Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong
A Raisin in the Sun: Authorial Intent
A Raisin in the Sun: Authorial Intent
During the 1950's new ideas, art, and mentalities bloomed out of war and segregation. A piece of art written during this was the controversial play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. This work of art is considered a controversial play that strikes conversation because it highlights the segregation and inequality in America during the period it was written in. The play follows the life of the Youngers, a black family of five living in a small apartment in the Southside of Chicago. The play shows the Youngers at their highs and their lows. While white people were taken aback seeing a play that depicted the hardship most black people go through, black people connected with it. Lorraine Hansberry drew from the reality of many black people to form the plot that is A Raisin in the Sun. The authorial intent is sometimes hidden in small scenes, but also evident in larger ones. Lorraine Hansberry had specific intentions with A Raisin in the Sun, one of which was the concept of universality. Universality is the quality of being shared by multiple people in a world. In an interview, when discussing universality the interviewer said, "Point that these are well-rounded people they meant could be anybody….You wrote this play for a certain reason, too", and Lorraine Hansberry agreed saying, "Yes" (Studs Terkel). Hansberry achieves her goal of universality with the character Walter Lee. In A Raisin in the Sun, through Walter, Lorraine Hansberry is able to reflect her ideas of universality, such as generational trauma, systematic oppression, and dreams.
Although every person comes from a different walk of life, most people understand trauma, especially when it is passed down from generation to generation. The Youngers live in an apartment with two bedrooms, a pullout couch, and a bathroom they share with their neighbors. Their living situation is not ideal, and it is a situation that Walter Lee not only grew up in but also continues to live in. Walter Lee doesn't have much that he can say is truly his in his household. He wants to come into his manhood and be the head of the household, though he has no attachment to any of his household possessions or decisions. In the Youngers' home, "Weariness has in fact won in this room" (Act 1, 23). It's hard for Walter Lee to feel happiness and ignore his anger when he's surrounded by worn carpets and furniture scrubbed too hard too much. The years of frustration have taken their toll. The Youngers' home has been filled with broken dreams, empty promises, and years of trauma. The home has lost its grandeur and colorful feeling as the family finds themselves in turmoil, in search of their purpose as individuals. The air in the apartment is heavy, alluding to the endless trauma and oppression the Youngers encounter, which is a feeling that is commonly felt among most black people. Although Mama accepts the apartment, Walter Lee continues fighting to break free by working to make his dreams possible. Everything in their home belongs to Mama, even family decisions, as she is the head of the family. Mama's role in her family is similar to the role of women in most black homes. Oftentimes, black women become strong central figures in their families. In an interview with Studs Terkel, Lorraine Hansberry discussed the role of women in black families and said "... Those of us who are to any degree students of Negro History think this has something to do with slave society, of course, where she was allowed, to a certain degree, of, not ascendancy, but of, at least control of her family, whereas the male was relegated to absolutely nothing at all". Although women like Mama have a very prominent role in black families and often "become the backbone", sometimes tyranny does emerge (Studs Terkel). Mama may be passing the parenting techniques her parents used on her, down to her children. This continues a line of trauma, disallowing members of the Younger family to grow emotionally and mentally. Walter Lee wishes he had more control over their lives and the opportunity to make his dreams possible but is unable to grasp this control because of the power dynamic in his household. This is the traumatic experience of not growing because your environment doesn't allow you to do so. The generational trauma Walter Lee experiences is a universal trait throughout families, whether it is refusing to let their child grow and open their horizons or severely scolding their child for a minor mistake. Parents reflect the decision and treatment their parents used on them. Generational trauma is a common barrier people across all cultures have to overcome.
Most people have encountered oppression in their lives whether it was because of their sex, race, sexuality, or age. Walter Lee is stuck in a job serving a white man. He spends his days driving his wealthy, white boss to his destinations, longing for the life he has. After Mama tells Walter Lee she doesn't plan to invest in the liquor store nor listen to his ideas he shouts, "WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE LISTEN TO ME TODAY!" (Act 1, 70). Walter Lee is not only being oppressed by society and his job, but also by his family. His family turns their backs on him and refuses to listen, beating him down and reinforcing the notion that what he has to say doesn't matter. In Act 2, Mama acknowledges that she's been hurting Walter Lee saying, "... I been wrong son. That I been doing what the rest of the world been doing to you" (106). The Youngers do not believe in Walter Lee, nor do they trust his dream. He lives in a cycle of disregard and oppression. When Walter Lee is in the apartment he is overlooked by his family, and when he is at work he is powerless. Children are often treated in the same regard as Walter Lee. Frankly, this is fitting because Walter Lee is a boy that eventually grows up at the end of the play, overcoming domestic and societal oppression. Children are often disregarded and given little control in their home lives, and when they are outside of the home they have little to no power. No one wants to believe in or listen to a child, so they are thought less of. Walter Lee is a great example of universal oppression because he highlights the reality that people experience the feeling of inferiority at least once in their lives. Systematic Oppression is a plague that all people can feel and see the results of.
Dreams are made to give people a goal to reach, and when dreams are deferred it is natural to falter. Walter Lee dreams of being his own boss and a well respected businessman. The poem Harlem, written by Langston Hughes, at the beginning of the play can be connected to Walter Lee as his dream is deferred multiple times. The beginning of the poem reads, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" Walter Lee's dream is not only deferred by his family but also life. As this happens to him he continues to push against the adversity, though he isn't rewarded for his efforts until the end of the play. After Walter Lee finally sees hope for his dreams with the insurance money, Willy Harris runsoff with it, ridding Walter Lee of the financial aspect he needs to accomplish his dreams. Even though it is easy for Walter Lee to think up ideas for what he wants to do in life, it proves difficult for him to accomplish them because of all the obstacles life throws in his way. Economic, social, and political status will continue to determine how far you go in life. Walter Lee reinforces the notion that dreams are not easily accessible and are often deferred in the society we live in today, creating a universal struggle felt by everyone.
Universality was one of the main intentions of Lorraine Hansberry in her play A Raisin in The Sun. Of all of the characters in a Raisin in the Sun, Walter Lee is the one character that she puts all of her intentions into, allowing her audience to relate to him. Lorraine Hansberry uses Walter Lee to mirror her ideas of generational trauma, systematic oppression, and dreams. After continuously being oppressed by society, the Youngers begin to present the element in their home, creating traumatic encounters for the characters. Walter Lee's dreams are oppressed and he is prevented from growing and moving up the social ladder. Lorraine met her intentions of universality and accomplished what she wanted. When audiences look outside of their race, steryeotypes, and the lies created by society they are able to see that Walter Lee is a regular human being that has undergone immense hardship. This play is still relevant. In reality everyone experiences hardship. Also, the horrific details of society that Lorraine Hansberry highlights in her play are still present today. It is crucial to take the similarities between the time periods into account because the actuality of it all is that times have not changed as much as we would like to believe. A Raisin in the Sun is special because it reminds us of how important it is to remember that if we ignore the white noise, we can connect as people and work solve societal issues.