, Research Paper
December 3, 1999
Lorraine Hansberry and her Short Success
In this report I m going to talk about American playwright and painter: Lorraine Hansberry and her life along with her first success, which was A Raisin in the Sun. This masterpiece became a very well known play and often when people here Lorraine s name, they think of A Raisin in the Sun. Also in this report, I m going to compare and contrast the film version and the later recreated version of this play.
A Raisin in the Sun was the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. The film was made in 1959. Hansberry’s work celebrates individuals who stand up for their own and other’s dignity.
Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago as the daughter of a prominent real-estate broker and the niece of a Harvard University professor of African history. Her parents were intellectuals and activists, and her father won an antisegregation case before the Illinois Supreme Court, upon which the events in A Raisin in the Sun was loosely based. She studied at the University of Wisconsin for two years, and in 1950 she moved to New York, where she started her career as a writer.
A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and the film version of 1961 received a special award at the Cannes festival. Hansberry’s next play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1964), was set in the New York City neighborhood of Greenwich Village, where she had long made her home. The play had only modest success on Broadway. Her early death, at the age of thirty-four, cut short her promising career.
The play is set in south side Chicago. Walter Lee, a black chauffeur, dreams of a better life, and hopes to use his father’s life insurance money to open a liquor store. His mother, who rejects the liquor business, uses some of the money to secure a proper house for the family. Mr. Lindner, a representative of the all-white neighborhood, tries to buy them out. Walter sinks rest of the money into his business scheme, only to have it stolen by one of his partners. In despair Walter contacts Lindner, and almost begs to buy them out, but with the help of his wife and mother, Walter asserts his dignity and decides that the family will take the house after all.
The original film version and the recreation of A Raisin In The Sun is very similar in many ways. The two characters that best depicted the original ones in the film were Ruth and Beneatha Younger.
Ruth s character was very similar in both makings of the play. She was a little bolder and more dramatic in the play version, which connected with me better. One part that moved me in the play was when she finds out that she is pregnant and just breaks down and cries.
As in the film version, Beneatha was a major feminist and loved to get in touch with her African roots. Asagai, helped her do this. His character was much better in the newer play version than the film. He is much more believable as a true African. His accent in the play really brought out his foreign background.
Walter Lee s character was better in the film version in my opinion. His temper was much more dramatic and violent than Danny Glover s character. The scene when mamma tells Travis that she bought a house with the insurance money and Walter smashes the glass that he was holding really portrays the anger and frustration that he was feeling. He didn t do this in the play. Another scene I liked in the film is when Walter comes home from drinking and Beneatha is dancing around in her dress that Asagai gave her. Walter starts dancing and singing with her. He did this in the play version also but I think it was more entertaining and funny in the film.
Mamma s character was very different in appearance in the two versions. She was very husky and huge in the film, which made her kind of scary and mean looking. Mamma in the play was much better. She had that demanding and traditional house mom type of personality, but at the same time was very loving and caring. It was easy to see those characteristics just from her appearance. There was a scene in the film where mamma went to the bar to look for Walter Lee after finding out that he had not been going to work. This wasn t in the play and I think it was a very important part of the play, because this is when mamma finally decides to give Walter the money. It was kind of weird to see an old woman in a dress with a big flowered hat on walk into a bar and start chewing out her son.
I was really surprised to find out that the actor who played Karl Lindner in the later made play was the same actor who played in the film. He looked almost exactly the same and of course his piglet voice was what gave it away.
A few parts that were not in the play that I thought were important is when the family goes to see the house. The excitement in everyone s faces is something that could not be shown in the play. We saw how excited they were when they were packing and getting ready, but it just wasn t the same. Also the scene where mamma goes into the bar made it more clear of how mamma finally gave in and ended up giving Walter Lee the money.
On the other hand, one scene that I thought should have been in the movie that was in the play was when momma was taking down the pictures from the wall and the wallpaper was still new underneath them. This represented the time, history and memories that took place in the house. She touched the walls and said one last good bye to the old rickety apartment.
Overall after viewing both forms of this playwright, I think that I like the play version better. First of all it was in color, which really does make a big difference. I liked all of the actors in the play except for Walter Lee s character (played by Danny Glover). It was a good performance, but after seeing the original film I had something to compare it to. The symbolism that was picked up from the play version was much clearer and meaningful than in the film.
It was interesting finding out more about Lorraine Hansberry. After seeing both plays I can see how her personality and life was viewed through the actors in this classic. It s clear that she felt strongly about anti-segregation, one reason being that her father one a case on it. Since Lorraine herself was full of pride and triumph it only makes since to reveal that through Benni (mostly) and through mamma who couldn t be any prouder of her ancestors, her past away husband, her family, and her life. I think that this playwright was pretty much a story of Lorraine Hansberry.