The Symbolism of House Plants
Literary devices are used by authors to unite a common theme within their work. The device providing the most unity within the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry is the houseplant Lena Younger, or “Mama”, so adamantly protects and nurtures throughout the play.
The symbolism associated with this plant provides insight into Mama’s attitudes toward her family and her belief that they can succeed in their dreams.
The plant’s continual appearance shows how necessary this symbol is to provide unity in the play. The symbolism behind the plant takes on many layers, but it always connects back to Mama and her love for her family.
In the first scene of the play, Mama is depicted as nurturing her house plant. Even in the opening scenes, she is drawn to care for the plant, much as she is drawn toward caring and protecting her family.
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Mama is always the caregiver in the play. She is the powerful matriarch that gives strength to the family. Much like the plant is the unifying symbol of the play, Mama’s power often makes her the unifying force within her family. Mama’s power is established through a variety of sources. She is the family elder.
After the death of Mr. Younger, Mama is Walter and Beneatha’s lone surviving parent, but she is also the economic center of the family. After years of hard labor, Mr. Younger’s death has provided his family with an insurance settlement of ten thousand dollars, which the entire family wants, but Mama holds firmly in her hands.
Mama’s complaints that the plant would do so much better if it only had a little more light, echo her beliefs that her family would prosper if allowed to escape the suffocating environment of their cramped apartment. Mama never stops believing in the potential for the plant to grow and thrive, just as she never stops believing in her dream for her family.
Even when Walter does the unthinkable and loses Mama’s money in a financial gamble, Mama never stops believing. Her family has gone through too much, and she refuses to be forced into submission.
Leaving the apartment now becomes risky, the family does not have all the money to guarantee an easy transition, and Mama is forced on many occasions to reconsider to family’s move. Mama’s dreams are inevitably too strong, and the family eventually moves in to their new home regardless of the risk.
The theme of overcoming resistance in pursuit of a dream is continued when Mr. Lindner visit the family. Even though he suggests that their family may not be wanted in Clybourne Park because of its racial segregation, Mama is convinced that her family must escape the confines of their apartment in order to prosper.
Because of her belief in her family’s ability to grow, she leads the family in turning down Mr. Lindner’s monetary offer. Mama believes that the plant, like the family, simply needs a little more room to grow. Like the plant, Mama always encourages her family to grow.
She supports her family various dreams, and consistently empowers them so that they will be able to reach them. She even violently apposes the idea of Ruth having an abortion because, like the plant, killing one of the family’s members would, in essence, destroy the plant.
Mama’s plant is practice for her dream of a home with a garden and a yard. Even her moderate success with the houseplant is enough to convince Mama that she will be a successful gardener. Similarly, her success with her children encourages Mama that her family will continue to be a success, if given the right environment.
The plant itself becomes fuel for Mama’s passionate pursuit of her dream for herself and for her family. As the play closes, Mama symbolically returns to the apartment, rescuing the plant its imprisonment there. The play is left open-ended.
No precise details are given concerning the family’s decision or their pursuit of their goals. The reader is, never the less, left believing that the plant and the family will thrive in their new home because of Mama’s belief in them.