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A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Review by Jensen

a raisin in the sun book cover

Ever since the tragic death of George Floyd, our nation has been pushing more than ever to create a society that enacts an equality for all African-Americans. As a result, people have been trying to educate themselves on this subject matter to create a more informed society. If you are someone who fits this narrative, I have a fantastic novel I’d like to share. Set during the Civil Rights Movement, “A Raisin in the Sun'', by Lorraine Hansbury, is a fictional novel that depicts a black family that struggles to live in a society where they have their backs to the wall from their race. When Lena Younger, the leader/decision maker of the Younger household, is given a $10,000 insurance check that stems from the death of her husband, Mr. Younger. Each member of the family has their own intentions on how they want the money to be spent. Lena wants to use the money to buy a larger house and get out of the small, cramped apartment the family of five lives in. Walter, Lena’s son, wants to use the money to invest in a liquor store with some other friends. Ruth, Walter’s wife, is in agreement with Lena because she wants her son, Travis, to have his own room rather than sleeping on the couch and she believes the bigger space would be better for everyone. Lastly, Benethea, Walter’s sister and Lena’s daughter, wants to use the money to pay for medical school, which is very expensive. It is also important to note that Benethea is in the process of discovering her identity in the play; specifically, she not only wants to discover her passion, but she wants to be connected with her African roots. As the play goes on, the Younger’s become in conflict with each other over how the money will be spent. Harsh realities emerge and the family’s bond is tested time and time again in a society that shares critical views of their people. 

What I love most about this book is how Hansbury dives deep into her characters. Oftentimes in literature, there are flat and round characters. Flat characters are boring. They have no substance and they are not authentic. On the other hand, round characters are the opposite. Each character in the Younger family is very well written. For starters, Benethea has a huge age disparity with her older brother, Walter, which is a key indicator for why she feels so disconnected with her family. Especially at such a young age (20’s), she is trying to make an identity for herself. Her family does not understand that and they’re unwelcoming to her idea of spending a good amount of the precious check on an endeavour that she may decide not to fully pursue. She also is trying to be more in touch with her African roots. Her family, along with many other black-American families are indifferent to their African ancestors. Benethea believes that African-Americans have been assimilated into the predominantly white culture in America and have lost their footing on their African culture. She meets a guy, Asagai, who is from Africa during the play. She is interested in him because he is one of the few people in the states that is very well connected to Africa because of his birth there and he is also visiting the states for education. 

Walter is also a very unique character in many ways. For one, his forthcoming is his belief that he needs to be the one who provides for the family because he is the only man in the household. So much so that his judgement is often clouded by this belief and he makes foolish decisions that harm the family. One powerful scene in the play is when Travis is in need of money for school and Ruth refuses to give him anything because the family needs to save every penny they can. Walter decides to go against his wife’s word and gives Travis the money he needs. This action offends Ruth and causes a conflict between them, but it is important to note Walter’s reasoning. Walter sees Travis as a son who thinks his dad is not the man he can look up to. He believes this because they are poor obviously and Walter is fixated on the idea that he needs to be showing his son and family that he can provide for them. This obsession makes Walter go crazy for the right reasons and it completely makes sense. 

Hanbury does an excellent job at creating the setting of this play. The reader is transported to a very difficult era for African-Americans and a time where our nation was being introduced to the Civil Rights Era. The Younger’s pain and struggle is a testament to how African-Americans faced extremely challenging times in a country whose majority population did not respect them. The Younger’s are also a part of the movement that involved many African-Americans fleeing to the North because there were better economic opportunities there unlike the South. 

            Overall, Hansbury’s play is a fantastic one and it is very relevant in our society today. It is a very family-oriented play, but it also touches upon the search for one’s identity and racism. I truly believe that reading this book can help people gain a new perspective on what African-Americans were subjected to in our country’s past. Lorraine Hansbury’s play has the power to help our society move in the right direction towards ending racial injustice so this play is a no brainer.

Check out A Raisin in the Sun from the Newport Beach Public Library.

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