A Raisin in the Sun Symbols


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A Raisin in the Sun Symbols

Symbolism in A Raisin in the Sun



Introduction
Symbolism is a powerful tool. It is used to add additional, perhaps even hidden, meaning to something. Even a seemingly mundane work of literature can become exotic and profound with the application of symbols. Although some have more conspicuous meanings, the final interpretation is left to the readers. Music, movies, theatre, literature, art, religion and just about everything else is full of this secret language that is unique for each audience member; it is how they can constantly be reinterpreted. Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun , is absolutely teeming with symbolic meanings that take it from a play about a single family, to a play about the struggles of an entire race.

Walter
The setting of the play is the Younger family’s apartment in Southside Chicago, sometime between 1945 and 1959. That era was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and it was full of oppression and segregation for African Americans. During the exposition, a great deal is discovered about the characters, their possessions, and how the play applies to the conflict of the era. Many of the characters hold a strong symbolic meaning, and Walter Lee Younger is no exception. He is the symbol of hope and ambition, dreams and desires, passion and fury. When taken at face value, all of those characteristics are applied towards his own success and the well-being of the family. Walter declares: “I am much warrior!” and the impression is that he is drunkenly caught up in a performance (Hansberry 641). However, when the symbolic motive is accounted for, he is a warrior for a whole race, combating injustice with hope and dreams.

Travis
Travis is another character that represents far more than his part in the play. He is a minor character, but the prominent meaning behind his persona is the future of the Younger family. His father proclaims, “just name it, son… and I hand you the world!” after his rendition of his vision of their future (Hansberry 659). If one takes into consideration the previous point about Walter, Travis is even more than the next generation of the family. It is easy to take the meaning one step further and say that Travis represents the future of the entire African American race.

Walter's Eggs
An important and probably overlooked symbol in the play is the eggs. They appear as just one more thing that Walter does not get his way with, but they are far more. It becomes evident in the dialogue between Walter and Ruth, in which Walter states, “Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs” (Hansberry 616). The eggs represent his hope, dreams, and ambitions. The egg is an idea newly forming in his mind, but it never turns out the way that he wants. Also, it symbolizes Walter’s children. He always wants the best for Travis, who is young and fragile and new, like the egg. However, he can no more protect Travis or the unborn child, nor give them what he wants to, than he can get his eggs cooked the way he desires. If Walter is the hope and dreams of the entire race, and Travis is the future, then the eggs are an amalgamation between the two. They are the dreams of what the future may become; although being scrambled and heated through conflict, eventually they come to fruition.

Mama
Mama is the quintessential African American lady of that era; she is a stock character. Although she is also flat-static, it is that steady faith and loyalty that lends her character suchstrength. More importantly she is the keeper of the plant. The plant is a symbol for the dreams of the Younger family, but also for all black people in the country. Mama, as the characterization of faith, is the keeper of these dreams. According to Michelle Thompson on a Princeton blog dedicated to Mama’s plant as a symbol, Mama “continues to have faith in her plant, because she recognizes the plant’s stubbornness to grow” (Thompson). For the first part of the play, the plant is outside, as if it is a dream out of reach, brought in only for the small amount of nourishment (faith and hope) required to keep it alive. When the family is all packed up and ready to move, Mama brings it inside, like the dream is almost upon them. However, when Walter loses the money, the plant returns outside, once again like a dream deferred. It is important to note that it stays alive, and Mama always stubbornly tends to it, just as she keeps her dream.

Mama's Dream
Mama’s dream is to move into a house, and she purchases one with “a whole lot of sunlight” for her plant (Hansberry 650). The house just so happens to be in a neighborhood where “there ain’t no colored people living,” and so the dream is to break down segregation (Hansberry 650). The sunlight is the hope that keeps the plant, the dream, alive. Another important part of this multifaceted symbol is the new gardening tools which are given to Mama. As the keeper of faith and tradition, she is given tools by the younger generation to cultivate the dream and allow it to grow and spread.

The Check
A very apparent symbol in the play is the life insurance check. The check represents hope, but it is a false hope. Before it even arrives, it nearly tears the family apart. Once Mama puts the down payment on the house, it crushes Walter for three days. When she entrusts him with the rest of the money, he becomes almost maniacally happy. Then it devastates the whole family when they find out that the money is all gone, stolen by Willy Harris, who is the personification of the criminality of the human spirit and the demolition of dreams. Money is the root of all evil. It is a destroyer of societies and a corruptor of souls. Money and greed were the reason why slavery began in the first place, and continued to reign for so long. Glenda Gill, professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, states that she and her colleagues “look upon this money as the deus ex machina of the play” (Gill 227). The problem with that view is that the money does not really solve the family’s problems, but merely gives them a different set of issues to deal with.

The House
The check enables Mama to put a down payment on a house, the hope of the family. It is their ticket to better lives. Again, the hope is false. With the hanging threat expressed by Mr. Linder and the bombings in the newspaper, their supposedly better lives are in jeopardy. Additionally, without the money in savings, it will be much tougher for them to make the payments on the house and still afford food and other things, including the new child. Professor Lloyd W. Brown, member of the Comparative Literature Program of the University of Southern California, points out that “the long term socioeconomic problems have not been solved” (Brown 244-245). This is true for both the Younger family, and the African American population, in general. While they were no longer slaves, black people were segregated. Even after there was no more segregation, the struggle for equality was not over; there was still discrimination and poverty.

Conclusion
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is, on the surface, about an African American family and their conflicts. On the other hand, the play has a transparent implication that parallels the Civil Rights Movement. There are many aspects of the play that are symbols for the dreams of African Americans of the era, the struggles that they faced, and the methods with which they combated injustice. This play was written in the cusp of an age which irrevocably transformed the most powerful country in the world. The beauty of the cipher of symbols is that the meaning changes each time it is decrypted. For these reasons A Raisin in the Sun will continue to be taught and re-examined for the foreseeable future.

The Deal
Another powerful piece of symbolism within the play is the deal that Mr. Lindner offers the Younger family. The deal he offers is a nonspecific sum of money in order for the family to stay outside of his neighborhood, as if to say to them to stay within the shackles of segregation. Mr. Lindner’s deal is, as Dr. Martin Luther King says in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” (King 105). Or perhaps it is better expressed by Langston Hughes in his poem “Harlem” as “crust[ed] and sugar[ed] over – like a syrupy sweet” (Hughes 406). Either way, it is a deal to appease them into tolerating injustice, as it is one tiny step, one small benefit to keep them satiated for a while. It is almost like a deal with the devil, in that it is something that they strongly desire (money), but that will bring them long term, though not an eternity of, suffering if they choose to accept it. The climax is in one of the last scenes, when Walter shows that he is a round-dynamic character by refusing the offer of money, a strong indication of how his values changed throughout the play. The hardships of their unknown future will be endured, and probably be an improvement upon the wracking torment of the past.

Works Cited
Brown, Lloyd W. “Lorraine Hansberry as Ironist: a Reappraisal of A Raisin in the Sun.” Journal of Black Studies. 4.3. 3 March 1974: 237-247. JSTOR. Web. 2 June 2011.

Gill, Glenda. “Techniques for Teaching Lorraine Hansberry: Liberation from Boredom.” Negro American Literature Forum. 8.2. Summer 1974: 226-228. JSTOR. Web. 2 June 2011.

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun.” Literature the Human Experience. Eds. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 609-683. Print.

Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Literature the Human Experience. Eds. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 406. Print.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Ed. David Howard-Pitney. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 103-107. Print.

Thompson, Michelle. “A Raisin in the Sun: Mama’s Plant.” AAS-209 (3) Survey in African American Literature. Princeton University. 4 April 2007. Web. 2 June 2011. .


Symbols in A Raisin in the Sun



“Eat Your Eggs”
This phrase appears early in the play, as an instruction from Ruth to Walter to quiet him. Walter then employs the phrase to illustrate how women keep men from achieving their goals—every time a man gets excited about something, he claims, a woman tries to temper his enthusiasm by telling him to eat his eggs. Being quiet and eating one’s eggs represents an acceptance of the adversity that Walter and the rest of the Youngers face in life. Walter believes that Ruth, who is making his eggs, keeps him from achieving his dream, and he argues that she should be more supportive of him. The eggs she makes every day symbolize her mechanical approach to supporting him. She provides him with nourishment, but always in the same, predictable way.

Mama’s Plant
The most overt symbol in the play, Mama’s plant represents both Mama’s care and her dream for her family. In her first appearance onstage, she moves directly toward the plant to take care of it. She confesses that the plant never gets enough light or water, but she takes pride in how it nevertheless flourishes under her care. Her care for her plant is similar to her care for her children, unconditional and unending despite a less-than-perfect environment for growth. The plant also symbolizes her dream to own a house and, more specifically, to have a garden and a yard. With her plant, she practices her gardening skills. Her success with the plant helps her believe that she would be successful as a gardener. Her persistence and dedication to the plant fosters her hope that her dream may come true.

Beneatha’s Hair
When the play begins, Beneatha has straightened hair. Midway through the play, after Asagai visits her and questions her hairstyle, she cuts her Caucasian-seeming hair. Her new, radical afro represents her embracing of her heritage. Beneatha’s cutting of her hair is a very powerful social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful, prefiguring the 1960s cultural credo that Black is beautiful. Rather than force her hair to conform to the style society dictates, Beneatha opts for a style that enables her to more easily reconcile her identity and her culture. Beneatha’s new hair is a symbol of her anti-assimilationist beliefs as well as her desire to shape her identity by looking back to her roots in Africa.

A Raisin in the Sun Symbols

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Symbols and Symbolism in A Raisin in the Sun



A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, portrays the life of a black family living in a bad section of Chicago. There are many problems in this family, but mostly it revolves around the character of Mama and how she longs to give her family a better life through the money she receives when her husband dies. Also, the family deals with the racism in Chicago in the 1950’s complicating the realization of Mama’s dreams for the family as well as other family conflicts that come up when money is entered into the equation.

A Raisin in the Sun is basically about dreams, as the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. The Youngers struggle to attain these dreams throughout the play, and much of their happiness and depression is directly related to their attainment of, or failure to attain, these dreams. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unites the family. “Oh–So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life–now it’s money. I guess the world really do change.
Mama is Walter and Beneatha’s sensitive and loving mother and the head of the Younger household. She demands that members of her family respect themselves and take pride in their dreams. Mama demands that the apartment in which they all live always be neat and clean. She stands up for her beliefs and provides perspective from an older generation. She believes in striving to succeed while maintaining her moral boundaries. Money is only a means to an end for Mama; dreams are more important to her than material things, and her dream is to own a house with a garden and yard where Travis can play.

The following quotation occurs in Act I, scene ii when Mama asks Walter why he always talks about money. Walter then replies “money is life,” explaining to her that that he believes that success is all about how much money you have. This conversation takes place early in the play and reveals Mama’s and Walter’s money struggles, and it goes to show the difference in their generations. The most obvious symbol in the play for Mama is her plant that represents both Mama’s care and her dream for her family.
Her care for her plant is similar to her care for her children, unconditional and unending in spite of a less-than-perfect environment to grow in. The plant also symbolizes her dream to own a house and, more importantly, to have a garden and a yard. “You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction … a business transaction that’s going to change our lives … That’s how come one day when you ’bout seventeen years old I’ll come home … I’ll pull the car up on the driveway … just a plain black Chrysler, I think, with white walls–no–black tires … e gardener will be clipping away at the hedges and he’ll say, “Good evening, Mr. Younger. ”

And I’ll say, “Hello, Jefferson, how are you this evening? ” And I’ll go inside and Ruth will come downstairs and meet me at the door and we’ll kiss each other and she’ll take my arm and we’ll go up to your room to see you sitting on the floor with the catalogues of all the great schools in America around you…. All the great schools in the world! And–and I’ll say, all right son–it’s your seventeenth birthday, what is it you’ve decided?… Just tell me, what it is you want to be–and you’ll be it…. Whatever you want to be–Yessir!
You just name it, son … and I hand you the world! ” This speech from Act II, scene ii, where Walters is talking to Travis as he tucks him into bed, ends an important scene and previews what you’ll see at the end of the play. Walter explains to Travis, and to the audience, that he will move quickly to invest the money that Mama has just given him, part of which is supposed to help with Beneatha’s college tuition. Walter tells of his dreams of having a gardener, and wanting to live a life that he obviously has only seen from the other side of his dream, by working as a chauffer to rich people.

It’s almost as if he’s repeating conversations he’s heard before from his employers. He explains his dream of the future in detail, as if it were right before his eyes. While speaking, you’d never believe that this was something he didn’t believe would eventually come true for him, since he positively speaks without any uncertainty at all and only in the tense of the future, suggesting that his dreams will inevitably come true. Mostly, Walter wants to provide for his family and make their lives easier. “I know he’s rich. He knows he’s rich, too. “(p24)
Beneatha is Walter’s younger sister and Lena’s daughter, who dreams of becoming a doctor. A strong-willed woman, she takes herself a very seriously a lot of the time. She also is proud of herself for being an intellectual and a South African. Some of her liberal views that she formed in college, clash with the orthodox thoughts of her mother. The primary symbol associated with Beneatha is her straightened hair. Halfway through the play, after Asagai visits her and asks about her hairstyle, she cuts her White-seeming hair. Her new afro represents her embracing of her heritage.

Beneatha’s cutting of her hair is a very strong social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful. Rather than force her hair to be more acceptable to society, Beneatha chooses a style that identifies more with her culture. Beneatha’s new hair is a symbol of her being conflicted with trying to fit in and wanting to go back to her roots. In spite of all the problems they endure during the play, at the end we see the Youngers leaving their old house. Mama is carrying her plant, almost as if it will ensure that they are able to put down “roots” in their new home.
You can tell that this is a very brave decision for the family, to move into a white neighborhood and try to finally realize their long-held dreams. The overall mood of the play is serious with just a few humorous parts. It is This play taught me to try to remember to keep my eyes focused on the important goals in life, not necessarily the material goals and that no matter what, where there’s a will there’s a way, that you can survive and withstand just about anything and make your dreams come true.

I also learned a lesson in responsibility and putting family first, and taking responsibility for your actions. On a lighter note, everything turned out okay in the end and it was a very enjoyable and thought provoking, play to read. The overall mood of the play is serious, although there are a few attempts at humor. This play is definitely a tragic comedy. Although the insurance money is stolen by Willy, Walter is still forced to grow up and he stands up to Mr. Lindner and goes ahead with the move to the “white” neighborhood. Therefore, his bravery overcomes his fears.

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  • A Critical Look at The Taming of the Shrew A Critical Look at The Taming of the Shrew A Critical Look at The Taming of the Shrew The Taming of the Shrew is one of the earliest comedies written by sixteenth and seventeenth century English bard, William Shakespeare. Some scholars believe it may have been his first work written for the stage as well as his first comedy (Shakespearean 310). The earliest record of it being performed on stage is in 1593 or 1594. It is thought by many to be one of Shakespeares most immature plays (Cyclopedia 1106). In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio...