Raisin in the Sun is one of the most well known and loved plays written by Lorraine Hansberry, and when it is read, the style, scope and eloquence of the play hooks the reader from start to finish. The play chronicles the events of a matriarchal black family, written in an obvious, accessible and engaging style. The poem highlight's the family’s values, their pride for their race, and their love for one another. The character of Lena was unprecedented in literature for the time. She is a refreshing heroine - a strong and courageous black woman with lots of self worth, with a clear view of what she wants in life, a good knowledge of how to get it, and a tenacious ability to exercise and promote her rights. In spite of her complex character, her family is the most important thing to her, and it is to them that she is devoted unequivocally.
Hensberry’s attitude towards the female gender is made quite clear through the play. From the outset, it is obvious to the audience that the mother is in charge of the family, and is the one to provide the leadership and protection. It is clear that she sacrifices her own personal ambitions for the good of the family, beside the emotional backdrop of her former husband's death. She supplies the inspiration, and helps everyone in her family to achieve their goals and move towards their dreams. Hensberry describes Lena as a woman who has dealt with much in life, and has overcome just as much, with the summation 'beautiful' being the most fitting word possible.
Lena is another woman of character in the play. Ruth provides selflessly for her family in a similar way, and when she falls pregnant, it is in her family's best interests that she intends to abort. Another strong character - Beneatha - is another amicable woman who wants to become a professional, treat everyone equally, and work very hard to achieve her goals. She values love over money and importance, by marrying for love and not with George Murchison for the material gain. She is a character who would never betray her core beliefs, and this is exemplified often in the play.
A significant part of the play details Lena's family moving to an all white neighborhood, which is something that does not phase Lena due to her self-worth and her belief of racial equality.
As stated, the play is a testament to the resolve and strength of women despite their emotional intelligence, and Hansberry is clearly stating that women are capable of tremendous achievement in life, and can often act more appropriately, with more wisdom and resolve than the opposite sex. Walter Lee presents this notion very well, since he contrasts all of the female protagonists in the play. He is selfish and loath to admit his shortcomings, and Lena's famous "You something new, boy." Perfectly shows her disdain for him. He cares solely for money, and does not care who he walks over to get it, including his family. The male sex is redeemed however at the end of the play when he decides against opening the liquor store, in a deed which marks the start of a happy future for the family. Rena's line "He finally came into his manhood today, didn't he?" shows how ecstatic she is to see her son not forsake his family.
The play's end presents a win of human decency and morality over human weakness, which makes for an amazingly happy ending. It is the strength of the female characters in the play which cause Walter to mend his ways, and realize what is most important. The family is free to behold its dreams of a happy future, which will not dry like a raisin in the sun.
- Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House: New York, 1959.