The American Dream in A Raisin in the Sun

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A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry. The primary focus of the play is the American Dream. The American Dream is one’s conception of a better life. Each of the main characters in the play has their own idea of what they consider to be a better life. A Raisin in the Sun emphasizes the importance of dreams regardless of the various oppressive struggles of life.

Primarily, in A Raisin in the Sun Walter is an example of one struggling to achieve their dream or desire. Walter serves as the hero and villain of the play due to the actions he takes revolving his dream. “Walter, who firmly believes in the American Dream of economic independence, wants to own his own business, and a liquor store, because he despairs over what he perceives to be his inability to support the family and to provide for his son’s future” ( __ __ ). Walter’s dream is to be sole the provider for his household and give his family a better life. He plans by doing this through a liquor store investment with the insurance money given to Mama from Big Walters death. “In the play Walter loses much of the insurance money that he planned to invest on a liquor store to a con artist” ( ___ ___ ). Walter’s decision on investing in a liquor store turns out to be a horrific choice. In the play although Walter is regretfully deceived and looked down upon as a result of the liquor store ambition, he makes up for it by at the end finally reaching his manhood. During the time of the play the husband of the family is mainly the sole provider for the family. In the case of the play, Walters mother is the sole provider for the family. Walter strives to be the “man” of the house.“A job. (Looks at her) Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, “Yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?” Mama, that ain’t no kind of job. That ain’t nothing at all. (Very quietly) Mama, I don’t know if I can make you understand” ( Hansberry , Pg.73). “Walter minimizes the position of a car driver because to him it diminishes his manhood and his sense of individual worth.

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In his own view, his work as a chauffeur places him in a boring and humiliating relationship of servitude to white Americans” (M’Baye Pg.5). Throughout the play Walter grows as a character from being a boy that complains about the way he is living and cares mainly about himself, to a man who realizes the importance of the dreams of his fellow family members and dignity of where he comes from.

Subsequently, in the play Mama is another example of struggling to achieve her Dream. As Howes explains, “the matriarch of the family, Lena Younger, is a commanding presence who seems to radiate moral strength and dignity”(206). “Mama’s American dream for peace is compromised by the rampant segregation that her family faces in being compelled not to buy a house from the Clybourne park white neighborhood” (M’Baye, 5). Harold Bloom suggests that Mama’s dream is to own a house with a garden and yard so that her family can become more whole and peace can be instilled. Although Lena/Mama faces a slight dilemma with Mr. Linder and numerous of conflicts with her family members, in the end her American Dream is accomplished. Another thing that Lena Younger/Mama dreamed of was raising her children the right way. Lena claims that they (Big Walter & Her) tried to instill a sense of pride and ambition in their children, and she is dismayed by the materialism and cynicism they express (Howes, 206). Howes also suggests that Lena does not understand how Beneatha doesn’t believe in God and how Walter thinks money is the most important thing in the world (206). In the play Lena tries to fix these faults in her children by force and communication. She slaps Beneatha and forces her to say “In my mothers house there is God, and she tries to change Walter’s way of thinking by having a conversation with him.

Beneatha is a third example of how a person with dreams is portrayed in the play. “Beneatha Younger is an intelligent, energetic college student who intends to become a doctor, if she can get the money for tuition” (Howes, 207). “All of the characters have their dreams challenged: Beneatha is courted by a wealthy black man who she feels has lost himself in the white culture” (Marie, and Brantley, 530). ____ suggests that because of the time period Beneatha is in, it is very difficult for her to achieve her dream due to her being a woman. Additionally, her fellow family members give her difficulties. (Bloom.207) Beneatha’s dream of being a doctor is very difficult to achieve. Woman during her time seldom became doctors because society didn’t accept that. Furthermore, Asagai confronts her many times about assimilating to an oppressive culture. Somewhat adolescent in her behavior and interests, Beneatha tends to lath onto fads, pursuing such expensive hobbies as horseback riding and guitar playing, which some critics called fan attempt to adopt middle-class white values (Howes, 207). Her dreams and ambitions are contrary to what is expected of a young woman in both cultural traditions. ( ___, Pg. 480) Beneatha also wants to be different from the woman of her generation. She expects to achieve her dream by Mama’s insurance money. Beneatha’s character explicates a determined woman with ambition on achieving her American dream.


Big Walter Lee is an example of how Hansberry portrays an African American struggling to achieve their version of the American dream. Big Walter Lee, wasn’t completely in the play however he was described through Mama’s voice. First Mama depicts Big Walter as a courageous man who fought all his life to secure a happy future for his family (M’Baye,1). She states: “That man worked hisself (himself) to death like he done. Like he was fighting his own war with this here world” (Hansberry, 45). Big Walter’s life was a constant struggle against a personal sorrow and a hostile economic and social world that discriminated against him. Like Lena Younger (Mama), Big Walter wanted to raise his children with the mindset o valuing family values and dreams over everything. Big Walter wanted to instill a sense of pride and ambition in their children (Howes, 206). ’Baye talks about how Big Walter and Mama raised their children Beneatha and Walter, to value their religious beliefs (5). This is proven in the play when Beneatha gets slapped for denying the existence of god. Mama lectures about how they (Big Walter and her) raised their children better. Furthermore, this is also proven in the play when Mama orders Walter to tell Ruth not to have an abortion. When Walter doesn’t say anything to Ruth Mama lectures about how her and Big Walter raised their children better.


Works Cited

A Raisin in the Sun: Unabridged 25th Anniversary Edition and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Ed. Robert Nemiroff. New York: Penguin, 1987. 9-20.


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