The American Dream and Identity Explored in Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”
Dreams are the very essence of individuality. While we live in a world that tries to shape us into becoming what they want us to be, we have our dreams that guide us to follow our own tendencies. The American Dream is one that everyone understands; the notion is practically synonymous with the United States. Hundreds of thousands of individuals come to America to pursue this dream because they know that when they are working toward something positive, they become better individuals. The idea of identity is closely linked with the American Dream because to have a dream, one must have some sort of idea of what one likes to do. In addition, success generally follows making attempts if one is good at something. Those that achieve the American Dream are perceived as successful, intelligent, motivated individuals. The search for self and the quest for an identity become central themes in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
In the play, Lena Younger’s children, Walter and Beneatha learn what it means to think, behave, and react like an adult before the conclusion. Walter and Beneatha are searching for their identity in a world that is not going to give them much in the way of achieving anything significant for their futures. They learn different lessons about who they are as a result of their circumstances and this helps them understand what the American Dream is all about and what it is worth. Powerful characterization makes Hansberry’s play a success in that we can feel their pain as well as the pride.
Historically, the play is significant because it reflects the sentiments of many African Americans during the 1950s. Prejudice was a very real thing and racism kept many African Americans from simply achieving a decent life much less one that could be remotely close to the notion of this American Dream. This is significant because the American Dream is real to all races but many African Americans felt they were fighting a losing battle when it came to their dreams because they were still living in a white man’s world. Things have certainly changed with the election of Barack Obama but almost 60 years ago, racism was a very real and very large stumbling block. This reality affects Walter in many ways because he sees it in action every day when he goes to work; In addition, most of the wealthy people he encounters are white. When he comes home, he lives with his mother and sister because he cannot afford to provide for his wife and child; they live in a cramped apartment where children encountering rats is not a surprising event. Walter sees the good life and wants to live that life, too. He is working against a system that has not encouraged him to be all that he can be so his aspirations are often coupled with notions of get rich quick schemes. Walter chooses this route because he feels as though it might be the only way for him and his family to experience a better life. His identity is under assault throughout most of the play because he feels inadequate in that he cannot provide for his family. Through the deal with Willy, Walter discovers who he is and emerges a stronger and wiser man. L. M. Domina notes, that by “choosing life, they defy their struggle. In defying their struggle, they refuse the possibility of defeat.” (Domina) This is the essence of the play; it tells us we do not win by giving up or giving in but by moving forward despite how we feel or how things might look.
A sense of self and a sense of identity are established through difficult circumstances because it is through tough times that we realize our abilities. Kimball King asserts that Hansberry emphasizes the search for identity by exploring the “pursuit of and disillusionment with the American Dream.” (King 296) “She shows that the American Dream is within the black people’s grasp, though, in order to win it, they must often face...
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