A Raisin in the Sun was written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. The setting is Chicago shortly after the great depression. It is the first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway. Also it is the first play with a Black director, Lloyd Richards. It is a historical first.
The experiences in the play are loosely based on Hansberry’s father’s experience involving a lawsuit, Hansberry v Lee. The family fought for their rights in a previous class action suit about racially motivated restrictive housing covenants.
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During the time of the play’s setting, Blacks were prohibited from owning homes in certain neighborhoods by the covenant. White property owners made a covenant to only sell to other Whites. This Black family managed to find a White property owner to sell to them because the time setting of the play is shortly after the depression. Buyers were scarce and the Younger family had the money.
The matriarch in the play represents strength in the family. Her son, Walter Lee, is suffering the same fate as many Black men of his time: underemployment. He has not been given opportunity to advance like a White man could:
A man says to a woman 'I got me a dream' and the woman says 'eat your eggs.' I'm thirty-four years old, married eleven years and have a boy who sleeps in the living room
---Walter Lee Younger
Walter’s words express the frustration he feels about being unable to provide adequately for his family. It is a frustration felt by many Black men in this country over the years as they were not given a fair chance at employment. Many Black men during that era and still today are self employed and earn a living independently because of racial discrimination in hiring and promotion.
There is cultural significance in the fact that as a Black man, Walter Lee sees the insurance money as his only hope to become a success. When he loses the money, he almost loses his self respect by selling his soul to the racist neighborhood improvement association representative.
The fact that so many years after slavery, Walter Lee is limited to a job as a chauffeur is a comment on race relations of the time as is the existence of the racist neighborhood organizations. It gives the audience a feel for the racial sentiments in Chicago at the time and the picture is not pretty.
His mother knows that even if he gets the deal he is looking for; White society has a lot more challenges in store for him. She supports him because she is hoping he will be successful although she knows it is unlikely.
The other culturally significant fact about this work is the fact that it comments on black feminism. The women defer to Walter because they feel his spirit is in need of hope.
The sister female character in the play has hopes of becoming a doctor. Walter’s wife wants a better home. Each family member has a vision of what the life insurance can bring to their life.
The play was reproduced many times after its initial debut in the theatre. It is a commentary on Black life that has proven to be timeless in American History. The title is adapted from Langston Hughes Harlem. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Langston Hughes, Harlem
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