A Raisin in The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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Putting this work into context: It is the beginning of the twentieth century in Chicago, a city that really demonstrated the racial prejudice that embodied the culture of the time, which was well portrayed by how the blacks lived in separate neighborhoods from the whites CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters). The century before that, the nineteenth century, had witnessed massive black emancipation; a process which is believed to have triggered the well renown Civil War of 1861, while at the same time was rightfully affected by itCITATION Han \p 1 \l 1033 (Hansberry 1). In other words, the emancipation of the blacks is one of the factors that led to the Civil War, while at the same time, this very process was fully implemented following the conclusion of the war, when it was passed by Congress that all black slaves should be freed by their white owners. It was a lengthy and costly process, costly especially to the white owners that dragged itself over the greater part of the nineteenth century.

Therefore, the later part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century was a time of new and unfamiliar experiences, charged with much energy and mixed emotions on the part of the now freed blacksCITATION Roc05 \p 15 \l 1033 (Rockoff and Walton 15). Yes, it was true that the blacks had been freed, but with this freedom came up unique and perhaps unanticipated challengesCITATION Hur03 \p 121 \l 1033 (Hurston, Cullen and Wright 121). Where were the blacks to live? How were they to earn a fair living for themselves? Who would represent them in political, social and economic affairs? Were they entitled to the same rights their former owners enjoyed? Did they have rights in the first place, or did they lack a claim in this foreign land? Did they now have the freedom of expression? Were they any lesser human because of their skin color? Were they also entitled to the different forms of entertainment that one should enjoy, perhaps by virtue of just being human? Could they now integrate with their former white owners in the towns, shops, and streets?

It is useful for one to take into consideration this unique situation that the blacks had now found themselves in, while not ignoring the kind of adjustments and especially psychological adjustments, that they needed to make to fully benefit from their now freed stateCITATION Win95 \p 55 \l 1033 (Wintz 55). It was against this backdrop that the blacks decided to give a creative or rather artistic voice to their personal experiences and circumstancesCITATION Fit22 \p 29 \l 1033 (Fitzgerald 29). Perhaps this would be better welcomed and heard than simply crying foul and demonstrating in the streets. Thus in the 1920s, black musicians, artists, poets and dancers alike came together to give voice to these concerns in New York City, in what came to be known as the Harlem RenaissanceCITATION Hur03 \p 12 \l 1033 (Hurston, Cullen and Wright 12). It was a time of great progress and achievement for them, as their works came to be celebrated not only across the City but also the nation. In fact, it was during this time period that Jazz music was born, through the efforts of a group of black musiciansCITATION Fit22 \p 17 \l 1033 (Fitzgerald 17). Then from this age arose a bright shining star, Langston Hughes, who wrote several literary works that praised the strength, ingenuity and culture of the blacks. The fruit of the Harlem Renaissance had gained positive response nationallyCITATION Hur03 \p 71 \l 1033 (Hurston, Cullen and Wright 71). Was this the promise of a new dawn of acceptance for the blacks?

Yet amidst all this joy and revolution, nobody could have anticipated the Great Depression or the World War II that were yet to come, nor the great adversity the blacks would have suffered as a result CITATION Roc05 \l 1033 (Rockoff and Walton). It was against this backdrop that Langston wrote the Harlem in 1951, as though crying out for the wonderful times that had been and that had brought so much hope for the blacks CITATION Hur03 \l 1033 (Hurston, Cullen and Wright). It was a nostalgic, yet evocative piece that deliberately expressed the cry of the blacks; they desired to express themselves, but the American society denied them this. It was in this piece that Hughes posed the question, (paraphrasing), Shall our dreams not dry up like a Raisin in the Sun if they are continually deferred?

A little before Hughes writing of the Harlem was the birth of another star, Lorraine Hansberry, in 1930, in the city of Chicago CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters). She was born to black parents who had been fortunate enough to receive a good education and were successful by the standards of the time CITATION Han \l 1033 (Hansberry). Born at a time when segregation was legal, she was the fourth-born and youngest child of the family. Growing up, she had watched her parents advocate and fight for the rights of black people. Notably, hers was amongst the first few black families to dare move into a white community. This move was undoubtedly met with a lot of criticism especially from their unwelcoming neighbors, who even threatened to take legal action against them. Lorraines father moved to defend his family and even managed to have his case heard in the Supreme Court. Lorraine was therefore not unfamiliar with the challenges one had to encounter or rather suffer just by virtue of being black CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters).

Lorraine was equally fortunate to receive a good education, albeit the fact that it was in a public blacks school. It was while receiving her education that she perhaps stumbled upon and later became inspired by the writings of Hughes. Evidently an autobiographical piece, Lorraine set out to write the play A Raisin in the Sun, determined to be a spokesperson of the blacks with no voice. Her intent comes to us as no surprise, given her upbringing and more personally, her experiences.

Hers is a play that brings alive the struggle of a black family that belonged to the lower-class as they tried to weave their way up to societys middle class CITATION Han \l 1033 (Hansberry). The story mainly focuses on how this family tries to agree upon the use of $10,000 that they were to receive from insurance, following the death of their father. However, the two main characters involved seem not to agree on how to spend the money, something which causes minor conflicts to arise between them.

Walter Lee, the son, greatly desires to better provide for his enlarging family by investing the entire amount in a liquor store in partnership with his friends CITATION Han \l 1033 (Hansberry). His mother, Mama, is opposed to this move, especially because of ethical reasons, and also because she would want to use part of this money as a down payment for a house in a white community. Mama goes ahead and executes her plan and this causes Walter to explode in anger, something which greatly strains their relationship. In a bid to mend this withering relationship, Mama decides to entrust to Walter the remaining amount. He goes ahead to secretly carry out his initial plan, hoping that it will quadruple his capital investment. But behind his back, his partner steals his money. The family has now suffered a grave loss, something which strains every family members valor CITATION Han \l 1033 (Hansberry). After much hesitancy and ambivalence, the family holds their resolve to move, even amidst warnings from a community representative of the whites. In the story also are other characters, such as Asagai, who Lorraine uses to bring out some of the celebrated themes of the African past and heritage.

Her play opens in 1959, and it is received with much praise from both the black and white communities CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters). Before her work, it was almost inconceivable that anyone would have bothered to pay attention to the plight of the black family living in the Southside of Chicago, and perhaps all across the United States of America. The play undeniably presented the premise and struggles of the blacks most realistically and naturally. Before this, the role of a black person in a play was often brief and comical. But here was a piece of work that had the black person take center stage, and more so, presented them as a human being, with genuine concerns and real needs. This play was opened at a time that was just about to culminate to the height of blacks dissatisfaction against their denial of rights and voice by the American society; a state which is affirmed by the American Civil Rights movement and the Feminist movement in the 1960s.

Lorraines play won her the Best Play of the Year title in the New York Drama Critics Circle Award CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters). She scooped the award at a very rare time as the fifth female, only black writer to have attained the award and the youngest playwright of her time. There she was, boldly rising up to defend the rights of her people in the best way that she was able to, given the circumstances.

Taking full advantage of her newly acquired fame, Lorraine drew attention to the concerns of the Civil Rights movement and the struggle of the blacks as they sought to gain independence from the white colonialistsCITATION Win95 \p 29 \l 1033 (Wintz 29). Her work can be viewed as a turning point in the evolution of the American Art, as it pointed to so many issues that were prevailing in the United States of America in the 1950s. For a long time, the Unites States had been painted as a land of economic prosperity, of happy American housewives, with their husbands bustling in the towns & cities striving to earn their families a living and of blacks who were gratified by their low-grade state. Yes, America was rising after the Second World War and was already receiving global attention as it sought to secure its place as a global industrial leader in this delicate time CITATION Win95 \l 1033 (Wintz). Yet this picturesque painting was nothing but a fallacy, and very far from the truth. It failed miserably in bringing out the reality that was on the ground especially for the blacks, and surprisingly also for the white housewives; apparently, they were not as happy as they had been painted to seem a fact which was brought out by the Feminist movement. Such is the political, social and economic backdrop against which a Raisin in the Sun was cast CITATION Cha12 \l 1033 (Charters and Charters). While it cannot be ignored that the author used the play to write her own story, it is a fact that she was making a plea to be seen and heard, which was not just for herself.

Works Cited

BIBLIOGRAPHY Charters, Ann and Samuel Charters. Literature and Its Writers: A Compact Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama / Edition 6. St. Martins: Bedford, 2012.

Fitzgerald, Scott F. Tales of the Jazz Age. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922.

Hacker, Diana and Nancy Sommers. A Writer's Reference, Seventh Edition. St.Martins : Bedford, 2010.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Chicago.

Hurston, Neale Zora , et al. The Harlem Renaissance: A History and an Anthology. Wiley, 2003.

Rampersad, Arnold. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Random House Inc, 1990.

Rockoff, Hugh and Garry M. Walton. History of The American Economy, Eleventh Edition. Ohio: South-Western, Cengage Learning, 2010, 2005.

Wintz, Cary D. African American Political Thought, 1890-1930: Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, and Randolph. Routledge , 1995.

X., J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. "Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Sixth Edition." New York: Harper Collins, 1995. 1790-1818.

 

 

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