A Raisin in the Sun and the American dream - a good topic for an essay
A Raisin In the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's play about a black family in 1959 Chicago, is all about aspirations. Named from a line in Langston Hughes' poem A Dream Deferred, it focuses on the different dreams of each member of the Younger family as they discuss what they can do with a $10,000 life insurance payment.
This theme of aspiration makes a tempting match with the concept of the American dream - the idea that anyone can do well for themselves if they work hard. If you're thinking about writing an essay on the play it probably seems like a tempting subject to choose. Does it actually work as a concept?
The family consists of Mama, the devoutly Christian matriarch; her son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth and son Travis; and Beneatha, her daughter. All have their own plans which could be called the American dream. Mama, with Ruth's support, wants to move out of their apartment and into a house in a better area. Walter wants to become wealthy and plans to do so by investing in a business with his friend Willie (who never actually appears in the play.) Beneatha wants to go to medical school.
All of these are typical aspirations, but because the Youngers are black there are racial aspirations involved, too. Walter admires Beneatha's suitor George, who is fully Americanised and denies his African origins; he believes that to be successful he must also assimilate. Mama and Ruth appear ambivalent; Mama eventually buys a house in an all-white suburb, but mainly because it's cheaper than the all-black neighbourhood she looked at. Beneatha on the other hand rejects the idea of integrating with white America and attempts to find her identity in Africa. Despite this she straightens her hair, until persuaded not to by a Nigerian boyfriend.
The Youngers have aspirations, but there are obstacles to fulfilling them. When Mama buys the house the local residents' association tries to pay them to live elsewhere because they don't want black neighbours. Walter is poorly educated, which George mocks him for. Beneatha is torn between the culture she lives in and the one she identifies with.
For all these reasons, A Raisin in the Sun is an ideal work to discuss in terms of the American dream. It shows how the admirable idea that everyone can achieve their ambitions if they work doesn't always stand up in the face of real life, and how people can redeem themselves - as George does when he refuses the buyout offer - through moral courage.
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