In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun themes, symbols, and characters can be compared. Both A Raisin in the Sun and Julius Caesar were written for the stage; therefore their characters become more obvious and more thoroughly portrayed than in a book, for example. Even though, these works were written by far different authors and in different centuries their similarities and differences are evident. In both A Raisin in the Sun and Julius Caesar themes, symbols, and character development are consistent. Comparing character development in Julius Caesar and A Raisin in the Sun is beneficial in learning more about each and every character. One of the major characters in A Raisin in the Sun is Mama; a character she can be compared to in Julius Caesar is Calpurnia. Despite Mama has a bigger role in Hansberry’s work and Calpurnia’s role in Shakespeare’s work is not as powerful as Mama, similarities are still evident.
One way they are similar is in their authority over one person or a few people in general, their families to be more specific. In A Raisin in the Sun, Mama has a strong opinion regarding her beliefs. She stands up for them and stresses respect. Mama is also the head of the Younger household. She reminds everyone who is living with her the difference between right and wrong. However, Mama seems to be a bit more concerned with what Walter is always doing. Walter is her eldest son. In the same way, Calpurnia stresses what she believes in. Similar to how Mama watches out for her son Walter, Calpurnia tries to warn her husband, Julius Caesar, against evil and something awful that has a potential of happening. Mama shows her authority over Walter when she gives him the responsibility of putting away a share of the money, “Listen to me, son. I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. (She turns of the radio) Walter—(She stops and he looks up slowly at her and she meets his eyes pleadingly)
What you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. There ain’t nothing as precious to me…There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else—if it means—if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. (She takes an envelope out of her handbag and puts it in front of him and he watches her without speaking or moving) I paid the man thirty-five hundred down on the house. That leaves sixty-five hundred dollars. Monday morning I want you to take this money and take three thousand and put it in a savings account for Beneatha’s medical schooling. The rest you put in a checking account—with your name on it. And from now on any penny that come out of it or go in it is for you to look after. For you to decide. (She drops her hands a little helplessly) It ain’t much, but it’s all I got in the world and I’m putting it in your hands.
I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” (Hansberry 106-107). In a similar way Calpurnia takes authority over Julius Caesar, “Alas my lord, your wisdom is consumed in confidence. Do not go forth to-day; call it my fear that keeps you in the house, and not your own. We’ll send Mark Antony to the senate-house; and he shall say you are not well to-day; let me, upon my knee, prevail in this” (Shakespeare 2.2). Both Calpurnia and Mama take authority over someone. Due to the fact that both tasks were not taken seriously both Walter and Caesar run into turmoil later in the literary work. In Walter’s case, he doesn’t do as Mama says and loses his and Beneatha’s money as well as people’s trust in him (Hansberry 127-128). In Caesar’s case, him not staying home and returning to the senate against his wife’s will, Caesar is greeted with his death (Shakespeare 3.1). In both works of literature, symbolism is commonly used.
Some of the symbols used in A Raisin in the Sun are Mama’s plant, Beneatha’s hair, and the check Mama receives after her husband dies. In Raisin in the Sun, Mama’s plant represents her dreams and the rest of her family’s dreams. A result of this would be Mama always making sure to take extra care of her plant and to nourish it well. On the other hand, Mama’s check represents all of the hard work that her husband achieved and how hard he had to work to actually obtain that amount of money. Beneatha’s hair symbolizes the assimilationist beliefs of the time and how people become inferior to the dominant race. When Beneatha returns her hair to its natural state it symbolizes that she is against common assimilation beliefs. The symbolism of her hair is evident in a conversation between her and Asagai, “’(Coming to her at the mirror)
I shall have to teach you how to drape it properly. (He flings the material about her for the moment and stands back to look at her) Ah—Oh-pay-gay-day, oh-gaha-mu-shay. (A Yoruba exclamation for admiration) You wear it well…very well…mutilated hair and all.’ ‘(Turning suddenly) My hair—what’s wrong with my hair?’ ‘(Shrugging) Were you born with it like that?’ ‘(Reaching up to touch it) No…of course not. (She looks back to the mirror, disturbed)’ ‘(Smiling) How then?’ ‘You know perfectly well how…as crinkly as yours…that’s how’” (Hansberry 61-62). The symbols used in Julius Caesar are omens, pain, and the conspirators bathing in Caesar’s blood. In Julius Caesar, omens symbolize evil and warn people against evil and bad things that could happen, possibly fatal things.
By the conspirators bathing or washing their hands in Caesar’s blood they are symbolizing that they are taking responsibility for ridding Rome of its ‘terrible’ leader. Portia, Brutus’s wife, uses the symbol of pain to show how much she loves Brutus, that she is loyal to him, and he can trust her. Portia harshly kills herself by swallowing hot coals because Brutus refuses to share anything with her, “No man bears sorrow better. That tidings came. With this she fell distract and, her attendants absent, swallo’d fire (Shakespeare 4.3 147, 155-156). By using symbolism Hansberry and Shakespeare made their readers and audience think with depth and understanding. In A Raisin in the Sun, several themes are covered throughout the play; the same goes for Julius Caesar. Even though there are many themes in these works of literature there are two that stand out and can be compared. The themes that are similar between A Raisin in the Sun and Julius Caesar are pride and the role of men and women in society and the house. In A Raisin in the Sun pride is theme because the Younger family doesn’t have much but they have their pride.
Throughout the play their pride is tested but they never hesitate to speak their minds. When Mama buys a house in a white neighborhood they are a bit hesitant at first but are happy in the end. They show their pride concerning this situation when a representative from Clybourne Park comes and asks them to sell the house back but in the end they don’t and kick Linder out of their house. Pride is very evident in the conversation between Walter, Linder, and Ruth, “’(Putting on his glasses and drawing a form out of the briefcase) Our association is prepared, through the collective effort of our people, to buy the house from you at a financial gain to your family.’
‘Lord have mercy, ain’t this the living gall!’ ‘All right, you through?’ ‘Well, I want to give you the exact terms of the financial arrangement—’ ‘We don’t want to hear no exact terms of no arrangements. I want to know if you got any more to tell us ‘bout getting together?’ ‘(Taking off his glasses) Well—I don’t suppose that you feel…’ ‘Never mind how I feel—you got any more to say ‘bout how people ought to sit down and talk to each other? … Get out of my house, man. (He turns his back and walks to the door) (Hansberry 118-119). Even though pride is a similar theme between Julius Caesar and A Raisin in the Sun, the pride in Julius Caesar is different than that in A Raisin in the sun.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print. “Julius Caesar Theme of Pride.” Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013. “A Raisin in the Sun Theme of Pride.” Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013. “Play ScriptJulius Caesar.” Full Text / Script of the Play Julius Caesar Act I by William Shakespeare. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.