Critical Perspectives on Lorraine Hansberry's Use of Women in A Raisin in the Sun
An Annotated Bibliography
By Amelia Freeman


     Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun takes the reader into the life of a black family who wishes for nothing more than for the world to treat them equally to white people. While following the misfortunes of the Youngers, she portrays the female characters as the strength behind the entire family. Mama, Ruth, and Beneatha remain optimistic throughout the play and keep the family strong through all of it’s troubles. Although all three women vary in views, they unite to provide hope for their family. Hansberry portrays her black feminine characters as positive, committed to family, and united in order to provide other black women with self-respect and hope during their times of difficulties.

        Most critical perspectives on Lorraine Hansberry's' A Raisin in the Sun analyze the themes of the struggle for dreams, Walter's actions, and the strength of women. Four essays focus on the strength of women, while two web sites focus on Lorraine Hansberry as a writer. Anthony Barthelemy analyzes Hansberry's attempt to correct another author's pessimistic display of women, while Anne Cheney looks at the difference between  modern and conservative women in the play. Helene Keyssar and Margaret Wilkerson confront Hansberry's struggle as a women and as a black person. On the web, Tim Decker sees what happens when a family unites and keeps their values, while George Windish looks at the influences behind Hansberry's writing. These dissertations provide the reader with ideas that help to understand the play better while also showing the inspirations behind the main themes of the plays.
 

Barthelemy, Anthony. “Mother, Sister, Wife: A Dramatic Perspective.” The Southern Review 21,
        no. 3 (1985 Summer):770-89.

        Barthelemy contends that Lorraine Hansberry, in her play A Raisin in the Sun, attempts “to correct (Theodore) Ward’s representation of black women” (770) made in Big White Fog. He describes Ward’s female characters as “vicious”, “malicious”, and “unreliable” (771-772). Hansberry, on the contrary, portrays her feminine characters as strong characters who help her tell the world that black people “have among (their) miserable and downtrodden ranks people who are the very essence of human dignity” (773). Barthelemy shows the endeavor of Hansberry to reinstate the positive image of strength and full commitment to family given to black women. Mama stays proud throughout the play, while Ruth remains determined to move even after Walter Lee loses the money (774-775). Even Beneatha lives up to Hansberry’s “ideal” as remaining committed to her “family and race”, while always realizing her own errors (777). These women work along with men to improve life instead of “surrendering to patriarchy” (779), as do the female characters in Big White Fog.

Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984. 55-71.

         Anne Cheney portrays A Raisin in the Sun as a play which shows the truth of the human spirit of all people. She focuses at one point on the clash between “old”, God seeking women and “new”, self-seeking women (61). In A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha represents the new, modern woman, while Mama represents the old woman. Ruth, however, remains between the old and new woman. She considers abortion, yet is still a full-time wife. Toward the end of the play, Mama “begins to understand her children’s modern ideas” and the “new worlds” of her children (65). The old and new worlds of all three women begin to come together to gain “strength, humanity, and wisdom” (65). Cheney also considers Mama’s motherhood with her nurturing of the plant, which is “a symbol of life, survival, and the human spirit” (62). Likewise, Beneatha acts selflessly throughout the play and wishes to become a doctor to improve the current conditions and treatment of black people.

Decker, Tim. “The Propagation of Pride and Dignity.” Computer Writing and Research Lab,
      University of Texas. 4 Dec. 2001. <http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/anderson/amlit/raisin/
      td/pride.html>.

        Decker analyzes the struggles that the characters in A Raisin in the Sun face while chasing “dreams that are out of reach” (1). Walter seems to leave behind his family while attempting to become a businessman. Beneatha talks poorly about God to Mama, which “threatens to ruin the inherent stability of the family structure” (1). Although the members of the family differ in beliefs, they unite at the end of the play in order to overcome obstacles. The family stuck with their morals throughout the entire play; if they had abandoned their values, they might have lost their strength to stand up for themselves when the residents of Clybourne Park asked to buy back their house.
 

Keyssar, Helene. "Rites and Responsibilities: The Drama of Black American Women." Feminine
        Focus. Ed. Enoch Brater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. 226-240.

         Keyssar confronts the issue of a “double consciousness” (226) of Lorraine Hansberry. This consciousness deals with the concern of being both black and female. She compares three authors: Angelina Grimke, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange, in order to portray the use of this “double consciousness” (226). Black women often write drama in order to persuade whites against the horrendous treatment of blacks. They show how similar the two races are in ideals, while also providing a positive self-image for black people. Keyssar portrays black men as the real victims of racism and women as the strength behind these men in order to give them and the families self-respect. Hansberry, in A Raisin in the Sun, hid the grimness of the world for black people with the laughter and optimism provided by her characters.

Wilkerson, Margaret B. “Lorraine Hansberry: The Complete Feminist.” Freedomways 19.4 (1979):
        235-45.

         Margaret Wilkerson explains Hansberry’s statement: “I was born black and a female” (236). Many people contest to her connection of the situation of a black person to that of a woman. She realizes that the two aspects are extremely different and that they both bring their own “pain, suffering, and truths” (237), but she interconnected them in her plays. Her female characters contributed greatly to the key themes of the play, and “emerged as eloquent definitions of her feminism” (238). Mama attempts to save Walter Lee and the others from the “world’s brutalizing influence” (240) for his own sake, not for the sake of her own power over the family (239-240). In all of her plays, Hansberry contradicts the female stereotypes and portrays her characters as strong, committed and “responsive” (240). However, she does not think that “men are beasts simply because she expresses the view that women are oppressed” (236).  Therefore, she did not have to suppress arguing for black men in order to stand up for women (238).

Windish, George Alex. Absolute Write. 4 Dec 2001. <http://www.absolutewrite.com/novels/lorraine_
       hansberry.htm>.

      Windish gives an autobiography of Lorraine Hansberry, thus stating her reasons and influences in writing A Raisin in the Sun. He notes that she understood that "a playwright's soul is on display for all to see", thus realizing that all of her readers would know motives in writing her play. Her family life influenced her writing; her family struggled with moving into a predominately white neighborhood. They remained in their home although they faced many of the same challenges as the Younger family. The strength that she gave the Youngers modeled that of her own family when she was a child. Hansberry wrote of the "loves, hopes and dreams of an urban black family in the 1950's" (1). By paralleling her play to her own life, she was able to capture the true pains, sufferings, hopes and dreams that came with living as a black person during a time of strong American racism.
 
 

Back to my Home Page
 
last revised 12/4/01