The Idea of American Dream in A Raisin in the Sun
In Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, we see the effects of chasing the American dream, both positive and negative. Hansberry shows her views on the American Dream through the characters, and she portrays the daily struggles family in the 50s. She is able to show the big impact that even small decisions can make on a family. The play shows the many different issues and things that come with the fulfillment of this American Dream.
In the play, Mama has her own American Dream that she chases after, which effects the family greatly. Mama has to go through many struggles and much frustration while in pursuit of her American Dream. Mama says, “Yes, death done come in this house here… Done come walking in my house. On the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You what supposed to be my harvest” (134). She begins to see the harsh effects of what her American dream has done to her children. Mama goes through trials and tribulations to provide a good lifestyle for her children, but neither of them seem satisfied. Walter and Beneatha both want to accomplish their dreams and aspirations so badly that it blinds them to the reality of what is really important in life. Mama carries a heavy load on her shoulder by trying to hold the family together deprives her of the happiness she once obtained. Mama seems to be the commanding presence and head of the household. She has moral strength and dignity, and this event is why she is considered the stronghold that keeps the family united (206). Mama says, “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing” (134). Mama says this after Beneatha tells Mama that there is nothing left in her brother, Walter, to love. Mama’s dream of a better quality of life is worsened because she has to carry the responsibility of having a family with so many issues and she has to hold her family together.
Mama attempts to reference back to Big Walter in certain situations to use him as an example to show her family the true meanings of sacrifice and unification within a family. The Raisin in the Sun refers back to Big Walter and how he labored so hard for his family all the time. He put his dreams aside, which ended up drying up like “A Raisin in the Sun” (171). Mama says, “Yes, [he was] a fine man- just couldn’t never catch up with his dreams that’s all” (30). Mama refers back to Big Walter as an example for her family to see because Big Walter worked a lot for the important things in life. He had dreams but he did not get caught up and lose track of his priorities. He worked a lot for his family to have everything they needed. That is the example Mama tries to use to talk to her children about family. Every once in a while he may have worked an extra job just to provide the necessities his family needed. Big Walter he had a lot of dreams and a ton of problems, but the difference with Big Walter was he had his priorities in order and he knew what mattered most.
Beneatha also has her own idea of the American Dream which she displays and points out during the course of the play. Beneatha struggles to accomplish her dreams because she has to beat the odds to achieve what she wants. Beneatha wants to be a doctor, but there are very few female doctors (531). Back in that era, it was extremely rare to see a female doctor mostly because females did not receive the education that the males did. Women were just supposed to do house chores, prepare the food and take care of the family and its needs. Walter says, “Ain’t many girls who decide-to be a doctor” (18). Beneatha’s pursuit of happiness is to make a difference and to be a role model to other women showing them that a woman can do anything they aspire to be. But she lacks support from her brother Walter and he is always putting her down. Beneatha is a very independent woman who never has a problem voicing her opinion at any time. Beneatha is a woman with wide interests who does not want to be thought of as a “typical woman”, but as an independent woman (207). George Murchinson says, “I don’t go out with you to discuss the nature of ‘quiet desperation’ or to hear all about your thoughts – because the world will go on thinking what it thinks regardless” (89).
Beneatha has her own view on many different aspects of life and does not hesitate to speak what’s on her mind. Beneatha is the type that won’t just settle for just anything, but she wants to be the best she can be. She has high expectations for herself no matter what it is she tries to do. Beneatha seems to be really caught up in the idea of being an independent woman that she doesn’t even realize the fact that she has a good man with a good heart who really cares for her right in front of her. Beneatha dreams and thoughts are put down because she is a so called burden to the family. Beneatha is seen as a burden at times in the book to the family because of things she wants and some of the things she does (417). Beneatha always knows how to just want and want and want, but doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of family sacrifices. Walter says, “Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you-why can’t you do something for the family?” (19). Her hunger to succeed in life begins to weigh on the family. Beneatha wants to be a doctor which puts a burden on Walter because now Mama won’t give him the money from the insurance to invest in a liquor store; instead she’ll put the money into an account, so she can put Beneatha through school. Beneatha also puts a burden on Mama because she says things like God is not real which makes Mama question if she raised Beneatha in the right manner and taught her children well- enough.
Lastly, Walter has his own outlook on the American Dream and we see how his pursuit affects drastically. Walter is a complex figure in the play that inspires both sympathy and distaste, who struggles with his desire to improve his life, his love and his pride in his family. (206). During Walter’s pursuit of his American Dream he gets so caught up in making money and living the high life, he forgets about his family values. Walter says, ‘Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-five thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be ’bout thirty thousand, see. That be ten thousand each… Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off!’ (14). Walter gets very caught up in the hype of being rich and living the high life, that he becomes money-hungry. He begins to lose his family values and the respect of his family members. The other family members take little interest in Walter’s Dream and just see it as another one of his ‘get money quick schemes’. For this reason, he lacks any support from his family including his own wife, Ruth. Walter’s dream becomes deferred because of the lack of support from his family. Ruth, Mama, nor Beneatha saw his Dream as something worthwhile, but they just saw it as a fast money-making scheme (178). He tries to persuade his family that his dream is a good investment deal that is sure-fire to workout. Walter says, “That’s it. There you are. A man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat Your Eggs” (15).
Walter’s family seems to take a lack of interest in his dream because none of them believe it is the idea of a realist. Ruth and Mama believe it is another one of his quick cash money schemes and Beneatha doesn’t care for it at all. While Walter is caught up in his American dream, he forgets about the influence that his decisions make on his son, Travis. Walter is so blinded by his idealist state of mind, that he does not even realize the impact he puts on his son by the decisions he makes and the life he lives. Walter denies his common sense and within doing that loses the realization that everything he does influences people around him. Mama says, “No… You teach him good… You show him where our five generations done come to.” (137). Walter does not come to the realization of what he has been doing in front of his son until he is about to lose all his family’s dignity and sell the house back. It was there when he began to take notice of all the things he’s already done that provided a bad influence and finally makes the correct decision by keeping the house and refusing the offer.
There are many different intentions and admirations shown by each character’s own American Dream, but each lead into the same thing which is Happiness. Beneatha is such a high class, fine dined women who intends to be a doctor and considers herself an independent woman. On the other hand, Mama is just a humble, well-mannered and dignified individual who has good morals and values. She also wants her family to have a better quality of life. Joseph Asagai says, “Her speech is a mixture of many things; it is different from the rest of the family’s in so far as education has permeated her sense of English” (17). Walter dreams to invest in the liquor store, become successful, and live in luxury. Walter has no support in the family though. Walter loses sight of his priorities and family values while chasing after his dream. While, Beneatha dreams to be a doctor and she wants to help people with her job and make a difference in the world. She also wants to set an example for other women that women can do anything men can do and anything they set their minds too. Her dream has the support of the family as oppose to Walter. Each family member has a dream to improve the family situation; however, all of those dreams are depending on one insurance check which begins to cause trouble and tensions within the family. However, all these dreams are counting on one insurance check to be funded. Throughout A Raisin in the Sun, each family member has their own pursuit of happiness, which is accompanied by their American dream. Mama wants to have a better quality of life for her family. Beneatha aspires to be a successful doctor and an independent woman. Walter wants to invest in a liquor store and live in luxury. In A Raisin in the Sun, we see that each character goes through their own struggles and frustrations to accomplish their American dream, but in the end, they all find their happiness within each other unified as a family.
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