10/29/2015

Raisin Hell Draft

A Raisin in the Sun is about the American Dream and how it was limited for the Younger family by race and heritage. Beneatha represents the ability to make one’s own dreams come true in America in spite of being black.  The character of George represents the tradeoffs that can be made for a piece of the pie; while the character of Asigai represents the heritage that is lost with those tradeoffs. In The American Dream, Cullen says that the Homestead Act was a reminder of General Sherman’s promise of “40 acres and a mule” and this promise was one that African Americans never forgot. I feel by the time the 1950’s hit Chicago, Beneatha wasn't looking to collect on that promise anymore, because she did have bigger goals in mind. Many of the ideas around Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun see Walter Lee and Mama as the main characters; however, it is Beneatha’s hope and optimism that are the real main themes of the play and because of this the introductions of the characters of George and Asigai are paramount to the play.
A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of the Younger family. It takes place in 1950’s Chicago in a poor part of town. The setting is a noticeably lived in a too small apartment that shares a bathroom with the other apartments in the building. The Younger family is being awarded a $10,000 life insurance payment for the death of Big Walter the patriarch of the family. The check is coming to Mama (Lena) but the whole family is looking forward to the kinds of changes this money can bring. Ruth and her son Travis have dreams of a home, while Ruth’s husband Walter Lee imagines the check as seed money for opening a liquor store. Beneatha is Walter Lee’s sister and Lena’s daughter and she states early on “That money belongs to Mama, Walter, and it's for her to decide how she wants to use it. I don't care if she wants to buy a house or a rocket ship or just nail it up somewhere and look at it. It's hers. Not ours, hers” (Raisin in the Sun 1.1).  When the check is finally delivered Mama does make her own decision, she does what she feels is best for the family and buys a home.
By the end of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2, we have been given all the details about the world the Younger family lives in as well as being introduced to George Murchison and Joseph Asigai, the two characters that represent the future of being black in America as Lorraine Hansberry imagined it. The Younger family is poor, they struggle to survive and they work hard to do it. Ruth lets us know how much $.50 is to the younger family when she tells her son Travis, “I ain't got no fifty cents this morning” (Raisin 1.1). Walter Lee tries to play it off but he later reinforces that Ruth is right about the value of $.50 when he asks for money for himself. Mama lets us know just how used to hard work she is “Ruth. We just plain working folks” (Raisin 1.1). It is Beneatha that really represents the future though. The check will bring the Younger family up, but Beneatha is the only one who can attain real upward mobility and security. Every character in the play is there to show how far Beneatha has come and how she is able to move past all the obstacles of being a black woman in 1950’s (at least she hasn't been convinced otherwise). The true mobility we see in Beneatha is shown by her suitors.
Beneatha is going to college to be a doctor; she will be a notable measure of success by any measure in the black community of Chicago in 1950’s. She will be empowered to be more than just a wife. She will have the education to show she did not stop at being a nurse; she will have the title of Doctor, a title of respect. With a title like doctor anyone can buy the American dream, and Beneatha would not consider anything less, “I am going to be a doctor and everybody around here better understand that” (Raisin 1.1). The character of Beneatha symbolizes hope and other motifs such as optimism and resignation. Not all the characters see that yet. Her brother won't even say the words, in the beginning his only recognition of her future at all is “If you so crazy 'bout messing 'round with sick people then go be a nurse like other women or just get married and be quiet...” (Raisin 1.1). Ruth seems ambivalent to her; her concerns are focused on preserving her marriage and raising Travis. Mama doesn't doubt Beneatha's ability to be a doctor but her love and confidence is that of a mother, her heart would have to break to feel doubt in Beneatha.
George represents the true American dream, not the dream of moving up and having something like a small home, but the real American dream of status and wealth. In the scene where he is introduced it is made clear George is so successful that even the label of assimilationist won't stick to him. In the scene where we meet George he says, “Black brother hell!” (Raisin 2.1). He didn't come across a check that made him flush with cash enough for impulse purchases like a small family home, he comes from a family with money. His heritage isn’t Africa it is the American Dream.  George signifies all the privilege that comes with money too, college, trips to New York “offhandedly A few times a year.” (Raisin 2.1), a beautiful car and a lofty position to look down on others from. George is like George Jefferson, he is movin’ on up and he is looking for his Weazy in Beneatha. In the eyes of Momma and Ruth, George is even a bigger catch than a $10,000 check.
George's Success is so important to the play because he illustrates just how far Beneatha moves from just the basic dreams of struggling African Americans in 1950’s Chicago. She might not realize it when George enters in the first act of scene two but buy the time the last scene rolls around she signals to the audience that the gifts and money of a character like George Murchison aren't big enough to be   part of her dream. She tells us early that George is boring, stiff and not forward thinking enough for a strong independent woman like Beneatha but we don't have enough reason to believe it yet. George’s character is the pivot of the scale we use to measure Beneatha. If she can be persuaded to give up her Doctor dreams and be the marrying type for a man like George than we would see her dream is no bigger than her family’s. We would then know that here medical school ambitions are the same as her ambitions to play guitar because “I just want to, that’s all. “(Raisin 1.1), to be a photographer or jump horses to “express” (Raisin 1.1) herself.
The other character we measure Beneatha by is Joseph Asigai, the dreamy Nigerian suiter who woos her with the mystique of her heritage and pet names like “Alaiyo” (Raisin 1.3).  We seen in the first act Joseph Asigai represents the true black world. Not the oppressed people who jump at a chance to live next to the Jones's. He listens to music that connects with the soul of the Younger’s, music that was even able to reach inside of Walter Lee and show him “THE LION IS WAKING… OWIMOWEH!” (Raisin 1.3). He is exotic; he knows how to wrap an Iro. He can see past the trappings of the Western domination such as the way Beneatha wears her hair. And he sees Beneatha as a powerful woman, not the westernized Hollywood woman but “a queen of the Nile.” (Raisin63). In many ways he sees her as an equal, this is showed to us when he proposes to Beneatha but does so while integrating her dream of being a doctor into his own future with her.
It is important to realize that Joseph financial circumstances are not equal with Beneatha’s, he doesn't look down at her and everyone else but that is because “--he is an intellectual.” (Raisin 1.1). He is from Nigeria and he is Yoruba, that denotes an amount of wealth and status especially considering he has some very fine Iro sent from his home to Beneatha. Hansberry did not mean for the details of Asigai to be overlooked, her uncle was a professor at Howard University who taught African culture and history, she wants us to see his nobility. He is a prince charming and his behavior in his first scene is very princely.
George and Asigai both represent good choices for a young woman growing up poor in 1950’s Chicago. It is important to make the point that both of these young men are very wealthy. By contrast both of these men are extremely wealthy compared to the financial status of the Younger family. Both of these men are educated and in a position where being black hasn't held them back. George has no issue with being an assimilationist and Asigai can't even see what assimilationism really is he is so far above it. Both of these men could provide a life for Beneatha beyond what she has ever known and beyond even what the Younger family can aspire to with a $10,000 check. And that is why these two characters are so important.
These scenes where George and Asigai are introduced give us real insight into Beneatha. Her interests and politics are developed by her dialogue about and with these two men. These two men also show us the true measure of Beneatha's convictions. If they didn't enter the play out image of Beneatha would be a flighty, bratty little sister. Her opening dialogue with Walter Lee, “I dissected something that looked like you yesterday.” (Raisin 1.1) would be the standard to judge her by, it Would be our lasting impression of her. All we would know is that she tried horse jumping, she tried photography and now she is trying guitar and we know from Ruth and Mama this hobby will probably end the same way as the other two, mama says, “Why you got to flit so from one thing to another baby?” (Raisin 1.1) If there was no dialogue about George in the first act, we would have never gotten out first taste of Beneatha’s true mettle, “... I am going to be a doctor and everybody around here better know that!” (Raisin 1.1).
In the last scene the family is preparing to their new home, and it has been a big progression to get to that point. They have fought each other, institutionalized racism and each other again to get to that point. They are on the cusp of Big Walters dream; they are going to move into their own home. Travis will grow up in a house with his own room. Walter Lee will be able to wake up and move right into the bathroom without any wasted sleep. Mama will be able to rest her tired bones and have a garden and Ruth can raise her child in a home. This home is the culmination of the American dream for all these people, but not Beneatha. Beneatha at that point has already progressed past the dream of home ownership; she knows that it is now possible. In all the excitement about the new home, Beneatha chooses that time to tell them about Asigai's proposal. In the middle of all the action she says “Mama, Asagai asked me to marry him today and go to Africa— “(Raisin 3.1). The family is so excited about their tiny little dreams that they can't take in the scope of Beneatha’s progression past the old dreams thought up by slaves and the sons of slaves, she is past being okay with servitude to get her piece she is bigger than all that. She is the future that Hansberry envisioned; she is Hansberry herself in so many ways.
None of Beneatha's daring would have been anything more than the fancies of a young girl if George and Asigai weren't there is show us. Jim Cullen writes about the years from 1955 to 1960 by saying “One could argue that even [such] anger was a luxury for black folks is those years…” (22). Beneatha was beyond that; she just didn’t see it that way. She was old enough to be oppressed but she hadn’t been beaten down yet. Her motif of hope has evolved into promise.  Maybe Beneatha's name has significance, the old dreams, the handme down American dream of home ownership, the dream that got realized by the settlers, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and finally was wrung out and offered to urban black America was beneath her.





Works Cited
Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.  2004. Print.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Press, New York, NY. November 2004. Print.


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