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What Is the Theme of 'A Raisin in the Sun': Critical Essay

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The Theme and Character Development in A Raisin in the Sun

In Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”, the American Dream is explored through each character among the different generations during the 1950s. At the beginning of the play, we are introduced to the Youngers that live in Chicago’s Southside in a cramped apartment. We are introduced to Mama, Travis, Beneatha, Ruth, and Walter. However, Mama and Walter undergo major character development. The Youngers have different jobs but also have different dreams. Due to their skin color, the Youngers face labor and housing discrimination which creates challenges in achieving their American Dream (M’Baye171). The American Dream to some means that everyone can achieve what they want, but not everyone achieves the American Dream as evidenced by Walter. Mama, however, is able to achieve her dream.

Mama is the oldest of the Youngers. Mama is a conservative woman who grew up during the times of slavery and believes in the value of hard work. She is appalled by Walter's obsession with money. Mama was married to Big Walter, who worked hard to provide for his family. Mama is getting a $10,000 insurance check due to the passing of Big Walter and plans to use that money to achieve her dream of being a homeowner. Mama wants to provide for her children by becoming a homeowner since she comes from a time when African Americans were enslaved and couldn’t be homeowners.

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Walter’s greediness is his ultimate downfall. Walter works as a chauffeur for a man named Mr. Arnold. Walter is embarrassed by his job because he feels like he can’t provide for his family, a responsibility that was placed on the men during that time period. Walter tells Ruth, his wife, his plan to open up a liquor store and needs $10,000 for the down payment. Walter is hoping that when Mama receives the insurance check of $10,000 that Mama will give him the money to start his business venture. Walter is dissatisfied with life and believes that money will make him happier. When he talks about starting his own business venture he always talks about materialistic things, “I pass them cool, quiet-looking restaurants where the white boys are sitting back and talking about things… sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…” (Act 1, Scene 2). This goes to show that Walter believes that if he is rich that all his problems will go away and he will be happy. But having lots of money doesn’t guarantee that someone is going to be happy.

Walter is frustrated about the lack of money he needs in order to buy his liquor store. In Act 1, Scene 2, the insurance check arrives and Walter keeps talking about his business. Mama goes and buys a house in Clybourne Park for $3600. Walter finds out and is angry at Mama for spending some of the insurance money. This shows that Walter is selfish because he thinks about his dreams, but not his family’s dreams. Mama feels bad and in Act 2, Scene 2 gives Walter the rest of the money to open up a checking account for Beneatha’s schooling so he can set up a savings account for himself. Instead of opening a checking account for Beneatha’s schooling and his savings account, Walter invests the rest of the money into the liquor store with his co-investors, Bobo and Willy Harris. In Act 2, Scene 3 Bobo tells him that Willy Harris skipped town with the money they gave him. Also, Carl Linder who is with the Home Owners Association of Clybourne Park pays the Youngers a visit to convince them to sell their new home to the neighborhood association. According to M’Baye, Walter finally realizes, “that life is not about having a dream but doing your best in order to achieve it.” (182). Walter believed that throwing money at his dream would cause it to grow, but when his downfall occurs, he realizes that dreams take work. Even though his dream doesn’t work out, he allows Mama to achieve her dream of being a homeowner by not accepting the bribe from Carl Linder for the Youngers to sell their new home to the neighborhood association.

The reality of the American Dream is explored in “A Raisin in the Sun” when Walter’s dream fails, but Mama’s dream succeeds. Mama gives Walter a chance to achieve his dream by giving him the rest of the insurance money. She wanted her children to succeed in life and not struggle the way she and Big Walter did. Mama realizes that she cannot protect Walter from him failing in his dream and that he himself needs to work hard to achieve his own dream. After Walter loses the insurance money, he realized he wanted his American Dream to come easy to him by just putting the investment rather than putting work into it. When he got tempted to accept a bribe not to move, he didn’t accept it and put the needs of his family above his own. This shows that Walter’s character develops from selfish to self-sacrificing when he makes the decision not to accept the bribe.

Works Cited

  1. Hansberry, Lorainne. A Raisin in the Sun. Methuen Drama, 2018.
  2. M’Baye, Babacar. 'Discrimination and the American Dream in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in The Sun.' Bloom's Literary Themes: The American Dream. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing (2009): 171-187.
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