the context of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, African-American history and identity define the extend of characters’ desires. Because of limited chances and the presence of inequality among the blacks, the Youngers wish to get too much. The social, political, and economic climate of the 1950s was a difficult time for African Americans. The writer portrays how an African-American family struggles to get out of the poverty line and maintain financial stability. A Raisin in the Sun is an attempt to study the effect of racial segregation on the life of an ordinary black family (Schoenberg and Trudeau 240). Its idea also serves a proof that every family may fight to cope with poverty and racism in Chicago.
In the play, the issue is presented by the themes of the ambiguity of the American Dream and integration as means for African Americans for its realization (Brown 241). A Raisin in the Sun centers on the delivery of a life insurance check, as well as the complications, which arise because of it (Ghani 609). Hansberry took the play’s epigraph from “Montage of a Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes. The poem also serves as a source for the drama’s title. The concept of a deferred dream is proposed in the epigraph. The author directly points to the fact that the whole work bases on the idea of splintered and adjourned dreams. In A Raisin in the Sun, the epigraph suggests a question to which the play tries to provide the answer. It asks whether individuals should adjust to conditions when their future plans are limited or whether such dreams preserve their power and appear in unpredictable ways only after life frustrations accumulate (Ghani 610). To illustrate these circumstances, the writer arranges her play in a special way.
The drama’s setting plays an essential role in the process of determining and presenting dreams of Walter, Mama, and Beneatha. A Raisin in the Sun opens with a detailed description of the Youngers’ house. The author shows the dreamy atmosphere of this apartment. The furniture of the sitting room was “actually selected with care and love and even hope—and brought to this apartment and arranged with taste and pride” (Hansberry 487). At the same time, she argues that the room is too small for its five residents with different temperaments.
In the opening scene, Hansberry also carefully depicts how the characters interact with each other to reveal the present conflicts (Ghani 612). For such poor individuals, the circumstances that evolve make the family adhere to its dream in order to continue living as it is the only thing that are available for its members. As the drama proceeds, it becomes evident that each character has his or her dream. Such aspirations constitute the essence of Hansberry’s work as they develop its plot. They form the entire action and shape the conflicts of the play. One may notice that the desire that each hero searches for is different. However, the motivation behind it is similar as they care about one another and want to do the best for their family. None of these dreams are selfish. However, each is reshaped by the characters’ ethnicity and values.
The Youngers’ ethnicity as an African-American family plays a vital role in rationalizing the situation, in which blacks are not offered equal opportunity due to the color of their skin. Because of limited ethnic opportunities, all dreams of family representatives are commodified. Mama’s desire is shaped by a twentieth century materialistic and capitalistic society that exalts things above everything else. To understand Lena’s dream and aspiration, one needs to take into account the dream of African Americans who were treated like animals in the Southern regions (Abdelmawjoud 32). They wanted to migrate to Northern states to get better job chances and to escape the inhuman treatment from which they suffered in the South (Abdelmawjoud 32). However, those dreams were hindered as black individuals were dehumanized in ghettos, which were not appropriate for human life (Abdelmawjoud 32). According to Abdelmawjoud, Walter’s case substantially differs from Mama’s one (36). Born in the North, he has never experienced what his father and mother faced in the South. Since his birth, he has been living in the same small flat and nothing has altered in his life (Abdelmawjoud 36). Working as a chauffeur, the character travels with his boss and observes the luxurious life of whites (Abdelmawjoud 36). That is why when Walter dreams he dreams much. Similarly, Beneatha was also born in the North. However, her dreams are realistic. Besides the ethnical aspects, the dreams of all characters are grounded on their life values.
A Raisin in the Sun supports different values. For example, Mama’s value is family. Her motivation is to make her family be happier. In contrast, Walter’s values refer to power, fame, as well as wealth. That is why he is motivated by money. Different value systems make Mama and Walter have conflicting motivations. Beneatha’s values centers around the process of helping other people. As a result, the presence of attitudinal and material needs hinder the realization of the American Dream for Younger family (Brown 246). Despite this fact, each members of the family tries to pursue his or her American dream.
The dreams of Walter, Mama, and Beneatha are based on the insurance money of the dead patriarch of the family that accounts for approximately $10,000 (Schoenberg and Trudeau 240). The central conflict of A Raisin in the Sun lies in Walter’s perception of the American Dream. He follows the middle-class ideology of materialism (Brown 244). As a result, the hero dreams to accumulate money and become rich as soon as it is possible (Abdelmawjoud 31). At the beginning of the play, Hansberry shows how the man envies Charlie Atkins as “he’s grossing a hundred thousand a year. A hundred thousand dollars a year!” (493). Walter ignores his wife’s objection to the questionable character of his potential business partner. He also pays no attention to his mother’s objection to reach his goal by running a liquor store. The author also portrays the same attitude when the character plans to accept Mr. Lindner’s offer. These actions prove that Walter considers starting a business the sole escape from his malicious life (Abdelmawjoud 35). Such a situation leads to the fact that the implementation of his dream fails to become a reality.
What also limits Walter’s dream is his mother statement that a sum of the received money must be spent Beneatha’s medical education. She says, “Some of it got to be put away for Beneatha and her schoolin’ —and ain’t nothing going to touch that part of it” (Hansberry 502). This action creates tension between Walter and his sister. As a result, readers see that beneath a normal brother-sister conflict hides a struggle for the survival of each dream. The strain becomes evident the day before the insurance check arrives. Walter wants to use all money. He believes that Beneatha should sacrifice for her family. An interesting fact is that the man is an embodiment of the American Dream of materialistic success. Thinking that happiness can be bought by money, Walter fulfills his dream only to the extent of becoming a dreamer. It is because Walter forgets that money means nothing in comparison with integrity and dignity. The fact that the character is cheated by a white young male points to the fact that whites will not easily allow African Americans to succeed and live as they do (Abdelmawjoud 36). Ironically, Walter is depicted as a feeble hero, whose life principles are built on the wrong grounds.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha’s principles center on becoming a useful person who would help the family with financial issues. Her dream is to make something of herself as she is “going to be a doctor” to cure people (Hansberry 506). Though her dreams are disapproved by her family members, the girl has a will to achieve them. One should underline the fact that her dream is more important than the ones of other characters because she tries to find herself in the world. Beneatha wants to become a doctor not only for earning money, but helping the family to stabilize its economy and support its members.
Lena also wishes to help her children become happy. Mama’s dream is to buy a house with a yard. However, that desire has been deferred for many years. Lena remembers the time when she and her husband moved into the apartment and believed the residence would only be temporary (Ghani 610). Being aware of the disparity between her decision and her children’s ones, she attempts to balance her duty as a mother and her dreams. Hearing her son saying, “So you butchered up a dream of mine—you—you who always talking ’bout your children’s dreams,” Mama decides to give an amount of money to Walter (Hansberry 537). However, Mama’s decision makes her witness how her son’s dreams begin to fail and consume his soul (Ghani 612). Despite this fact, Lena is the only one whose dream comes true when she buys a house. Her family gets a renewed sense of pride and dignity that makes characters challenge every inevitable risk, which they might face in the future.
In conclusion, the analysis of the study has revealed that in the process of pursuing their dreams, characters redefine their American Dreams to the extent at which they begin to realize that the most valuable thing in their lives is living together. Hansberry shows that the most common American Dreams that Walter, Beneatha, and Mama want to reach is to be accepted by the white society, as well as be financially stable. After analyzing A Raisin in the Sun, readers see that even though Walter means well for his family, his perception of the American Dream is too unreachable. Beneatha’s desire to become a doctor is hindered by the actions of her family members. As a result, the only person who succeeded in pursuing her dream is Mama who managed to make her children be happy. The significance of the play is that it examines the essence of African-American identity, the social status of blacks, as well as racial challenges they may face. The Youngers have based their dreams on the wrong principles. Despite the fact that they have disillusioned them, they have also inspired them to perceive the world with a more human attitude. They realize that their unity is the primary source of their power while sincere love for one another may help to gain their dignity.