Book: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Age/Genre: Adult Fiction Play
Preferred Reading Environment: In a nice hot bubble bath with some jazz playing
Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite reading beverage
Content Notes: This play covers a lot of issues revolving around racism and women’s rights. As a result, there is casual racism and sexism used to illustrate points.
It’s the Winter Solstice! So naturally, I chose a “sunny” title. When I was book shopping in Arkansas with Bethany, I came across A Raisin in the Sun on a display shelf. I had never heard of it, but the blurb on the back made me instantly want to read it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read a play since college, but I figured this would be a short, fun read.
A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway in 1959. It was seen as a risky production for many reasons:
- It was written by a first-time playwright, a black woman (this was the first broadway play by a black female writer).
- Since all the characters except one were black, it was feared the play wouldn’t appeal to white theatre-goers.
Many edits were made to A Raisin in the Sun to make it more appealing to widespread (read white) audiences. Most cuts were made with run-time in mind, though there were a few edits that toned down the emphasis on black life. Throughout the years, many cut scenes have been added back in, all of which are in the edition I read. The edition I picked up is the most complete version of the play and had a great introduction explaining how have racial issues played into the reception and analysis of the play throughout time.
In the beginning of the play, we are introduced to the Younger Family. The household consists of Lena, Mama; her children Walter, Jr. and Beneatha; Walter’s wife, Ruth; and Walter and Ruth’s son, Travis. The scene is set in a house that used to be nice, but has been worn down over time. The first scene is a typical “fighting for time in the bathroom” morning scene. We immediately see that this family lives under constant stress, which strains their personal interactions.
This play is absolutely worth your time to read, so I’m going to try to go into it without too many spoilers.
The main conflict of the play is that Lena’s (Mama’s) husband Walter, Sr. has passed and she is receiving a check for $10,000. Everyone has their own ideas on how it should be spent. Mama just wants to do what is best for her family. She wants to use the money as a down payment on a new home. Walter wants to invest the money into a business. Beneatha wants to use the money for tuition to become a doctor, while everyone is encouraging her to pursue nursing instead, as it’s more “ladylike.”
Unsurprisingly, Beneatha and Ruth are my favorite characters in this play. They are both independent young women who are trying to build a better future for themselves, as well as others. Ruth’s main concern is her family, while Beneatha is 19 and becoming interested in politics and the history of her people. Ruth is more concerned with the daily survival of her family – providing for her son and working against her husband’s tendency to attract the worst outcome with the best intentions.
Walter, Jr. never once listens to a single person in the play. He’s so caught up trying to live up to his role as a provider that he just focuses on all the things going wrong and holding him back. He doesn’t see that his mother, wife, and sister are also striving toward a better future, he just sees what he can’t attain.
There’s also a nosy neighbor, who was left out of the original stage play completely. She shows the judgement that a community can have of their own members trying to improve their situation. She’s the stereotypical obnoxious neighbor in this very specific setting.
The introduction talked about how a lot of the changes made to the original stage production were to make the play more relatable to white audiences. The interactions with the neighbor show a specifically black lens, but they are still very relatable to anyone who has watched a sitcom. I think that the fact these cuts were deemed necessary – and probably did contribute to the success of the play – show the inability of a lot of white people, particularly in the 50s and 60s, to relate to people of color.
The characters in this play are so realistic and nuanced – Walter isn’t shown in the best light, but he’s not demonized. I got a real sense that these people are the way they are because of their lived experiences- which is the epitome of good characterization, but can be absent in many plays, movies, and books. Motivations are shown, and no one is really portrayed as better than anyone else- people just are who they are.
Overall, I loved this play and if I ever get a chance to see a stage production, I’ll snap it up. Tell us about your favorite play in the comments!