Hansberry's a Raisin in the Sun Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1545 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Urban Studies

Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun"

How do the symbolism/references-allusions to light inform the play (plot/character)? & What does Mama's plant symbolize (look at the various places it enters into the play)?

The title of Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" is taken from the first lines of the poem by Langston Hughes that asks the reader: "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up/Like a raisin in the sun?" (Corley, 2002) The play "A Raisin in the Sun," begins in the morning, with the rising of the sun and the sight of the first rays of light falling upon the cramped, dark apartment of the Younger apartment building located in the African-American section of the Southside of Chicago. Soon, the audience witnesses the early morning awakening of the play's five protagonists. All of the Younger family must get ready for work and school in the same tiny space that offers them little scope to, in Ruth's words to Walter, "rise and shine."

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Ruth's optimism, if occasionally forced, is thus seen in her use of the words "shining." Even in the dark apartment, in the morning, Ruth tries to make her own light, and to shine, despite the difficulties she must face, from coping with an unplanned pregnancy to making eggs sunny side up for her husband. She tries to feel happiness for both Walter and Travis, even when they cannot motivate themselves to be similarly upbeat or to get out of bed with a spring in their step. Over the course of the morning, all of the characters reveal their various dreams -- Beneatha to become a doctor, Walter to become something other than a chauffeur for a white man, and Ruth and Mama to make a good home for the family, including the youngest member, Travis.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Hansberry's a Raisin in the Sun Assignment

Thus light nourishes, even though, without a proper balance, it can dry up the dreams of the major characters. When the audience first sees Mama, for example, the matriarch of the Younger clan, Mama is taking care of her poor, small, but beloved houseplant. Mama notes that the plant is still surviving, much like Mama has herself, even though it never gets enough light in the apartment.

However, there is something ominous in the fact that, no matter how much Mama moves the plant or cares for the plant, she knows it will never quite reach its full potential. This underlines her fears for Travis, her grandson who cannot even get a chance to use the bathroom in the morning, because the Younger apartment is so small. Mama's husband has recently died, perhaps because of the harshness of his life and the many strains he suffered, providing for a family. And, like the last lines of the Hughes poem, Walter Younger seems about to explode, because he is so full of dreams and is so frustrated with the limits of his life in a professional world that only sees him as Black, not as the intelligent and capable man he could be, if only given a chance. This causes Walter to lash out at his wife Ruth, even when she is attempting to nurture him in the only way she can, by feeding him breakfast. "Eat your eggs," Walter rages, mocking Ruth's attempt to make do with what little joy she can give him, in the early morning sunshine that Walter regards as unpleasant, rather than potentially joyous like his mother and wife.

But although the plant cannot get enough light in the south side of Chicago, when the Younger family lives, like Walter, the plant also symbolizes Mama's care for her brood of children, of Walter and Beneatha, as well as of her grandson Travis. The plant also symbolizes how, despite adverse conditions and a lack of resources, the plant is still alive under Mama's care, even though it could certainly benefit from a change of scenery. And Mama always puts the plant's care first and foremost. In her first appearance onstage, Mama moves directly across the stage toward the plant to take care of it -- the plant thus not only symbolizes Mama and her children's resilience in the face of an inevitable apartment-bound lack of sun, but also Mama's care for others, a kind of care that has shaped and marked her entire existence. The plant is a living demonstration, like Mama's living and breaking children and grandchildren of Mama's willingness to put the needs of other people before her own needs.

The plant does not simply symbolize Ruth and Walter's inability to fully grow and flourish as a couple and a mother and a father in the apartment. It also has more personal symbolism. It symbolizes the dream of Mama to own her own home, a place of her own rather than the rented territory of others, with a cramped and small bathroom for five (and perhaps six, given Ruth's impending pregnancy) other people, all dreaming and yearning to break free. The plant is a more specific and powerful symbol, too, because it is a green and living thing. It underlines Mama's desire to have a garden and a yard. Clearly, Mama could make many things grow. If she made a plant grow in a terrible apartment, with little help, just as she and her husband helped her children Beneatha and Walter flourish with little help from society, think of what Mama could do with her own yard, full of sunshine and space. Think of what Mama could have accomplished, and what her children could accomplish, if only given a chance.

With Mama's plant, Mama sees herself, first and foremost, not simply making do, but practicing her gardening skills for a greater future. She states that her ability to ensure that the plant flourishes will make her a wonderful gardener for her own yard, not that the plant is all she can expect from her life -- just as she dreams of success in the future of her children. Yet unlike the large and airy dreams of Walter, and the dilettante nature of Beneatha, Mama is a builder, beginning with the practical aspects of light, and sun and water, rather than grandiose dreams. However, in the form of Beneatha, to some extent the play validates the occasional necessity of big dreams and fantasy, as when Beneatha dons an African dress, cuts off her straightened hair, and does a wild and improvised dance across the stage that connects Walter and Beneatha Younger to their lost, African past.

The play has its roots in reality. The author, Lorraine Hansberry's father made his money as a real-estate broker in a segregated Chicago "where restrictive covenants meant that black tenants or homeowners were barred from white areas. Her father challenged this limitation by purchasing a house in just such a neighborhood and moving his family in. A violent furor erupted in the surrounding community, but the family fought back and the resulting court battle led to the eventual repeal of restrictive covenants." (Corley, 2002) But Hansberry changes this detail, significantly in her play, to stress the need for the present generation to grow and build upon the achievements of the past generation of Black parents struggling to make a future for their offspring. Just as the family must learn from the example of Mama's plant, yet build a larger garden and seek something beyond the 'back to Africa' movement that Beneatha ultimately rejects, the family uses the 10, 000 dollars of insurance money from their father's death, and uses the sad fact that was all Walter Younger, Senior was given for his labors to make good. Despite the insufficient funds and lack of a real pay off, by the end of the play, Mama's dream of a garden is being realized -- the family does indeed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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