Gender Roles in a Raisin in the Sun

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Angela Olsen
English 102 ONLN 3
Professor Thea Howey
May 3, 2013
Female Gender in A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry was a forward thinker for her time in the 1950’s, which was evident in her writing. “It is believed that hidden behind her work was Hansberry’s own personal struggle with gender” (Wiener 10-11). After many years of marriage and eventually divorce, it was discovered that she was a closet homosexual (Wiener 11). Male and female gender roles are heated topics that have been debated for generations. Women in the United States are still regarded as taking care of and nurturing children as well as the responsibility for taking care of the home. The majority of women in America have a career outside the home, yet still assume the majority of domestic responsibility. Women have struggled to find balance between career and family for years. During World War II there was a rise in feminism because women had to begin working in military factories because the men were at war. It became evident that women were just as effective and hard working as men. These gender roles were more pronounced in the play A Raisin in the Sun, especially with regard to its female characters. The story of the Younger family accurately portrays the strength of family, specifically relating to the three female characters. Mrs. Lena Younger, Mama, is a strong woman in her sixties who has overcome many obstacles in her life with many yet to come. Ruth Younger, Lena’s daughter-in-law, is in her early thirties, and when the play opens the disappointments in her life are evident by her exhaustion. Beneatha Younger is a smart, liberated woman in her twenties with aspirations of her own. Lorraine Hannsberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun expresses the dreams and apprehensions of the three strong female characters in atypical gender roles through different generations.

Lena “Mama” Younger is the matriarch of the Younger family. In the 1950’s a woman was not the typical head of the household. Mama has become the family leader because “her husband was killed in an accident on the job” (Poitier 528). Historical statistics say, “Black households without male heads increased during this decade: from 17.6 percent in 1950 to 22.4 percent by 1960” (Super 30). Mama was forced into a role that she was not expecting, but handled the change with poise throughout the play. It is evident in the play that the role of women in the home was changing. However, Mama is an old fashioned and conservative woman. She speaks about her deceased husband’s womanizing and chauvinistic behavior in the quote: “God knows there was plenty wrong with Walter Younger-hard-headed, mean, kind of wild with women” (Hansberry 45). Mama’s outlook on life stems from her belief that accepting such behavior was a woman’s place in life. Mama has lived through extremely difficult times. Mama and Big Walter moved North to Chicago to escape slavery and start a better life for their future children. There were times in her life she remembers being worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too... (74). She has also lived through the loss of a child and now the death of her husband (45). She is motivated by extreme love for her family and a desire to see something better come of their lives.

Lena Younger clings to the dream of owning a home, a dream she shared with her late husband. Only around fifty-five percent of the population in the 1950’s were home owners, with separate neighborhoods for white and black Americans. Mama reminisces, “I remember just as well the day me and Big Walter moved in here. Hadn’t been married but two weeks and wasn’t planning on living here no more than a year” (44). As the new leader of the family, she decides to take a portion of the money from the life insurance and use it for a down payment on a house. When she shares what she has done for her family she is met with...
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