A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is a truly exquisite piece of literature that has influenced readers, young and old, for generations. It gives us a very realistic view of racial tension, as well as the socioeconomic struggles, African Americans faced during the late 1940s-50s. In this play we meet the Youngers, a lower-class, diverse-minded, African American family simply trying to survive in 1950s South Chicago. Together they face economic hardship, racial discrimination, and the constant struggle to keep a fragile family together as each member searches for their version of the “American Dream”.
Hansberry did an excellent job in creating the Younger family to represent lower class African American families in the 1950s. The Youngers live in a rundown, two-bedroom apartment. The family consists of Mama, Walter, Ruth, Travis, and Beneatha. The economic aspect of the play is centered around the insurance check Mama will be getting for her late husband, the author uses this to create a foundation for the Youngers story; the money elicits conflict between the characters as each has their own idea on what to do with money that does not even belong to them.
A major motif in this play is racism, the author allows for a bit of foreshadowing in the beginning of the play with the bombing of another African American family in Clybourne Park, a mainly white community and the area where Mama eventually buys the new family house. Hansberry uses Walter to tie these two themes together. After losing all of the money Mama gave him to invest in his business and to save for Beneatha’s college fund, he then goes to get more money by selling back Mama’s new house: he can either overcome the racism and be the man his mother always knew he could be, or he can take the money for another chance to pursue his dreams but at the same time he would essentially be selling his soul to the devil. Walter must choose to either satiate his thirst for wealth or maintain the pride of his race.
Finally, Hansberry acknowledges the importance of family unity during these times. Ruth and Mama are the two main characters attempting to hold everything together. Hansberry made these characters strong and full of hope, despite their situation in life. Created any other way and we would probably see the family fall apart as the story began to unfold. Money and racism are also huge tests on the strength of this family as they struggle through the hardships of poverty and realize the shortcomings of some of the family members.
All in all, A Raisin in the Sun is a very well written book. It is written in such a way that really puts you in the cramped, living conditions with the Youngers and helps readers to understand what it meant to be a poor African American family in the 1950s. Hansberry did a great job in creating solid characters which help to develop the story smoothly and realistically. It was a play I thoroughly enjoyed reading and would readily suggest to anyone looking for a good read.