A Raisin in the Sun Movie: Exploring Identity, Dreams, and Social Norms in African American Culture

Category: Invisible Man
Last Updated: 21 Jun 2023
Pages: 8 Views: 59

“Identity refers to our sense of who we are as individuals and as members of social groups. Our identities are not simply our own creation: identities grow in response to both internal and external factors.” (Erickson, E.H.). In the book Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison journeys through the subject of identity being formed by society and explores how the pressure to obey to discriminatory social norms actually affects the development of one’s self-determination. The poem, “I, Too” brings light to social norms that inhibit African Americans from achieving any type of social equality, but contains a sense of optimism for a future where the white dominated culture no longer keep African Americans hidden away. “A Raisin in the Sun” calls to the hopes and dreams of an African American family and shows how racial segregation and negative views of the black race attempt to keep them from achieving these dreams.

“A More Perfect Union” is a speech about current racial issues and conveys the message that America can persevere and overcome hundreds of years of racial tensions and inequalities. African American Identity has been reduced to less than what it is for years in the past and it is still happening to this day, due to a white dominated, racially discriminatory culture, based off of the past. Unfortunately, these perceived expectations on black culture have developed into social norms and racial segregation which therefore has impeded their ability to equally achieve the American Dream, and must be recognized in order to make change and allow for improvement of race relations in America.

Invisible Man is a novel essentially about defining one’s identity as in individual. Without actually reading the text, it is clear from the title that this book alludes to someone who is living, but no one actually sees the person because of his race. The story is organized as a succession of recurring episodes where the unnamed narrator arrives at a new place and with a new identity. For example college, the paint factory and the brotherhood.

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Each identity he adopts is usually put upon him by others, or is characterized by the conditions he is in. In turn he loses a piece of himself each time. At the brotherhood he is first taught and trained how to talk about their ideology and do whatever they tell him to. He then realizes and asks himself, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?” (Ellison 266). The opening scene of the novel opens with the nameless protagonist in his basement apartment brightly lit by hundreds of light bulbs, powered by the electricity he steals. The bulbs foreshadow the struggle to be seen as an African American. The invisible man desires a self-identity over a social identity given to him by the people and places he is surrounded by. “Before that I lived in the darkness into which I was chased, but now I see. I’ve illuminated the blackness of my invisibility.”(Ellison 30) This quote shows that eventually, it is possible to find yourself among the harshness of the world. Jumping back in time, the novel continues to the “Battle Royal.”

The invisible man is invited to share his graduation speech with a group of important white officials from his home town in the south. However, as soon as the invisible man arrives, they force him, along with other black males, to fight blindfolded. After the fight, he is then able to recite his speech but has difficulty due to the blood from the fight. He mistakenly says “social equality” rather than “social responsibility” and this illustrates to us the limitations a white, wealthy and powerful structure place on the black individual. Following this event, the white men reward the Invisible Man with a scholarship to an all Negro college.

“He makes a good speech and someday he’ll lead his people down the proper path…This is a good, smart boy so to encourage him in the right direction.”(Ellison 30) The towns white men in this particular occasion define “proper path” and “right direction” towards the black identity. This illustrates the limitations placed on the African American race as result of racism. At one point of the book, the Invisible man is disguised as person named Rinehart and finally learns that identity is a fluid thing. “Still, could he be all of them: Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the Reverend?

Could he himself be both rind and heart? What is real anyway?…His world was possibility and he knew it.”(Ellison 498) Throughout the entirety of the story, the Invisible man was searching for his identity in places he maybe did not belong.  He changes so much just to fit into where he was and to fit the image of how a black man should act in society. An example of this is when he is getting dinner and the waiter offers him the pork chops. However, in this instance, he does not conform the identity that the waiter tries to place upon him. He knows that by giving up his own ideals and giving it to others has changed who he is as a person and realizes he does not like the control other people had over his life.

More characters that do not like having people control their lives is the family from the movie “A Raisin in the Sun.” When first watching, this movie seems to be just an entertaining film about the lives of a struggling African American family in the 1950’s who face their battles head on and beat them. However, it is much more than that. The story line follows the challenges the family faces to achieve their individual American Dreams. Each and every member of the Younger family faces a battle against societal expectations and they are expected to conform to these while working to pursue their American dream. In the opening scene of the movie, Walter says that “there aint many girls who decide to be a doctor” and then recommends that his sister Beneatha “go be a nurse like other women—or just get married and be quiet…”(Hansberry 1959)

This shows that Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor in this time is unheard of and extremely ambitious when the social norm was to marry, and let their husband provide for them. The American Dream however, is set by an individual, determined by what makes them happy. In the movie, mama receives a check for $10,000 after her husband dies. Everyone in the family wishes to use the money in his/her own way to benefit the family. For example, Walter Lee wants to use the money to buy a liquor store and “will have nothing less than the complete American Dream.”(Hansberry 1959) He believes that by owning the store, it will provide the family with a greater income so that they will not live in poverty anymore. Instead, mama decides to purchase a house for the family in Clybourne Park, an all-white neighborhood. When she told the family they were moving there they stood there speechless, “Mama, there ain’t no colored people in Clybourne Park” (Hansberry 1959).

There were many prejudices against the black race in the 1950’s. White people would even go as far as to set black people’s houses on fire and the Younger family feared this would happen to them. This kept African American people from stepping outside of their comfort zones to achieve their American Dreams because they were afraid of bad things happening to them or their families. Word eventually got out to the white population in Clybourne Park and they sent a man, Karl Lidner, to talk the family out of living there and actually offer to buy back the house at a greater price then they purchased it for. Typically one would think that they agreed and took the money, but the Younger family did not give up their dream. Part of mama’s American Dream is to own a house such as the one she bought. There was no way she was going to let racism get in the way of her achieving that. Today, the African American community is doing more and more of this. Standing up for what they know they can achieve and do not allow for racists to talk them down or keep them from doing so.

“I, Too” follows the aforementioned, by conforming to the racism one day, and then managing to stand up and be a part of the American Dream the next. This poem states “ I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes,…”(Hughes) In saying those words, the author is implying that because of the color of his skin, he is being scolded and deprived of his freedom and dreams. He is, for some reason, not good enough to eat with them, therefore he is sent into the kitchen and not to be seen when others are around. The diction in “I, Too” is very simple, but straight to the point and packs a punch. Words such as “dare” show confidence that the social norms of today will no longer be the norms in the future. The author also used many shifts within this poem to show the confidence that this change is going to happen. The word “Tomorrow” starts the major shift meaning in the future.

This is where the optimism kicks in, the narrator knows his situation is bad, but it is not going to let him get down. The next shift is at the word “Besides” demonstrating that not only is his situation going to get better, but they will see how beautiful he his, that he has worth, that he brings value to the country and they will be ashamed of how they treated him. The poem “I, Too” ties in with Barack Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union.” There are still many prejudices against African Americans “ I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together…”(Obama) Barack Obama said this because it is known that there are still racial issues in today’s societies. Especially in southern states, white people think that there are different social norms then what someone in  New York City thinks social norms are towards black people.

The reason for this is “directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”(Obama) The racial slurs heard daily and segregation against African Americans have surely decreased from what they were in the 1950’s, but they are nowhere close to gone. “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past”(Obama) The racial injustice in this country has kept thousands of individuals from pursuing their American Dream. As a country known as the “mixing pot” it is necessary to come together in order to make change happen.

From Jim Crow to now, it looks as though this country has made an immense amount of progress diminishing discrimination and allowing for all minority groups to thrive. But from now to the future, there will be even more change, getting rid of the negative societal views on the African American race and allowing them an equal opportunity to achieve their American Dream. There are already instances such as Barack Obama’s story he shares in his speech “A More Perfect Union” where he makes it out of the hardship however, to this day there are still stories that mimic those such as “A Raisin in the Sun” and individuals who have the optimism of a bright future such as the narrator does in the poem “I, Too.” Through it all, Americans need to remember that everybody has a different identity, a different back story and a different dream they want to achieve and that they should all have an equal opportunity to do so, “I, too, am America.” (Hughes).

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A Raisin in the Sun Movie: Exploring Identity, Dreams, and Social Norms in African American Culture. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-raisin-in-the-sun-movie-exploring-identity-dreams-and-social-norms-in-african-american-culture/

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