The Sun Essay, Research Paper
Dreams and Dignity
The American Dream, although different for each one of us, is what we all aspire to achieve. In the film A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family, who are black, all have a dream to better themselves and to have what all other American families want + a shot at the American Dream. The American Dream to the Younger family is to own a home, but beyond that, to Walter Younger, it is to be accepted by the hegemony and not to be marginalized into a lower social category.
In an article from The Wall Street Journal entitled The American Dream , President Clinton refers to the American Dream as the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, then something good will happen to you (Stein 1). In the film, Walter Lee Younger does not do either one of these things. Walter doesn t show up for work regularly and he certainly has no intentions of playing by the rules to get a business licenses.
Walter Lee is a man stuck in a dead end job that he sees as demeaning and he becomes desperate to free himself from the bonds of poverty, oppression and racial discrimination. Walter Lee feels that with money he can change the hegemony s view of him as a poor, stupid, black servant. The hegemony s social construction of reality about blacks as being lesser and the hegemony s ethnocentric perception of being superior, is corroborated in an article titled The Colour Bar of Beauty from The Peak. Cristina Rodrigues, a member of the black cultural and social activist group Olodum, says In Brazil, nobody wants to be black because the mass media equates black with poor and stupid (Aujla 2).
Walter has a loving relationship with his family members, but he also has a relationship that frustrates him. Walter s family frustrations are brought on by society s lack of socioeconomic advantages for other and Walter s inability to acculturate and achieve a better life for his family. Unconsciously, Walter s American Dream is to assimilate into the mainstream and become a part of the affluent hegemony.
Walter s frustration festers and his anger turns inward towards his family who, in Walters eyes, do not understand him. Walter s family members do understand him and they also want to amass material dreams, but Walter s family members know that it is going to take work to get there.
Walter begins to drink, stay away from home, and to constantly argue with his wife, Ruth. Walter s life is contrasted by the role of his recently widowed mother, who holds to more traditional values of acceptance of life s lot and of making the best of any situation. Walter Lee s Mama holds Walter s father up as an example of a man with pride and a man that, despite racial injustice in a dualistic society, worked hard to provide for his family. This adds to Walter s frustration. Walter now feels incapable and small in his mama s eyes.
Mama s inheritance of ten thousand dollars left by her deceased husband provides fodder for conflict in the family. Each of the family members, envisioning their own American Dream, has an idea of how the inheritance should be spent. All of these ideas, of course, conflict with Walter s get rich quick scheme. Mama, Ruth, and Travis all have the dream of moving to their own home with a white picket fence, a garden, a place for Travis to play outside and a bathroom that is not shared by other tenants. Walter s sister, Beneatha has a dream of going to medical school and being able to help others. And Walter wants it all! Walter wants the money, the house, a business, and an overall good life for him and his family. Walter, like many other Americans, measures his dream by income (Stein 1).
Mama, deciding that the family needs to realize the dream of owning their own home, makes a small down payment on a house in the white suburbs. Mama, believing that Walter must ascend as the man of the family, entrusts him with the balance of the inheritance. This act by Mama is contrary to how the hegemony views the African-American culture; commonly, the culture is recognized as a matriarchal culture. This view holds true according to the U.S. Census Bureau on Family Group Statistics. According to these statistics, there are more African-American females raising children alone than any other race in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau).
The ugly face of discrimination rears its head when Karl Lindner, a representative of the homeowners association and of the hegemony, offers to purchase the Younger s new home. Lindner is making this offer in order to prevent their neighborhood from being integrated and thereby prevent what the white homeowner s believe would be a diminution of their property values. During the timeframe of this film (mid 1950 s) this overt and obvious type of racism did exist.
Today, with the U.S. Fair Housing Law, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which enunciates a national policy on fair housing opportunities for all citizens, the traditional all white hegemonic neighborhoods have become diverse and rich in many cultures (Cornell).
Walter, rejecting the values of his mother s generation, decides to fulfill his lust for instant monetary success. By conspiring in a risky business venture and Walter loses the money that the family had so many hopes for!
Desperate and destitute, Walter has dashed the family s dreams of owning a home, of Beneatha s chance at medical school and the dream of living among the hegemony. Walter s lust for instant wealth and status has taken his family to the brink, forcing Walter to devise a scheme to extract a high price from the homeowners association in exchange for keeping the Younger s out of the neighborhood.
Mama drawing upon her pride and dignity insists that Walter sign his fate in front of Walter s son, Travis. At this moment Walter draws deep into his soul and chooses dignity for himself and his family and refuses the offer.
According to Michael Margolin, a writer for the Metro Times, The title A Raisin in the Sun comes from a Langston Hughes poem: What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun? / Or does it explode? (Margolin 1-3). Walter Lee, the raisin in this film, answers this by being the raisin that exploded. Without Mama, Walter would have had what Hughes refers to as a dream deferred .
In analyzing this film subjectively, it seems that Lorraine Hansberry captured the realities of discrimination. The film was moving and induced feelings of shame to be a part of the hegemony. The hegemony expects the African-American to assimilate to the white culture but yet, as President Johnson said in The American Promise , A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. (Johnson 5).
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