A raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that details the experiences of an African American family that lives in Chicago’s south side. The family receives a check following the death of Mr. Younger. The family members have conflicting ideas on how to use the money. However, the son attempts to multiply the money by investing it and ends up losing everything. Dreams and ambitions are predominant themes in Raisin in the Sun. Each of the family members desires to fulfill their dream. Ruth and the matriarch seek to move out of their neighborhood in the poor southside of Chicago into a more affluent area. Beneatha dreams of attending medical school while Walter seeks to gain financial independence by opening a liquor store. The American dream and its overarching inclination towards materialism disadvantages minority groups like people of color such as the Younger family.
In the play Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry takes her audience back to the era of segregation. While the American dream had been long imagined as being married, having two kids, a pet, and a moderate house in an affluent neighborhood, the mental connotations of achieving the American dream were overlooked. Lorraine’s play attempts to blend the cliché perception of living the American dream in a well-off neighborhood with the psychological implications of the dream. Walter dreams of success and he loathes his living conditions. He complains about not having anything to pass on to Travis. He says, “I have been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room – and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live” (34). Walter’s deplorable financial situation which is the result of his race and the missed chances because he is black has significantly impacted his perception of the American dream. Living the American dream transcends the material implications as it has commonly been assumed. The play Raisin in the Sun proves that dreams are unique to every individual. As the Younger family undergoes the tribulations of living in a disadvantaged section of Chicago, the reception of Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy payout forces them to understand the differences in their ambitions and desires.
The definition of the American dream has always been material. The dream has always been associated with the upper-middle-class American family. The ideal family is one where the man works a well-paying job, the wife also works, and together they own a pet and raise a family of two children, a girl, and a boy. The ideal description of the American dream is the fulfillment of immaterial needs like personal happiness. While it is often assumed that the fulfillment of the American dream can only occur through the attainment of material comforts, it is not limited to financial success. The pursuit of the American dream outrightly disadvantages some groups like people of color. Ruth says, “Walter Lee say colored people ain’t never going to start getting ahead till they start gambling on some different kinds of things in the world-investments and things… He needs this chance Lena” (42). Race and society’s perception of colored people hinders their attainment of the American dream. Ironically, economic class is in itself a stumbling block to the achievement of the American dream.
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Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun shows the marked variations of the American dream among the different demographics. The play juxtaposes the African American dream with the American dream as a way of accentuating racial inequalities. Being an African American, Walter has missed out on many opportunities and he has to contend with being a chauffeur for a rich family. Walter despises his work and he says, “Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, ‘Yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir? Mama, that ain’t no kind of job… that ain’t nothing at all” (73). Walter’s statement lays bare the racial inequalities and the consequences of availing more resources to one race at the expense of another. While the white man is rich and can afford a driver, Walter is in a fight to figure out his destiny by gaining financial independence.
The economic and housing discrimination of the era severely impeded the African Americans’ realization of the American dream. People of color held simple jobs with meager pay and lived in condemned sections of urban areas. The anger, exhaustion, poverty, and desolation due to his job and economic standing affect Walter and his immediate family members. Mama says, “I seen.. him… night after night… come in… and look at that rug… and then look at me… the red showing in his eyes… the veins moving in his head… I saw him grow thin and old before he was forty… working and working and working like somebody’s old horse… killing himself” (129). Mama’s statement is characterized by ellipses that reflect her comprehension of her son’s futile pursuit of the American dream. The Younger family experiences hardships in both the personal and professional spheres. In her time, Mama’s pursuit of the American dream entailed moving from the South where discrimination was rife, to the North where opportunities awaited African Americans. The matriarch tells her son, “In my time we were worried about not being lynched and getting to the north if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too” (74). Her relocation was in futility because as opposed to the slavery and lynching in the south, the north is characterized by segregation as she is unable to buy a home in a white neighborhood.
The American dream has been greatly misunderstood. The idealized perception of the American dream is that it holds immense possibilities to which no limits exist. The materialistic view of the American dream is grounded on making it in life through the acquisition of wealth. The blanket application of the American dream regardless of one’s race, social and economic standing has made it a pipe dream for many individuals. Although the American dream has been characterized as elusive, it can be achieved through inclusion. Hansberry shows the importance of inclusion through the Younger’s family’s desire to settle in a white neighborhood. Hughes portrays it through his emphasis on the importance of the provision of equal opportunities to all regardless of their race and social standing.