Lorraine Hansberry is very convincing in her portrayal of an African-American family living in post-World War II Chicago. Her characters and her settings in A Raisin in the Sun are so realistic that they draw the reader into the playwright’s mentality. The issues of racism, broken dreams, and poverty are at the heart of the play.
Walter Lee Younger and his sister Beneatha are two main characters who have opposite personalities, but they both have big dreams. Beneatha has interesting feministic and atheistic beliefs; she is very independent and determined to express her talent. On the other hand, Walter Lee has experienced throughout his life that poverty is another harsh form of slavery that is oppressing his family. He is tired of freedom that is restricted by the wealth and the power of the “upper classes.” However, his dream to open a liquor store, unlike Beneatha’s ambition to become a doctor, is undermined by his selfish means to achieve that end. Their mother, Lena, is the rock that the entire family leans on, including Walter’s wife, Ruth, and their son, Travis. Her conservative beliefs and wisdom have upheld her dignity; her unconditional love for her family has helped her to survive hardships.
Lena’s husband never appears in the play due to his earlier demise, but his life insurance money is the cause that strongly affects the plot. It is a turning point in the Youngers’ dreams. For Walter, it is ultimately a negative event because he is obsessed with obtaining money that he hasn’t earned and which does not belong to him, but his mother. His “dream” almost tears his family apart. Racism towards the Younger family is visible; however, American society “practices” its iniquities in a more indirect manner during the time period that A Raisin in the Sun is set in, which is demonstrated by the character of Karl Lindner.
Moreover, Walter is exploited by a friend he trusted, which is a crushing blow to his ambitions; he becomes very cynical when he realizes that he has been cheated. Hansberry reflectively turns from the main issues to assimilationism and even abortion. Ruth struggles with her own personal dilemma; she must choose between the moral choice of keeping her unborn child or the practical decision to abort it for the sake of her family’s survival. The playwright includes humor to lighten the play’s serious themes, but the reality of the “ghetto” that the Youngers live in is more striking. The burden of free will, the despicable racial prejudices of modern society, and the severe gap between the rich and the poor present a true, clear picture of America in A Raisin in the Sun, a powerful family drama.
Original review: ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is outstanding, Examiner.com