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Critical Essay on Assimilation in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

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Beneath's Identity and Independence in A Raisin in the Sun

As adolescents and young adults, we all seek, sooner or later, to forge our own identities and become independent. In A Raisin in the Sun, a play written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1958, we follow Beneatha, an ambitious college student who dreams of becoming a doctor, as she explores her African roots while balancing her aspirations for freedom and agency. In Act I Scene 2, the conversation between Beneatha and Asagai, a Nigerian student she met at school, perfectly encapsulates her projects in life, as well as Asagai’s role in both her search for her identity and her desire for independence. Despite playing a positive role in Beneatha’s journey of rediscovering her African roots, the way Asagai approaches this subject, coupled with his misogynist perspective, seriously jeopardizes Beneatha’s goals of independence and freedom.

To begin, it is undeniable that Asagai’s presence is beneficial for Beneatha’s desire to explore her identity. As a Nigerian student who has lived his entire life in Africa, and also plans to go back there after his studies, Asagai represents a formidable way for her to rediscover her roots and learn more about her African heritage. Indeed, he strongly encourages her to embrace those roots and abandon her “assimilationist” practices. Beneatha is undoubtedly delighted when she receives the gifts Asagai has brought for her. As she gracefully accepts the colorful Nigerian robes and records of African music, she exclaims: “Oh Asagai!...You got them for me!...How beautiful…and the records too!” (61). A few scenes later, she puts her gifts to good use when she performs a tribal dance using the traditional robes and records she received. These events confirm Asagai’s beneficial role in encouraging Beneatha’s interest in her African roots, and, more broadly, in her journey to find her true identity.

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However, the way Asagai approaches the subject of assimilation, coupled with his sexist perspective on women’s role in relationships, poses a danger to her goals of free will. Beneatha is a fiercely independent, ambitious, and feminist young woman. Her dreams of becoming a doctor demonstrate her bold ambition, especially considering the fact that she is an African-American woman living in a segregated America. Moreover, she is not afraid to speak her mind, going as far as to question the existence of God in front of Mama, who is deeply religious. Joseph Asagai, on his part, aggressively critiques Beneatha in an effort to impose changes that he deems necessary if she wishes to embrace her African roots. For example, when talking about her straightened hair, he declares: “And so to accommodate that -- you mutilate it every week?” (62), accusing her of having assimilated into white American culture. While she initially vehemently denies being an “assimilationist” (63), by the next scene, she has already let her hair go natural… While this decision is not problematic on its own, the fact that she has made this drastic change following criticism from Asagai is entirely contrary to her desire of being able to take her own decisions in life. The fact that these instructions are coming from a man only adds insult to injury. In an effort to satisfy Asagai’s demands, Beneatha has ignored her convictions, which seemed unshakeable until now. Moreover, Asagai explicitly expresses misogynistic comments. On the subject of relationships, he declares that “for a woman, it should be enough” (63). He wishes Beneatha would be quieter and less ambitious, happy with having a man in her life. Considering the fact that she later contemplates his proposal to go back to Nigeria with him, it is evident that Beneatha’s independence is seriously compromised.

In conclusion, despite playing a positive role in Beneatha’s desire to explore her identity, the way Asagai approaches the subject of assimilation, coupled with his misogynist opinions, seriously endangers Beneatha’s goals of independence and freedom. Beneatha’s story is a cautionary tale. It reminds us of the importance of staying loyal to our convictions, despite adversity encountered in life.

Works Cited

  1. Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York, Vintage Books, 1994.
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Critical Essay on Assimilation in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-essay-on-assimilation-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/
“Critical Essay on Assimilation in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-essay-on-assimilation-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/
Critical Essay on Assimilation in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-essay-on-assimilation-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
Critical Essay on Assimilation in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 19 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-essay-on-assimilation-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/
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