“Check coming today?” The Life Insurance check that Mama will soon be receiving is the source of all the dreams in the Younger family. A major argument that Lorraine Hansberry makes in her play A Raisin in the Sun is the importance of dreams. Dreams are what each member of the Younger family is driven by. Mama wants to have her own home in a nice part of town; she does not want her children growing up in a place with rats. Walter wants to have a successful business so he can surpass the poverty that has plagued his family. And Beneatha wants to get a good education, become a doctor, and marry a nice man. Dreams are especially important to the Younger family as they come from a poverty laden family and desire to live the “American Dream.” Every member of the Younger family has a dream but each one is different with a different view on what the true “American Dream” really is.
The Youngers are a very poor family, and this shows in the setting of a tiny Chicago apartment with several people living in close proximity of each other. Hansberry also shows how the Youngers are a proud family by the way everything is arranged in the little apartment. Everything throughout the apartment was “selected with care and love and even hope – and brought to this apartment and arranged with taste and pride.” This shows that even though the Youngers do not have much, they are still proud of what they have. In a sense their pride is coming from the fact that they all want to live better than they really do because that is what the American dream is all about, living the high life.
Walter dreams of owning a liquor store, and he shows this throughout the whole play. Walter feels that “don’t nothing happen for you in this world less you pay somebody off!” Owning a liquor store is Walter’s American dream, as he believes that it will provide him and his family with a greater income so they will not have to live in poverty anymore. However, Hansberry shows through Mama how they have different views of the American dream when she tells Walter that the liquor store would be un-Christian like and that they should spend the money on a new house instead. Hansberry makes Mama more convincing by showing her carrying a Bible as she comes out of her room in the first scene. Mama also is seen asking God for help and talking about God throughout the play. This is shown when Walter admits that the money Mama gave him was gone because his partner took it and Mama says “Oh, God look down here – and show me the strength.” Mama is very angry that Walter wasted all of Beneatha’s school money, but she doesn’t let her temper get the best of her and instead goes to God for support.
The American dream that Beneatha wants to acquire is to receive a good education, become a doctor, and marry a good man. This is where two key characters come into play; George Murchison and Joseph Asagi. George is shown as stuck up and acting like a rich white person. This shows when George enters the Younger home and Walter calls him “black brother,” and George replies with “Black brother, hell!” The Youngers, being proud of their heritage, do not like this much. It seems to them that he has betrayed his heritage and taken the other side. In a sense I think that George’s white shoes were a symbol of him wanting to be and acting white. On the other hand, Asagi is shown as very proud of his heritage and Hansberry uses this to present him as a better man. Hansberry does this by first presenting Asagi with a present for Beneatha after returning from his trip from Canada. Asagi already starts off better than George because he is bringing her presents of Nigerian robes, showing that he is proud of his heritage and wants Beneatha to be proud of her heritage also, which makes the Youngers happy and in turn, makes Asagi a pleasing character to the audience. Asagi is shown treating Beneatha with more respect and dignity than George. He is so proud of his heritage that he even criticizes Beneatha for “mutilating” her hair by making it straight.
Another argument I feel that Hansberry is making is the fact that Walter, being the man of the house, feels he must find a way to better provide for his family so they all can live the “American Dream.” The only problem with this is that all of the Youngers have a different view of what the American dream would be, and Walter just will not accept any other view than his own. This is an argument that is much deeper than the color of their skin or the views of the different Youngers, but rather between genders and the roles of those genders. Mama feels that as the owner of the apartment, she must watch over the place and keep everyone in line. Whereas Walter feels he is the provider now and needs to make more money. This conflict between man and woman goes on the whole play and at the end, when Walter turns down the generous offer made to him so they would not live in the white neighborhood, Mama says “He finally came into his manhood today, didn’t he?” This is important because Mama finally sees eye to eye with Walter about their different dreams and the whole family can live out the “American Dream” together.
In conclusion, Hansberry shows how the American dream can be distorted in many different ways, especially when there is a lot of money introduced to a family that has never had money to begin with. However, in the end the Youngers did the right thing and spent the money on a better house so that everyone in their family could live out the American dream instead of a single person.