Matthews, Kristin L. “The Politics of “Home” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun”. Modern Drama, Vol. 51, Num 4, University of Toronto Press, Winter 2008, pp. 556-578.
Thesis: “Re-centring the play allows a vision of Raisin’s ideological complexity – a complexity found not only in its external use- value but also in its value as a thing itself. The play stresses the necessity of finding a solid home where one might house and express oneself; at the same time, Raisin insists that individuals must be willing to join with other voices and the larger community in order to change oppressive social systems – even if that means singing harmony instead of a solo.” (p.558)
Restated Thesis: This article centers on the play itself, allowing for its complexity to be seen for itself, not only for its external value. The play emphasizes the concept of what makes a home a home, and how communities are built together, and not by diserperate houses.
Matthews begins by giving a truncated history of racial violence, especially when it came to housing and moving into white neighborhood, “ In post-war Chicago, bombings, demonstrations, and assaults on blacks attempting to move east into predominantly white neighbourhoods were on the rise…” (p. 556). MAtthews then details Hansberry’s history and experience this this violence growing up, and moves into how these now historical events shape the world of “Raisin in the Sun” with, “In Raisin, neighbour Mrs. Johnson’s comment upon hearing the Younger family has purchased a home in the all-white Clybourne Park points towards the cultural assumption that violence would continue…” (p. 557).
In the section “WHAT HAPPENS TO A DREAM DEFERRED?” Matthews compares the diverse possibilities of the poem to the diverse attitudes of the Younger family, “Walter’s belief in the “American Dream” to Ruth’s pragmatism, Mama’s spirituality, and Beneatha’s Pan-Africanism. Because none of these four characters is “central,” the play and its audience weigh and measure all responses equally and participate in the process of community building.” (558). The home of the Younger’s is a microcosm of the tensions across their nation, “Mama and her family have the potential to be “reborn” in their new house…the play shows that the Younger family’s possible means of hope and resistance are located in a new home comprised of various parts of their old “homes.” The Younger family is weakest when it is a house divided against itself” (566-567) and everyone is trying to find what home is meant to be, and how to get there.
The section “HOME OF THE BRAVE” analyzes the Younger’s final decision to move into the white neighborhood. Homes are not given, or allowed, sometimes, you have to force out a space for yourself, because “from their earliest days of “residence” in America, African Americans have built and sustained others’ American Dream, but like Big Walter, have been denied their own dreams.” (569). The Younger’s build their own house, “A Raisin in a Sun demonstrates that the “house” as it now stands is not only divided, but run-down and in need of reconstruction. Thus, Hansberry’s play calls for committed builders – those who will tear down the broken house and put up a new one in its place” (571).
- Matthews sets up the article by giving very detailed context about Hainsberry and how deeply “Hansberry’s family was personally acquainted with the violence inherent in property ownership in Chicago” (556). I appreciated this, as it shows how to incorporate the author into the article.
- Matthews also gives historical context about the dangers of a black family moving into a white neighborhood at the time, which is an unspoken presence throughout the play. She states, “Between the years 1956 and 1958 alone, there were over 250 reported incidents of racial violence – a total that included at least thirty- eight arson cases” (556).
- Matthews mentions her fellow critiques and also talks about “Reading Raisin’s unique brand of pluralism allows one to engage questions of individuality, community, particularity, and universality without embracing reductive either/or constructions or allowing the play’s scholarly use-value to overshadow its content.” (558). Matthews makes a point about keeping “Raisin” important onto itself and not getting bogged down just as a scholarly work.
Orem, Sarah. “Signifyin(g) When Vexed: Black Feminist Revision, Anger, and A Raisin in the Sun.” Modern Drama, vol. 60, no. 2, 2017, pp. 189-211.
Thesis: “This essay reads Beneatha Younger as a black feminist reworking of the “Angry Young Man” figure. I am not arguing that Raisin straightforwardly constitutes an “Angry Young Man” play, nor do I claim that Beneatha is an“Angry Young Man” who happens to be a woman.2 Instead, I propose that Beneatha appears to mimic the anger performed by her brother Walter Lee in order to critique and undermine him. Her “[r]epetition” of Walter Lee’s anger with a “signal difference” (Gates 56) is a hallmark of the uniquely black mode of artistic expression termed Signifyin(g) by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. According to Gates, Signifyin(g) allows a speaker to repeat and alter language patterns, imitating a specific discourse but in a way that is shot through with“indeterminacy, open-endedness, ambiguity, [and] uncertainty” (7).” (p. 190)
Restated Thesis: This essay argues that Beneatha is a black feminist interpretation of the “Angry Young Man” traditional role. It is not that she fulfills the role, and happens to be a woman, she instead mimic the anger of the main male figure, her brother Walter, undermining his supposed power as the man of the household.
This article begins with context about how Orem relates the play to the convention of the “Angry Young Man”, as “though Britain’s “Angry Young Men” playwrights were white, male…black feminist playwright Lorraine Hansberry looked to them to conceive of her own anger at racism and sexism in the United States…Hansberry eager to pen a “bitter epic of the black man in this most hostile nation” (Hansberry, “May 12, 1959” 95, 94). In many ways, Raisin reads like an “Angry Young Man” drama. It depicts working-class life in a domestic context, much like the kitchen-sink realisms associated with Britain’s“Angry.” (p. 189-190). Then Orem establishes “Beneatha Younger as a black feminist reworking of the “Angry Young Man” figure.” (190). She claims “The shape of Beneatha’s anger has profound ramifications…Beneatha criticizes capitalism, the inequality of the sexes, and racist discrimination, but her expressions of frustration are often unclear to her listeners. Her anger is also open-ended, never diminishing over the course of the play.” (191). These become the basis for her sections of her argument.
The first section of the main argument is “All Her Own”. Orem points out that “A Raisin in the Sun positions Walter and Beneatha as equivalent figures suggests that scholarship should assign more significance to Beneatha’s emotions than has been done in the past.” (192). Beneatha is often viewed through the way she interacts with Walter and her suitors, and in this section Orem defines her actions and attitudes as about her own self.
In “A Moving Target” Orem discusses how Beneatha is often misunderstood by those around her and uses this as an advantage to speak her mind without having her full thoughts or intentions known. “Beneatha deploys her anger while “remaining dynamic” – a strategy that makes it difficult for her family members to discern her emotional position with certainty since, according to Collins, “a moving target” is harder to hit (Black Feminist Thought 41).” (203).
In “A Play at Play” Orem explores the larger structures of the play itself, and the ways it uses and ignores conventions of the stage. “Because Beneatha’s anger never resolves properly – it remains open-ended even at the play’s denouement – Raisin Signifies on the theatrical realism that it seemingly deploys. By appearing to mirror the kitchen- sink realism associated with Britain’s “Angry Young Men” and then resisting this realism with Beneatha’s anger, Raisin engages in “aesthetic play” (Gates243). Hansberry is “play[ing] on” a well-known theatrical form (243).” (203).
- Orem begins the essay with the argument almost that of what the reader would expect, laying out the easy interpretation of Walter as the “Angry Young Man” figure, before continuing on to show how Beneatha’s fulfilling of the role is that much more impactful than the easier interpretation.
- The three major sections “All Her Own”, “A Moving Target”, and “A Play at Play” organize the essay in a sort of three act structure in and of itself, mirroring the play it is analyzing, and giving a visual feel for the progression and organization of the argument with the use of subheading.
- Orem draws parallels to other stories in order to make her argument for “Raisin” easier to understand, one notable one is with “in folkloric tales the Monkey tricks and insults the Lion, the “King of the Jungle,” by repeating others’ insults back to him (61). The rhetorical play the Monkey uses to relate insults to the Lion results in the Lion being unable to “read” the Monkey’s “utterance[s]” (68). Beneatha’s performance of strategic illegibility allows her to critique subtly the oppressions she encounters daily and still maintain a measure of protection for herself.” (p. 190-191).