“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry is considered as one of the best plays in African American literature. Hansberry brought to light the hardships of an African American family in the midst of poverty and racial discrimination. The realization of dreams is a major theme in the play, as every member of the family struggles to achieve their individual dreams. Their individual dreams initially break the family apart, but in the end, it also brought them together. In “Raisin in the Sun,” Hansberry tells the audience that though the path to reaching one’s dreams may be filled with challenges, it is all worth it in the end.
In the play, every family member has a different dream. The head of the family is matriarch Lena Younger, and is known as Mama (Hansberry 30). As revealed in Act 1 Scene i, Lena’s dream was to own a house (Hansberry 30). When her husband Walter Sr. was still alive, they both desired a home of their own. The initial plan was to live in an apartment for one year, then move out to settle in a house. That dream never became a reality, and the family still lived in the apartment when Walter Sr. passed away (Hansberry 31). Walter Lee Younger, Lena’s son, dreamt of something else.
When the play started, he worked as a chauffeur for Mr. Arnold (Hansberry 11). However, Walter longed for a different life. He wanted to be rich and successful. He had ranted to his wife Ruth many times about his ambitions of wealth and power. In Act 1 Scene ii, Ruth was so tired of Walter’s complaints that she said, “So you would rather be Mr. Arnold than be his chauffeur” (Hansberry 12). Though he fervently wanted to fulfill his dream, Walter was aware of the hindrances that society presented. He was very frustrated from the fact that his race served as a limitation in achieving his goals.
In Act 1 Scene ii, Walter expressed to Mama how he felt when he drove downtown and saw the white people who conducted business transactions in restaurants (Hansberry 56). Mama was quite disappointed that Walter was only concerned about financial gain, in which the latter replied “Because it is life, Mama! ” (Hansberry 57). He wanted to be just like Charlie Atkins who was successful in dry-cleaning (Hansberry 13). This is the reason why throughout the play, he had been talking about plans of getting involved liquor business. Beneatha is Walter’s sister, and her dream also differed from the rest of her family.
Unlike other women who settled for simply being nurses, she was eager to become a physician (Hansberry 40). It was not until the third act she revealed the reason for her ambition (Hansberry 157). She remembered the occurrence when a boy called Rufus hit his head when he stumbled off his sled during one winter. He was seriously injured but by the time she saw Rufus again, all that was left was a scar. She wanted to become a doctor because of her perception that doctors could easily determine what was wrong and resolve it immediately (Hansberry 112).
All the aforementioned dreams only had one means for its fruition: the check from Walter Sr. ’s insurance policy (Hansberry 36). The amount of the check was $10,000. Mama, Walter and Beneatha all depended on the check for their dreams to become a reality. Because there was only one source of income, the difference in the aspirations between the siblings had caused conflict in the family. Early on in the play, Walter discouraged his sister from attending medical school because he saw her education as a threat to his dream.
Instead, he wanted her to just pursue nursing or get married (Hansberry 42). This had been a cause of constant friction between the two. By Act 2 Scene i, Mama had taken the first step in reaching her dream. She tells the family that she had already used a percentage of the insurance money for the down payment of a house in Clybourne Park, a residential area occupied by white folks (Hansberry 70). Though Ruth and her son Travis are happy in the purchase of the new home, Walter is devastated. The down payment only meant that he could no longer carry out his liquor business plans.
Walter’s life soon began to get out of control: he failed to go to work, and spent most of his time drinking. In an effort to save his son, Mama gives Walter the rest of the insurance money (Hansberry 112). He puts him in charge of the family’s finances, including the share for Beneatha’s medical school tuition. By making him financially responsible, Walter finally fulfilled his plan of participating in the liquor industry. At this point, both Mama and Walter had achieved their goals. However, the obstructions began to appear.
First, Mr. Karl Linder from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association offered to pay the Younger family more than the down payment if they cancel their plan to move in (Hansberry 138). Second, Walter’s friend Bobo arrived to tell Walter that the money they invested in what was supposed to be the liquor store was gone. Both these incidents threatened all the dreams of the family. The financial success that Walter aimed for never became possible because of the scam. Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor seemed hopeless, as the money allotted for her education was also included in Walter’s investment.
The situation became worse when Walter announced to the family that he would abide by Mr. Linder’s conditions (Hansberry 163). He was willing to let go of the house just to acquire the money the man offered. This time, it was Mama’s dream that was under threat. Walter’s greed and selfishness was so consuming that he failed to consider what the rest of his family wanted. He wanted Linder’s money to compensate for his loss in the liquor business. He wanted another chance at his aspiration, even though it was his mother’s dream that would be at risk.
Walter’s wealth-driven decision threatened to ruin the entire family. However, the play ended with the family intact. If it were their dreams that caused problems within the family, it was also dreams which brought them back together. Walter did call Mr. Linder because he wanted to take his offer. When Mr. Linder was already in the apartment, Mama forced Travis to stay and watch while Walter made the deal with him (Hansberry 175). Walter could not force himself to take the white man’s money while Travis watched.
He eventually rejected the offer and the family could finally move out of the apartment for good. Walter’s change of heart guaranteed the fulfillment of Mama’s dream. Consequently, Beneatha was also able to reach for hers. Her suitor, Joseph Asagai, had convinced her that she did not depend on the insurance money to become a doctor (Hansberry 152). He then asked her if she would join him in Africa. Beneatha, who was earlier discouraged by the disappearance of her medical school money, was hopeful again. She decided to join Asagai and fulfill her dream in Africa.
In Lorraine Hansberry’s play “Raisin in the Sun,” dreams were depicted as those which could both tear apart and unite a family. In the case of the Youngers, they had different dreams but only one way to achieve them. The insurance money was the only way to fulfill all three dreams. Mama initially had full control of the money, but Walter and Beneatha both fought to secure their own aspirations. The family was almost destroyed due to Walter’s reckless decisions, but it was restored in the end. Hansberry sought to convey the message that the fulfillment of dreams may come at a price.
There is no easy way in achieving one’s goals. There will always be hindrances and difficulties that may prove discouraging. This fact held most true in the case of African Americans like the Youngers, people who were not only rendered hopeless by poverty, but also by the prevalent racism. However, the play asserts that even with such obstructions, one can still rise beyond the problems and succeed in fulfilling one’s dreams. “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry proved to be one remarkable piece of literature with a valuable lesson to teach.