The significance of Lena Younger in the screenplay and movie A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Kenny Leon In the movie A Raisin in the Sun derived from the screenplay by Lorraine Hansberry, the character of Lena Younger is effectively portrayed to show the importance of the plant as a symbol of Lena being in possession of a garden to call her own. However, the theme of dreams, especially Lena’s, is not made prominent enough to show Lena as a symbol of African American’s in the 50’s owning a house and moving up in society.
In the screenplay of A Raisin in the Sun, Lena Younger is a sensitive mother and grandmother to the Younger household. She is very religious, and demands of her kids to thank God for their lives. This is shown when Lena slaps Beneatha for challenging the idea of God in her life. Lena says, “Now you say after me, in my mothers house there is still God” (Hansberry 39). This scene is effectively remade in the movie. The actress that plays Lena makes her anger and shock in Beneatha’s comment very believable, which further emphasizes the fact that Lena’s values are portrayed just as effectively in the movie as they were in the written screenplay.
Lena also stands up for herself, much like her daughter Beneatha. This is shown in the scene where Lena goes to the market to buy some apples that are in very bad condition. Lena says, “Got the nerve to be askin’ people thirty-five cents for them apples look like they was on the scene when Moses crossed over… Wouldn’t be tryin’ to sell ’em over yonder where I work” (Hansberry 54). In this scene of the screenplay, Lena’s character seemed very headstrong. In the movie however, this quote was not included.
Instead Lena told the clerk, in a sarcastic tone, “Am I being charged for the worms too? ” (A Raisin in the Sun), which means that the quality of the apples was not good. Although the scene was different, the point Hansberry was trying to make came across both ways. Lena came across as a headstrong woman who only wants the best and nothing less, within her budget. In these ways Lena Youngers character was portrayed effectively, however, her character has more significance that just good acting.
One of the most important symbols in the screenplay A Raisin in the Sun is the plant. Throughout the screenplay and the movie, no one else in the Younger household cares for the plant except for Lena, which is why the symbol directly links to her. In the screenplay, as soon as Lena enters her apartment she goes to open the window. “Lord, if this little plant don’t start getting more sun, it ain’t never going to see spring again”. (Hansberry 66). This shows that after a long day, she still cares for her feeble little plant, and its growth.
In the movie this scene was not portrayed effectively, mostly because the apartment the director chose does not accurately fit the description in the screenplay, thus making the symbolism of the plant ineffective. Despite that, the true symbolism of the plant is that Lena was longing for her own garden, and that was shown effectively in the movie. The quote from the movie corresponding to this scene is “If that plant don’t get more sunlight than it’s been getting, it’s just gonna give up” (A Raisin in the Sun) which shows that Lena does care for the plant, but can’t do anything about its well-being.
Later on in the screenplay Lena starts to get stressed and worried about her children. The only thing she turns to then is her plant, which shows that Lena is in control of at least one thing in her house. When Ruth brings up the fact that Beneatha is home later than usual Lena replies, “I don’t believe this plant’s had more than a speck of sunlight all day” (Hansberry 76). This could be to direct her worries elsewhere, which makes sense because in other emotional scenes, such as when Lena is hearing about Mr.
Linder, the camera focuses in on Lena touching the plants soil with her hands. The reply could also be because she sees her dream in the plant – she sees it is in a weak state and that it is barely growing. Lena also sees that Beneatha and Walter, her children, are experiencing new things and are growing to become people of the new generation. Because of this, she may turn to the plant and hope the same for it – hope for it to blossom into something better and of that generation.
Lena’s dream of owning a garden represents not only her dream, but the dream of all the lower class african americans of the 50’s. Although Lena tries to keep her run down apartment looking polished, she makes it clear that she dreams for bigger things. While conversing with Ruth about when her and Big Walter bought the house Lena said, “… But Lord, child, you should have known all the dreams I had about buying me that house and then fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back” (Hansberry 69), which clearly shows Lena’s dream.
Not only does she want a nice garden for herself, but she wants a house for her family, so they can all enjoy living. This scene was not effectively shown in the movie mostly because, as mentioned before, the apartment they were living in did not look run down as was described in the screenplay. Due to this, when the characters were talking about the “ratty-ness” of the apartment it did not make sense, because their dialogue did not fit the visual. The ultimate dream for african americans of the time was to live in a place full of life, and of course with less rent.
The screenplay implies that the apartment is small and that “weariness has, in fact, won in this room” (Hansberry 23), which means that the room is in poor condition. The movie shows the living room as small but it does not show it as tattered, like the screenplay implied. At that time and now, this is considered poverty, however the movie displays the room as well kept and does not appear worn out, which is what Lena tries to make it seem like. After Mr. Lindner comes to the Younger household, Beneatha, Walter and Ruth explain what he wanted from them, which was to buy their house off of them.
Lena does not completely understand at first why he would come, which shows that she does not comprehend that there will be complications with moving into a white neighborhood. “Father give us strength. (Knowingly and without fun:) Did he threaten us? ”(Hansberry 169). This shows that although Lena feels threatened by Mr. Lindner, she does not realize that the new generation does not directly say what they feel. This creates the tone that, just like Beneatha and Walter have been telling Lena, she is not educated enough on the new generation.
Since Lena represents the African Americans of the 50‘s expanding in society, it was ineffectively shown in the movie and the screenplay, because of he automatic assumption that they were threatened. All in all, the character of Lena is ineffectively portrayed in the movie to symbolize what the african american’s of the 1950’s should have been like. Taking a look at Lorraine Hansberry’s idea of having a character like Lena in the screenplay, one understands that she is a statement rather than just a character with a dream.
Lena Younger is a statement to show that women in the 1950‘s can work all day to provide for their families and still be caring rather than miserable. The condition the Youngers were living in was one where Lena could easily have been sour to her family members rather than nurturing. This is what Hansberry wanted to show. Also the plant symbolizes Lena’s nurturing side, that she will do anything to make the people (or things) she cares for grow and succeed. Overall, the directors of the movie A Raisin in the Sun did a decent job in interpreting Lena’s role in the screenplay.