The Relevance of Hansberry’s play A Raisin In The Sun

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Why is Hansberry’s play still significant today, several years after it was written? This drama, performed by an African American cast, premiered in a racially segregated United States in 1959. The Younger family is central to the plot. Beneatha Younger is curious about her African ancestors. Walter Younger is an ambitious business owner who works as a chauffeur for a white family. Ruth Younger, who has no other means of money, serves as a domestic in the homes of wealthy whites. Lena Younger, the family’s “Mama,” hopes for all of her relatives to realize their American aspirations. It is clear for the whole audience, however, that no matter the race or background, we are still essentially the same. The Younger family faces a lot of challenges, apart from dealing with the issue of being blacks; they also have to deal with being an American family. Hansberry’s husband, upon the widespread acceptance of his wife’s play, states that, “some people were ecstatic to find that it didn’t really have to be about Negroes at all. It was, rather walking, talking, living demonstration of our mythic conviction that underneath all of us Americans, color ain’t got nothing to do with it….People are just people, whoever they are, and all they want is a chance to be like other people” (Hansberry, 9). The dreams of the Younger family, is similar to the dreams of every other average American family.

Two very noteworthy events took place in the 1950s, the beginnings of suburban living and the advent of the television. Towards the end of the Second World War (World War 2), birth rates and marriage rates were skyrocketing. Families were growing, extended families were all living together in apartments, and houses were thus more and more needed. Big suburban communities were built up, such as Levittown (Jackson 232).

This period was booming with families, having the same ideologies with TV shows such as “Father Knows Best,” and “The Donna Reed Show,” which showed American families having ideal lifestyles in their communities. Every family had this dream in mind.

The first scene of the play starts with Travis Younger, sleeping in the living room, lying on a pullout couch. Walter Younger and Ruth Younger on their part are sleeping in another room, which had been a breakfast nook. Lena Younger (Mama) and Beneatha Younger both share a bedroom. The whole family shares one bathroom with other families (Hansberry 24-25). With such a situation, there was a lot of bickering among the various family members. When Mama went and purchased family house in an all-white suburb, she had a simple explanation, not that she wanted to act as a pioneer for civil rights, but instead “I tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family” (Hansberry 93)

There are some people that may argue that Hansberry’s introduction of Lena Younger’s purchasing a home and Mr. Lindner’s generous proposal to buy it for a higher price just to prevent the family from going into the house, is the central or main theme of the play and speaks to her personal experience. “In 1938, Hansberry’s father moved the family into a “white” neighborhood where a mob gathered and threw bricks, one of which nearly hit Lorraine. Embittered by U.S. racism, Carl Hansberry planned to relocate his family in Mexico in 1946 but died before the move” (American Biography Online). Hansberry’s unwillingness to write an act which displays the retaliation due to their move to the new home shows that she wanted to focalize on the universal family theme.

The American Dream: A Dream of all families

The feeling of all African American families desiring the same as everyone else, is voiced out by Andrew Wiese in The New Suburban History, “middle-class African Americans shared with their white counterparts an emphasis on a materially abundant family life in a residential setting removed from the “grind” of paid labor.…(Wiese 105). African Americans were not the only ones, looking for a safe space, of course… several parents from the postwar period considered homes in the suburban area, as “a secure private nest removed from the dangers of the outside world,”, a warm place in the midst of a cold war” (Wiese 114). Lena Younger (Mama) dreams of owning a yard so her grandson may play therein, and a place where can have and tend to her own garden. She even tells the family that she had watched their father (her husband), grow old, working so hard, so that they may realize that dream. It is noteworthy, that Mr. Lindner voices out Lena Younger’s dream as the reason why the family should not relocate to that neighborhood. “Well, you see our community is made up of people who’ve worked hard as the dickens for years to build up that little community. Hard-working, honest people…with a dream of the kind of community they want to raise their children in” (Hansberry 117). Is it just but a coincidence, that Hansberry chooses this particular dialogue? Not so. The words used were particularly chosen, so that it unifies the common interest of all Americans.

Walter Younger is simply described as a young hard-working and honest individual who has a dream. Walter has been working as a chauffeur for a very rich family; he is however obsessed by his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. He even spends his nights, meeting with his friends, and planning on how to be a corporate executive or the owner of a major lucrative business and having employees who call him “Mr. Younger.” He longs to be a man, respected and acknowledged in the society.

Importance of Family Ties

The relationship between a husband and the wife is very important, to all American families. The play starts up with the well-defined role of women in the 50s. Ruth is the first character to awake and take charge of her role as a mother, preparing the food, breakfast for the whole family and making sure that the child is prepared and ready to go off to school. Walter (her husband), expects her to be a very present helper, being very supportive, even putting aside her dreams away, for the sake of his dreams. Walter frequently loudly complains that Ruth is not supportive; she does not believe and support his dreams as she is supposed to. Hansberry even wrote a specific dialogue for Walter, selecting racial words in speaking to his wife, “What is wrong with the colored woman in this world, don’t understand about building their men up and making them feel like somebody, like they can do something.” If we remove the word “colored” and compare this portion with Mrs. Dale Carnegie’s op-ed piece in the 1954 (January) issue of coronet, which outlines rules for women (of the 50s) to put the interest of their husbands above theirs, and the universal similarity is quite clear. She questioned women, saying “If you have a job or career of your own, would you be willing to give it up if it would advance your husband’s interests? If not you are more interested in promoting yourself than promoting your husband. Helping a man attain a success is a full-time career in itself” (Carnegie 65). She however does not use her given name in this particular piece but rather “Mrs. Dale Carnegie.” Hansberry on the contrary, clearly introduces her feminist views in her piece.

Ambitions that defy the norm

Beneatha Younger goes to college and is serious about being a medical doctor. Her brother turns to her, asking “Who told you you had to be a doctor? Go be a nurse like other women or just get married and be quiet” (Hansberry 38). From Beneatha’s defiance to her brother, we can see Hansberry’s own way of challenging the status quo of the women in those days (50s). Beneatha is free spirited and is college educated. She has set her mind in taking part in this so called male occupation and she indulges in her own personal interests such as acting lessons, guitar lessons, all in an effort to “find herself”. These were the issues of real importance to the women during this period of feminine emergence.

Hansberry herself was a challenge to the role of women in her days (50s). Not only was she college-educated, marched on picket lines but she even made speeches in street corners. A Raisin In The Sun won the best play, awarded by the New York Drama Critic’s Circle, making her no only the first American woman but also the first black, to win that award (American Biography Online). Women, who wanted to be more than just staying beside their husbands and children, could easily identify themselves with the strong willed and determined Beneatha – first woman ever, to win a play writing award.


The story of the Youngers, overcoming trials and obtaining ownership of a home and class elevation is parallel to the dream of all African Americans, in post war United States. A Raisin In The Sun has a universal appeal even until today, given that there is still not yet complete equality between women and men. For example, there has ever been a female president in US history; there is even a very small percentage of women leaders in the world (as compared to men). The women who work outside of home are still expected to take care of domestic chores and childbearing with little to no assistance from men, just like Ruth Younger. Looking at some TV shows such as Desperate Housewives and The Real Housewives, show men as the principal breadwinners. We all (no matter the race or background) want to live in a “nice” neighborhood. There is a saying that goes “Behind every successful man is a good woman,” it is still very true today. In portraying the hardships and struggles of an African American family in the 50s, Hansberry clearly gave the whole world, a play, which will always matter, for many years to come.

Works Cited

American National Biography Online,

Carnegie, Dale. “How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead,” Coronet, January 1954, 65.

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin In The Sun,” With an Introduction by Robert Nemiroff New York: Random House, 1994.

Jackson, Kenneth T. “Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States,” New York: Oxford Press, 1985, p. 232.

Wiese, Andrew. “The New Suburban History,” Edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, p. 105.

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