The Pursuit of the American Dream in Lorraine Hansberry's Play A Raisin in the Sun

Dream in their own ways. When the play first opened in 1959 in New York, it received great praise from both Blacks and Whites alike. A Raisin in the Sun is arguably one of the first good plays to be written on how African-Americans live in an ideal society, and how they are treated, in a realistic manner. The pursue of the American Dream from the same African-Americans is also pointed out in the play. Considering how great the play was, it earned the “New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award” for the best play of the year, in the same year.

Loraine Hansberry was the only Black writer at the point to actually win an award. Using this new award and fame, Hansberry tried to bring attention to the American Civil Rights Movement as well to help bring independence to the Blacks, though she ended a sad death at an early age battling cancer in 1965.

A Raisin in the Sun was also considered revolutionary at the time because Hansberry made an honest illustration of a typical African-American family on the stage.

Before this play came out, the role of Africans were minor, they were basically just used for comedic relief. Hansberry approaches the play with the characters talking in a Black dialect, making the play a lot more realistic. Important issues such as poverty, discrimination, and the making of the African-American race are posed in the play as well.

Loraine Hansberry took the name, “A Raisin in the Sun,” from a famous poem written in 1951 by Langston Hughes, which was called “Harlem: A Dream Deferred”.

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Langston Hughes was a famous Black poet in the 1920s, when the Harlem Renaissance was taking place. The Harlem Renaissance took place from 1918-1937 which would possibly start a new age for Blacks being accepted into American society. Hughes was one of the brightest people during the Harlem Renaissance, and his works focused and mainly revolved around black culture, creativity, and strength. Hughes wrote the poem in 1951, twenty years after the Great

Depression, because Blacks were left to live in dirty, clustered places. Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred,” talks about the need of Black people expressing themselves toward the people of America, or rather towards the Whites. His poem talks about how the Americans have a hatred and inhumane attitude towards the African-Americans, and how the opinion of Black people would be best left, unnoticed. Langston Hughes writes in one of his lines in the poem, “Or does [a dream deferred] explode?” (Hughes, 10) This line is basically mentioning that if Black people try to raise a question or two on their own rights, the society might end up causing commotion over them, leading to the dreams of the Black population for equal rights, deteriorated. Seeing this poem as a source of light, Loraine Hansberry tied her play to the dreams of African-Americans, or the family in the play to chasing after the American Dream. Of course, every character in the play has their own view of the American Dream.

Before discussing the characters and how they relate to the American Dream, and whether they attain or not attain it, the definition of the American Dream must be understood. The basic fundamental and notion that the American Dream is rooted on is the American Declaration of Independence. In this document, the Declaration of Independence, it states that all men should be equal and they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What this means is that every individual have the right to live equally, and freely, and go after happiness, or what that person wants to achieve in order to become successful and happy.

The characters in this play each have their own way of achieving the American Dream. Keep in mind that this family is black, and some of the members have a high dream, or want to achieve something that is practically impossible for them to get at the time. Walter Lee Younger, the brother of Beneatha Younger, and husband of Ruth Younger, is a big dreamer, and also ruins his character appearance as a black person as well.

Walter’s big dream is to be rich and open up a liquor store. Owning a liquor store is something bad, likewise, as drinking wine. Walter is a black person, and wants to own a liquor store, which already is something to harm his reputation. Beneatha serves a major part of the story as well, and she wants to become a doctor and study African heritage. Beneatha does not call herself an “African-American,” rather an African because she knows that Africa is where she belongs from. Becoming a doctor was something rather interesting for a black female to do back in the day, because first she was a female, who didn’t have rights, and on top of that she was black, which sort of worsens the situation for reaching her goal slim-to-none.

Next comes Ruth Younger. Ruth, the wife of Walter has “dreams” of her own. They would not be considered part of the American Dream because she only wants to fix her relationship problems with Walter, as their relationship is not all well. Along with her relation problems with Walter, her family is also poor because of the low-income job that Walter does, and on top of that, he tends to skip his working hours for a couple of days. This is where Lena Younger comes in. Lena Younger, known simply as “Mama,” in the play is the mother of Beneatha and Walter. Mama has big ambitions in her life as she is old and has gotten money from the government. Mama wants to help out everyone in the family, especially “little” Beneatha, to help her finish with the studies of becoming a doctor. Mama is also an essential part of the story as she keeps the household firm and tact. A Raisin in the Sun also teaches us how to work together to get things done.

Walter Younger tends to dream big. He always wanted to open the liquor shop, and when he found out that Willy Harris, his partner in opening the liquor shop, Walter gets pretty damn upset. This is Walter’s reaction to Bobo, another character who is part of the liquor store plan when Bobo tells Walter that Willy is gone: “Gone, what you mean Willy is gone? Gone where? You mean he went by himself. You mean he went off to Springfield by himself— to take care of getting the license (Turns and looks anxiously at RUTH) You mean maybe he didn’t want too many people in on the business down there? (Looks to RUTH again, as before) You know Willy got his own ways. (Looks back to BOBO) Maybe you was late yesterday and he just went on down there without you. Maybe— maybe he’s been callin’ you at home tryin’ to tell you what happened or something. Maybe— maybe he just got sick. He’s somewhere- he’s got to be somewhere. We just got to find him – me and you got to find him. (Grabs BOBO senselessly by the collar and starts to shake him) We got to!” (Hansberry, 127)

Walter has no more purpose of living anymore. His plans of having a liquor store are completely ruined. Walter only lived for the purpose to own a liquor shop, and now that it is gone. One can see here that Walter does not achieve his vision of the American Dream, and therefore, becomes depressed. Being depressed when one’s dream is not fulfilled throughout that person’s entire life is a natural phenomenon. By the end of the play, Walter has no more interest in drinking. This also tells us that he did not go to extremes such as killing himself, but rather restrained himself from committing a big sin in life. The fact is that this is how life runs, and one see that the same occurrence happens to Walter.

Beneatha is a significant character in the story. Throughout the play, one sees her searching for her true identity. When she had George Murchison as a boyfriend, she hated him. The reason why he was hated from her is because George did not like to be called an African, rather an African-American. Beneatha is clearly proud of her race unlike George Murchison. When Beneatha encounters Joseph Asagai, things get turned around. When Asagai and Beneatha meet up again in the house, Asagai remembers the first time Beneatha and him met in school. He recalls by saying, “Mr. Asagai— I want very much to talk with you. About Africa. You see, Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity!” (Hansberry, 62)

The difference between the liking of the two boys is clear: Asagai wants to rediscover his roots from Africa, while Murchison just wants to be assimilated within the American society. Beneatha can relate to Asagai because they both have the same ambitions, to know more about their African culture. While Beneatha claims she’s independent and does not use money from anyone, she had to depend on the money from her father’s death and the investments made from her brother. When she realizes this, she gets a lot closer to Walter and has a new hope for becoming a doctor. Beneatha is one of the only characters in the play that proves the American Dream, and that if one strives for something, that person may end up achieving their dream in the end.

In A Raisin in the Sun, Ruth Younger, the wife of Walter, also plays a major role in the play. She serves the role of a typical housewife would be like in the 1950s, she makes breakfast, takes good care of the house, supports Walter, and minds her own business. There is one thing that is unique about Ruth that is not found in any other, or rarely found in the housewives of around the same time: Ruth goes out and works. As discussed before, the Youngers are poor and are in need of financial help, Walter alone does not make enough money, so Ruth has to partake in earning as well.

Although she is about 30 years old, her outward appearance looks old because of what she has been through. Because of the financial situation the Youngers’ are in, and the relationship turmoil between Ruth and Walter, things just pile on top of each other and worsen for Ruth. One can see Ruth throughout the book being frustrated and depressed. On top of all of this, when Ruth finds out that she is pregnant, she turns into the most quizzical form of despair and seeks abortion. In the times that they were living in, abortion was considered as two things; illegal and dangerous. Even looking from the Christian point of view, abortion is wrong.

Abortion is the act of killing, thus being considered a sin in Christianity. In Genesis 9:5, it is stated, “Murder is forbidden,” and murder in any religion is considered a major sin. Though Ruth hates the idea of aborting itself, she must look into the future and see what a newborn can cause to the family, virtue or distress, in the Youngers’ case distress because of the financial situation that they are in. According to Mama, “When the world gets ugly enough— a woman will do anything for her family. The part that’s already living.” (Hansberry 76) Ruth is doing what she feels is the best thing to do for the family at the moment, and if the family was rich, she would not have undergone abortion, at the time of the part that the play was in. That would be considered a fact.

Towards the end of the book, one finds out that Ruth keeps her “waiting-to-be- delivered child,” not doing abortion. Ruth gets motivated by the fact that the family is finally moving into a much bigger house. Ruth and the family will still have to deal with racism, by the fact that they are moving into an All-White neighborhood, but at least the family is prepared to do whatever they can to live on.

Last but not least, the final major character in the play A Raisin in the Sun will be discussed in this paragraph. Lena Younger, or Mama, is most definitely the coolest person in the history of black people in the world of novels and plays. Mama is a realistic mom who is the most hard-working person in the Youngers’ family. Mama keeps on relating and helping her children throughout the play, especially after she got the $10,000 dollars from the life insurance company. Mama actually cared for her family rather than being selfish and spending it all on herself. Mama split the money and gave some to Walter, and some to Beneatha, so Beneatha could spend the money on becoming a doctor. Mama’s morals about faith and God are extremely high as well. Also, Mama considers herself as an African-American, not an African, unlike Beneatha who continues to look for what a true identity of a young African girl would be like.

One time Beneatha said that she does not believe in God and Mama slapped her across the face for saying such a thing. Mama was the one who actually bought the house in the White community, so they could live a more “better” life. Near the end of the novel, Mama says, “He finally come into manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…” .” (Hansberry 150) Mama finally acknowledges that Walter has matured and past his “childhood” stage because he was immature about money all the time. With this, Mama entrusts the remaining $6,500 to Walter, because she thinks that Walter has entered into his manhood stage of life. Mama is proven to be really an emotionally strong person, as well as a physically strong woman too. Mama is also another person in the family, like Beneatha, that proves the concept of the American Dream.

Beneatha’s current boyfriend, Asagai is basically the true resemblance of the country of Africa itself. Because Asagai knows that Beneatha is longing for knowing her true identity, when Asagai first comes over to her place, he tells her all about Africa, and the cultures, and in the end of the talk, he even gives Beneatha African records and robes. Asagai goes to such extremes and even says, “What in the name of—” (Hansberry 80) when he finds out that Beneatha’s hair is straightened out. Asagai sees that as a sign of assimilation into the Whites’ culture. Asagai believes that one should not assimilate with another society or culture, but should try to find out and be from the race they originally come from, in this case, being an African.

If Asagai was not present in the play, Beneatha would have been a person who would proudly consider herself an African-America, rather than being African. Asagai would be another great example of one who proves the American Dream because he knows all about Africa and constantly preaches Beneatha about the country and how she should not do something and how she should do something.

In the play, A Raisin in the Sun, one overall sees that there are certain characters prove the American Dream, and there are certain characters disprove it. For example, characters like Walter and Ruth would be considered as ones who disprove it, while character such as Mama, Beneatha and Asagai prove the American Dream. Even the want and the need, and the strive to succeed can be in a way, proving the American Dream. Loraine Hansberry wrote the play in such a way where it depicted the average African household living in an All-American society to be effective to the audience. In the end of the play, the Youngers’ family is all ready to do an assault in their new house if anyone tends to cause harm to them. It is clearly shown in the play that teamwork can lead to many things to just work out fine and life. And if the question is, has the Youngers’ family, as a whole depicted and proved the American Dream, the answer would be simple: Yes.

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The Pursuit of the American Dream in Lorraine Hansberry's Play A Raisin in the Sun. (2023, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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