A Raisin in the Sun: Essay Q&A
1. Describe the setting and consider its relevance to the action of the play.
In the initial stage directions, the layout of the small apartment is given as wells as details of how worn the furnishings are. The play never moves from this central living room, which is also a bedroom for Travis, and the poverty of the Younger family’s circumstances is, therefore, driven home.
The constant use of this tight domestic space also reiterates the claustrophobic effects of living in such an environment and adds tension to the already problematic relationships between husband and wife and parent and children. The frustration of having dreams forcibly deferred, by law and capitalism, is captured in this room which becomes an everywhere.
2. Analyze the relationship between Mama and her children.
Lena, who is for the most part referred to as Mama, is depicted as the matriarch of the family and she makes the decision that they should move to the white-only area of Clybourne Park. She finally concedes some of her power to her son, Walter, when she comes to recognize that she plays a part in thwarting his personal ambitions.
She notes that something has come between her and her children after arguing with Beneatha about the presence of God. This use of the theme of barriers is also drawn upon when Walter and Ruth argue. It is demonstrated in the play that these barriers help to reinforce the effects of prejudice and it is only when the family turn to each other with acts of unity that they are able to fight The Man (as embodied by Lindner).
3. To what extent does this play drawn on the contemporary issue of segregation?
Segregation is an intrinsic political injustice that is constantly questioned by Hansberry in this work. The effect of segregation is seen clearly here as being separate but unequal as the family struggle to live in their designated and confined space.
The visit by Lindner, from the Clybourne Park unwelcoming committee, emphasizes the racist underpinning of segregation and when the family finally decide to move in the final scene they represent a decision to undermine the segregation laws (both legal and illegal). This has echoes of Hansberry’s family moving to a white-only area and the challenge they made in court, but is also in keeping with the action of the play, which is far removed from Hansberry’s upbringing.
4. Consider the changes that Walter undergoes as the play progresses.
Walter’s voice is described as having a ‘quality of indictment’ when he is first introduced in Act One, Scene One and is mostly bitter and angry with those around him until Mama trusts him with the greater share of the insurance money. After Willy Harris steals this from him, he is seen to become bitter once again, but is finally regarded as ‘a man’ (by Mama and Ruth) when he decides not to take Lindner’s bribe.
His anger is depicted as being tied to his frustration at the women in his life and it entails that he is an emasculated figure at this point. He blames the women for holding him back, but the audience is able to see that he is being short-sighted as it is the effect of racist ideology that diminishes his sense of self. It is only when he turns Lindner’s offer down that he faces and refutes the workings of racist thinking.
5. Consider how this play challenges racism.
As a successful play written by an African-American woman, and one that has African-Americans at its center, its very existence undermines racist ideology. This is further emphasized with the ongoing left-wing examination of social injustice.
On a more detailed level, the central themes of segregation and the deferral of dreams mean that racist ideology is under attack throughout. This work questions injustice in terms of sexism also, as when Walter attempts to blame African-American women rather than racists for the inequalities he faces. Because of this, Hansberry demonstrates that prejudice (in the shape of racism or sexism) is thrives with the abuse of power.