Monday, November 9, 2015

Classics Club 17: A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun focuses on the Younger family  - Mama, her two adult children, a daughter-in-law and a grandson. The Youngers live in a two-bedroom apartment in a Chicago ghetto in the  post-world war II period. The patriarch of the family has recently died and  at the opening of the play, the family are awaiting a large insurance cheque which has the potential to improve their lives. Walter Lee is desperate to invest in a liquor store so he can both make money and be the boss. Beneatha is the first in the family to go to college. She wants to be a doctor and clearly some of the insurance money would help her achieve her dreams.  Meanwhile both Mama and Ruth want better and larger living quarters for the family. Arguing about the best use for the money plus other issues (Beneatha is currently seeing two very different men - one a black assimilist , another a Nigerian who promotes traditional values and beliefs to her; Ruth has just discovered she is pregnant and isn't convinced she should bring another baby into their world) threatens to tear the family apart.

Mama makes a decision and, unbeknown to the rest of the family, buys a house. Recognising Walter's desperate need for autonomy she gives him the remainder of the money with instructions to put some in an account for Beneatha's education before investing the rest as he sees fit. Things should be looking up for the family at this point but instead they get worse. The homeowners' association in the exclusively white area Mama has bought pay the family a visit and make it clear they do not want a black family moving in. They go so far as to try and buy the family out. And Walter's business partner absconds with all the money  - including Beneatha's share.

Initially Walter wants to accept the buyout offer but eventually changes his mind and stands up to the white homeowner's association. As the play ends the Youngers are preparing to move into their new home. Their short term future is bound to be full of struggles, both financial and social,  but there is a sense of optimism for the longer term.

In this short play about one black family Lorraine Hansberry touches on many issues - poverty, racism, racial identity, dissatisfaction, dreams, home and family, and individual autonomy among them. Although set in the 1950s the issues raised in this play still resonate today.

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