Essay On Racism In A Raisin In The Sun


A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry about the experiences, struggles, and hardships of a middle class African-American family in the 1950s in Chicago. The play covers topics like racism, society, and failure. During the time period, it was very difficult for an African-American man to even get equal opportunities, and be successful, let alone heroism. The word “hero” can give different suggestions depending on its context. Heroes are viewed as saviors, that help people. A “hero” conjures images of flying people in capes, that fight villains and save the day. “Hero” in it’s deeper meaning, shows someone’s courage, bravery, achievements, confidence and not just physical, but mental strength. Walter Lee is a true hero by the end of the story, due to the realization of the real responsibility of being “head of the family” and his growing sense of pride and dignity, which are both perpetuated by his family, giving rise to him changing his decision and standing strong in the end.

Walter’s heroic decision to move into the house is provoked by the rising sensation of pride and dignity through his family and their history. Pride and dignity are the feeling of respect for yourself, knowing your self-worth and honoring your achievements despite the struggles. Hansberry uses Mama as a guide to teach Walter to have dignity and pride throughout the play. Mama states “Son I come from five generations of people who were slaves and sharecroppers but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we weren't fit to walk the earth...We ain’t never been that dead inside.”(Act 3). The phrase “we wasn’t fit to walk the earth” doesn’t literally mean, Mama’s family couldn’t walk on the earth, but moreover suggests the racism her family faced by being held back because of their race. Despite the discrimination Mama’s family never took payoff in exchange of being stopped. By speaking to Walter about this, Mama is trying to show the self-respect her ancestors had, that despite any situation, they never let their pride go away. The phrase “dead inside” holds deeper meaning. “Dead inside” brings to mind images of sad, depressed and hopeless people. In this context,  “dead inside” shows the lack of self-respect and honor for yourself. Using this, Mama is trying to explain to Walter, no matter what happens, never to lose self-respect. With some impact from Mama’s words, Walter gradually becomes more aware that he comes from a proud family and what the right thing to do is, while talking to Mr. Linder. This slow change can be seen through his tone of voice, as at first, he was hesitant and unassertive, but slowly he became more certain and confident due to his realization. Hansberry has Walter refer to his father by saying “my father he earned it for us brick by brick.” (Act 3) to show his character develop, as he starts to understand, the insurance money was not just a check, but was the last symbol of his father. “brick by brick” which doesn’t literally mean his father earned the money using bricks but emphasises how hard his father worked during his life to be able to leave his family with the insurance money. Walter understands that he shouldn’t lose to people that restrain him, or obviete him from accomplishing something because of the color of his skin, but instead he should understand his self-worth and stand strong. This helps Walter realize that he must preserve his dignity and pride like his father and ancestors, and give the family  true happiness by keeping the house. This decision demonstrates his heroistic characteristics, because similar to heroes, Walter had courage to make a sacrifice by saying no to the money, which he has always been desperate to attain. Additionally, Walter knew the difference between right and wrong, and chose the right, with belief in himself which is a characteristic seen in heroes. As heroes do, Walter was able to know his self-worth, and help understand what his family needs the most.

 Furthermore, Walter’s perception of what his family needs most after losing the insurance money is changed through his understanding of the responsibility of being the “head of the family”. Being “head of the family” in a literal way means being the person that passes down the lineage of the family, and has the highest authority in the house. Through society, it’s meaning during the 1950s, and still now, has become more focused on providing financial stability. Walter’s character develops during the play, immensely, as he realizes through his dignity, and pride, that being the “head of the family” and the “man of the house” doesn’t require him to only support the family financially, but to keep it together, give the family happiness and protect it emotionally. When Mr. Linder arrives, Mama tells Travis to stay and observe his father, which pressurizes Walter. The text states,“No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show where our five generations done come to.” (Act 3). The words “teach” and “come to” are the most impactful. “Teach” means explaining to someone a specific concept, and reminds you of images of schools, with students and teachers. The word “teach” furthermore suggests teaching of the real world, including, qualities, and values. By using this word, Mama is trying to show Walter that Travis is learning from all of Walter's actions and it’s his responsibility as head of the family to set a good example on Travis. The phrase “come to” proposes a change in position from before. In the specific sentence, Mama is trying to indicate the degrading of pride from the past 5 generations. This shows being “head of the house” for the next generation in the family, and brings many other responsibilities (not just bringing money) such as maintaining the status of his ancestors, and being a role model. These responsibilities, along with his self-respect cause Walter to change his decision. The whole family was filled with immense joy to hear the final decision. According to the play, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rain-bow after the rain” (Act 3). The word “manhood” in it’s explicit meaning means a state of being a man, physically rather than a child. “Manhood” conjures images of wise tall grown men with deep voices. As Mama refers to manhood, she is indicating the growth in Walter’s maturity, pride, understanding of responsibility and leadership. It shows how proud Mama is of her son. The phrase “rainbow after the rain” has an impactful effect due to the different feelings the words “rain” and “rainbow” give. Rain brings to mind darkness, and a feeling of gloominess, while rainbow brings to mind brightness and colorfulness. The contract between these words help show how Walter brought hope after the darkness of misfortune. This demonstrates how Walter is a hero, because like heroes, he was able to identify his duty and responsibilities towards his family. Also Walter improved himself so he can be a role model and leader for Travis like heroes are to their fans. Heroes do whatever it takes to prove to people they are capable of making them happy, like how Walter proved he wanted to make his family happy. 

Walter has proven himself as a hero by the end of the story, by understanding his role as “head of the family” and knowing to have dignity and pride in himself. He understands his role as “head of the family”, and realizes his dignity and pride through the memory of his father, and the hardships of his ancestors and the family. Through his realization, he was able to stand strong, and save his family’s happiness like a hero.

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