A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is a great example of some of the struggles that African-Americans faced in the 1950s. A Raisin in the Sun is ultimately having family as it center, where Mama, is trying to fight for the Younger family’s future under difficult circumstances. By being the leader of the family, Mama is encouraging her children to get along, accept their roles in the family and society, and lastly, be there for each other no matter the obstacles. Throughout the entire play, Hansberry displays Walter Lee’s struggles in becoming a man and become the head of the family, which is expected from a man during this time. Despite his struggles, he does end up becoming the face of the family who makes the difficult decisions, which is thanks to Mama and the tests that she puts Walter Lee through after the death of his father. This play is ultimately an example of the struggles that many African-American men went through in the 1950s when it comes to masculinity and being the head of the family.
Walter Lee, the son of Mama, serves as both protagonist and antagonist in this drama, where money seems to be the biggest. The plot focusses around him and the actions that he makes; most of his actions and mistakes hurt the Younger family to a major extend, and it seems like everything is going the wrong way for the family. Mama, the mother of Walter Lee, tells him that he is nothing like his father who recently died: MAMA. You… you are a disgrace to your father’s memory. Somebody get me my hat. (1938) This describes the major difficulties that the family has because it is depending on Walter Lee to be the provider, unlike today where women have a much more prominent role of providing for the family financially. The fact that the setting is in a very poor part of Chicago after WWII does not contribute positively to the situation either.
However, Walter does turn out to be a man that can make decisions on behalf of his family. Walter is the typical man who struggles to support his family, which is an issue in the 1950s America, so he tries to discover new opportunities to ensure the family’s economic well-being. Money seems to be Walter’s solution to all issues that present themselves, but he does not turn out to be lucky nor smart around money. An example of this is when he loses the insurance money that Mama gave him: BOBO. That’s what I’m trying to tell you… I don’t know… I waited six hours… I called his house… and I waited… six hours… I waited in that train station six hours… [Breaking into tears.] That was all the extra money I had in this world… [Looking up at Walter with the tears running down his face.] Man, Willy is gone. (1962) This is an example of one of the many bad decisions that Walter makes on behalf of his family even though it comes from good intentions. However, the insurance money was the only money that the Younger family had at their disposal. Walter made a deal with Bobo and Willy about investing in a liquor store. He fails to make his dream come true, he fails in making everyone else’s dreams come true, and lastly, he fails in providing for his family.
Walter often disagrees with Ruth, Mama, and Beneatha, and most of the time it ends up in arguments that hurt the family more than it has to. Walter Lee fails to realize that he must pay attention to his family members’ ideas, wishes, and dreams in order to help them, which he most likely should have done in the situation with the insurance money. However, he does eventually realize that he cannot make the family’s situation better and create social mobility by himself. When Walter Lee starts listening to Mama and Ruth, he realizes that buying a house is more important for the family’s welfare than getting rich quickly. By standing up to Mr. Lindner, Walter finally becomes a man. He refuses the money that Mr. Lindner offers the family, so that they would not to move into their dream house in a white neighborhood: WALTER.
Never mind how I feel – you got any more to say ‘bout how people sought to sit down and talk to each other?... Get out of my house, man. (1956) Racial discrimination is presented by Mr. Lindner because the Youngers’ new neighborhood, sends him to convince the Youngers not to move into their new house. Mr. Lindner and the people of the neighborhood only see the color of the Youngers’ skin and he threatens to tear the family apart in an all-white community. Ultimately, the Youngers respond to this discrimination with defiance and strength displayed in the quote above. Walter stands up to the racism and defies it. The importance of this is crucial because racism was a huge issue at the time, and still is. This is the beginning for African-Americans standing up for themselves and defying being suppressed.
Walter does not actualize his dreams, but because of the fact that he becomes more of a man, he readjusts his dreams. While Mr. Lindner’s offer almost gets the better of him because of his guilt that he has for losing the insurance money, the family convinces him that they have worked too hard and they cannot see their common dream flushed out the toilet. (1972) Another way to look at this is that instead of letting the money dictate his decisions, Walter Lee lets his pride and his hard work dictate them. Walter finally becomes a man, knowing that being proud of his family and what he has and believes in, is more important than having money. Throughout the entire play, Walter goes through challenges in order to step food into manhood. Despite failures and major issues, he succeeds in his own weird, hard, and difficult way.
Ultimately, the Youngers achieve what they dreamed of in the first place. They move to the neighborhood where they are not wanted despite multiple issues. They can look forward to a better life with rooms for pretty much everyone and they can live like humans; not like fish in a can. Mama’s plant represents her dream for her family and her dream to own a house with a garden. With her plant, she practices her gardening skills, so that she can be prepared to be the one that gives life to different kinds of plants in her own garden. The fact that the plant has managed to survive all this time gives Mama hope that she will be successful as a gardener.
As long as the plant is alive, so is the dream. Because of the decision that Walter makes in terms of turning down Mr. Lindner’s offer, Mama, himself, and the family actualizes the dream that Mama had all along: living a better life in a house with a garden and room for everyone. The Youngers are going to live the American dream despite the odds that are against them. Walter Lee beats the odds by becoming the man that Mama always believed that he could be. (1951)
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