Lorraine Hansberry and ‘A Raisin in the Sun’
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Lorraine Hansberry and ‘A Raisin in the Sun’
Lorraine Hansberry was a very talented lady; she was a playwright, and author and activist. She was the first black playwright and won a New York Critics’ Circle Award at a very young age, for a great play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ that was about a black family who were struggling with their life. This play opened on Broadway and became a huge success. She actively participated in the civil rights movement and fought for civil rights all over her life but unfortunately she died at the very young age of 34 because of cancer in her pancreas.
Among the hallmarks of the American stage Lorraine Hansberry’s play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ has made its particular position. It still seeks new audiences that include Emmy-nominated television productions from both 1989 and 2008. Even the play has won Tony Awards in 2004 and 2014, along with the award of Best Revival of a Play.
Early Life of Lorraine Hansberry
In Chicago, Illinois, Lorraine Vivian Hansberry 3rd took birth in an African-American family on May 19, 1930; she was the youngest of among her four siblings. Hansberry’s parents were well-educated and successful citizens. Her father worked as a broker in the real estate field while the mother worked as a teacher. They both made great contributions for fighting against discrimination in black people. This family was aggressively harassed by neighbors in 1938 when they shifted to a locality of whites. The Hansberry’s defended them and refused to move, and her father took the case all the way in the Supreme Court.
The family’s tradition of studying at the Southern black colleges was broken by Lorraine Hansberry, who pursued her studies in Madison at the Wisconsin University. She started with major in painting but soon changed her subject to writing. However, as two years passed she decided to shift and went New York City and hence left her studies in between (Buchanan, 2009).
Her Career and Commercial Success
In one of Hansberry writing, she had mentioned that she was always inclined towards writing down or recording her life experiences. Every so often, her writing is recognizably autobiographical, including A Raisin in the Sun. She was among the first playwrights who portrayed the realistic life of African-American people.
When Hansberry moved to New York, she began studying in the New School of Social Research. She also started working as a writer and associate editor at ‘Freedom’ which was Paul Robeson’s black newspaper; she worked there from 1950 to 1953. She even did a job of a part-time waitress as well as the cashier and utilized her extra time by writing. However, Hansberry had left all her works by 1956 and started writing on a full-time basis. In 1957, she began working for ‘The Ladder’ a magazine where feminism and homophobia were the central themes. In the articles of this magazine her identity as the lesbian was exposed, however because she feared to be discriminated she used to write under the name of, L.H.
During this period, Hansberry wrote a play ‘The Crystal Stair’ that focused on a black family who was struggling to live at Chicago. It was this play that was later given a new name and known to be ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. On March 11, 1959 this play was staged on Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and with 530 performances it was proved to be a huge success. Hansberry was the first African-American lady and black playwright whose play was staged on Broadway, and even she won a New York Critics’ Circle award in a very young age (Carter, 1991).
Hansberry participated actively at the Civil Rights Movement during 1963. For testing the attorney general’s position in the matter of civil rights, she met Robert Kennedy. Hansberry met him along with other powerful people, such as Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, and James Baldwin.
Lorraine and A Raisin in the Sun
During this time, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ was considered as a revolutionary work. Hansberry presented one of the first true portrayals of a black family on an American stage through the Younger family. This was an era when mainly black audiences simply did not have any existence. Prior to this play, African-American were usually given small and comedic roles, which majorly created stereotypes in the society. However, Hansberry showed a whole black family on stage that in the light of realty, she portrayed the fact that is unflattering and very far from humor. Throughout the play, black vernacular was used by her and also important issues and conflicts, such as poverty, discrimination, and the construction of African-American racial identity were mentioned by Hansberry through the play (Hansberry, 1960).
‘A Raisin in the Sun’ explores the conflict between white and black society. The play also shows very well the tension that exists within the black community regarding the reaction towards a domineering white community in the society. Complex questions about adjustment and identity are asked in Hansberry’s play. Hansberry shows a trend of celebrating African legacy, through the character of Joseph Asagai. When he calls for a native revolt in his homeland, Hansberry seems to foretell the anticolonial struggles in African countries of the upcoming decades, and the certainty and requirement of integration.
A Raisin in the Sun is believed to be much ahead of time as Hansberry addresses several feminist questions that weren’t even expected to be asked that time. Hansberry signifies that marriage is not necessary for women through the character of Beneatha, and she also portrays through her character that women can and must have ambitious career objectives (Carter, 1991). Also, an abortion debate is approached by her; this was very difficult and challenging as during those times abortion was illegal and permitting the issue of abortion to enter the action inform the audience takes some courage.
Impact of Lorraine and the Play on the lives of people
Larger and timeless points are heated by all of this idealism about race and gender relations, dreams Hansberry mentions are crucial to the people. In reality, the main characters of the play are motivated and driven for their dreams to be fulfilled, and Hansberry focuses on such issues through this play. These dreams have both positive and negative aspects; positive function can be seen by moments when the characters lift their minds from their hard work and difficult style of living, and negativity can be seen when more dissatisfaction with their present situations is stirred in them. However, when only the focus is placed on materialistic goals instead of familial pride and happiness, the negative dreams come into play in the most part. Hansberry through this play tries to make people understand that people can lift each other up as long as they do their best for their families. Still today ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is a significant cultural document of an important era in American history and also for the ongoing debate over racial and gender problems, which were sparked through Hansberry (Gordon, 2008).
Summary of “A Raisin in the Sun.”
A Raisin in the Sun is a play where Hansberry has portrayed few weeks of the Youngers life. It is a story of 1950s and about Youngers who are an African-American family that resides on the South Side of Chicago. In the very beginning scene of the play, the Youngers are supposed to get an insurance check of $10,000, which was actually the money coming from the Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy, who had died. While the money was still to be handed over to the family, each of the adult family members starts planning about how they will use the money. The matriarch of the family, Mama, wishes to buy a house. It was her dream that she and her husband had seen together, and now she wanted to fulfill it. Walter Lee, who was Mama’s son, wanted to open a liquor store with his friends do for him the best use of this money was to invest it in the store. According to him, the family’s financial problems will be solved forever if the money is invested in the liquor store. Ruth, Walter’s wife, agreed with Mama, but she hoped that more space and opportunity could be provided by her and Walter to their son, Travis. Lastly was Walter’s sister and Mama’s daughter, Beneatha, who wanted the money to be used for paying her medical school tuition fees. She also desired her family members not to be interested in becoming like the whites; instead she attempts to seek her identity by going back to the past and to Africa, their native place (Carter, 1991).
Buchanan, Paul D. (2009), The American Women’s Rights Movement: a chronology of events and of opportunities from 1600 to 2008. Branden Books. p. 210
Carter, Steven R. (1991). Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment Amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Gordon, M. (2008). Something like war”: The aesthetics of segregation, black liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun.” African American Review. 42(1), 121-134.
Hansberry, Lorraine (1960). A Raisin in the sun. In Four contemporary American plays. Selected with Biographical Notes by Bennett Cerf. New York: Vintage Books.