A Raisin in the Sun – Jack Williams
Lorraine Hansberry, in A Raisin in the Sun, brings to light the condition of poor African American families in the South Side of urban Chicago during the 1950s. The play debuted on Broadway in 1959, and was felt heavily in tandem with the Civil Rights Movement. The title, which actually came from Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem,” reminded me also of Billy Holiday’s famous “Strange Fruit,” which was a song of social protest which fought against the lynching and mistreatment of African Americans throughout the states. A Raisin in the Sun hold similar imagery and weight in its reflection of the seemingly helpless condition of the largely ostracized African American population up until the sixties.
It represents the entire Harlem renaissance, in a way, with Mama, Walter, Ruth, Travis, and Beneatha Younger reacting in their own individual ways to the status quo of Black-Americans in an urban center dominated by White-Americans. Presenting the audience with themes of racism, poverty, and assimilation, the Youngers’ struggle reflects the struggle of many black families across the U.S. during that time. Lena, for example, purchased a house in an all-white neighborhood in order to assimilate as best as she could. This, in my mind, reflected the actions of the older African generation at the time – complacent, for that way of life is all they had ever known, and so many terrible experiences of loss, mistreatment, and subordination caused a loss of hope. However, Walter, for example, represents the younger generation in that he has more drive to speak up, work hard with his limo and liquor ventures, and make something of himself to prove that he is not subordinate to anybody. In essence, his drive is rooted in successful business ventures and the power yielded from them, while Lena’s drive is rooted in religion and social assimilation.
I liked reading this play, and hope to see it one day, as it seems like a staple of American Social History.