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Glass 1 Kelsey Glass Brittany McClearen English 1102 2 February 2012 Mamas Plant: Family, Hope, and Black

America Lorraine Hansberrys 1959 A Raisin in the Sun captured the attention of many, as it features both controversial and relevant topics in society. The play is written during a time period of shifting ideals and unrest as black Americans are still in the midst of racism, segregation, and other forms of political injustice. Hansberry closely relates to these topics, as she herself grows up during this era in Chicagos South Side. The play is often seen as one of the first to truly illustrate the reality of the time period, and is an eye opening and inspiring read to audiences. Through A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry uses the experiences of the Younger family to illustrate the tensions rising amongst black families during the hardships of the Civil Rights Era. Mama, a significant motherly role in the play, serves as a nurturing, prideful, caring, and voice of reason in the Younger household. Mamas plant helps as a metaphor to symbolize reoccurring themes, including Mamas familys dreams, Mamas dreams, weaknesses of the family, and black America. Although the plant receives little sunlight and water to grow (referred to as a feeble little plant growing doggedly (Hansberry 319)), Mama continues to care for it regardless of its lack of strength. Her care for her plant is similar to the care of her children, unconditional and unending despite an inadequate environment for growth. Although mistakes are made in the family and conditions may never be perfect, Mama takes great pride in her family

Glass 2 accomplishments, as she also takes pride in her plant. She may not always be able to provide everything they need, but will do the very best she can. If the plant is nurtured, it will become plentiful and successful. In this sense, the plant clearly represents the hopes and dreams of Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha, who are all striving to obtain these two characteristics. Walter dreams of opening a liquor store, but needs the money to do so, as the plant needs water to grow. Ruth hopes to move out of their living situation and repair her marriage with Walter, although like the plant, it seems as if it may never repair. Beneatha has high hopes of becoming a doctor; something almost unheard of in this time in society. In order to achieve this goal, she needs support and strength from her family; something she is only partially receiving, like the plant that is only receiving partial attention. Although the plant represents many of the hopes and dreams Mama has for her family, it also represents her own dreams of owning a house, and more importantly her own garden. Mama states, Well, I always wanted me a garden like I used to see sometimes at the back of the houses down home. This plant is close as I ever got to having one (Hansberry 326) .With her plant, she practices her gardening skills, and her success with the plant helps her believe that she will be successful as a gardener. Her persistence and dedication to the plant helps her to believe that her dream may come true. The hardship of losing her husband is also relatable to the hardships of the growth of the plant, as she struggles to maintain a happy state of mind through her loss and oppression within her family. By nurturing her plant, it provides hope for the future. A hidden theme that the plant represents is the weaknesses of the Younger family. Like the Younger family, the plant is stubborn in its growth, and initiative to try and make it better remains unseen. If the plant does not receive water or sunlight, its growth will be hindered. Mamas son Walter and his wife Ruth are unhappy with their living situation and marriage,

Glass 3 although neither one attempts to truly solve the problem and grow in love. For example, Walter says, So tired-moaning and groaning all the time, but you wouldnt do nothing to help would you? You couldnt be on my side that long for nothing could you? (Hansberry 315). They constantly complain, bicker, and wonder how their lives would be different if raised in a white environment. The family tends to be dependent on Mamas paycheck, just like the plant can only dependent on water to grow. The plant also represents African Americans as a whole, who having gained freedom and distance from slavery, were still struggling to thrive in America. This oppression affects the family, as Walter states, Im thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room, and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live (Hansberry 316). This quote represents his longing to gain the respect he earns, and prove to his son that dreams can come true. Throughout the play, the descriptions and locations of the plant symbolize the status and role of the African American in America. Mama's love for her plant is expressing how the African American continues to adapt to life in America. The plant struggles to survive with limited exposure to sunlight just as blacks of mid-19th Century America struggle to survive with limited opportunities. Sunshine might symbolize acceptance or relief from hardship, and although disrespected and made to feel inferior, black Americans continue to press on in their growth, despite the lack of sunshine. This motivation is present at the end of the play, as Walter says to Lindner, This is my son, who makes the sixth generation of our family in this country, and that we have all thought about your offer and we have decided to move into our house because my father-my father-he earned it (Hansberry 367). Walter is finally standing up for himself, and proves he will not subject himself to inferiority. He will show his son that no matter the conditions, doing what is best for the family takes priority.

Glass 4 Although Hansberry does a terrific job of portraying the life of a hardworking African American family during this time period, criticism of A Raisin in the Sun emerged, ranging from those who viewed the play as radical, and those who called it too conservative. Although not many criticisms exist specifically regarding the plant, there are many others that look at the play as a whole. One criticism of the play is by Nelson Algren (1909-1981), an American writer and critic during the 20th century. Algren regards A Raisin in the Sun as a good drama about real estate (Algren 243). This implies that the drama focuses more on the political and economical aspect of the time period rather than the emotional struggles of the Younger family, and other black families of this era. Another poet and playwright, Amiri Baraka (1934- ), regarded A Raisin in the Sun as middle classbuying a house and moving into white folks neighborhoods (Baraka 345). This implies that the Younger family did not go through enough hardships and portrayed a too typical family, although he later took his statement back, as he states, its themes are actually reflective of the essence of black peoples striving and the will to defeat segregation, discrimination and national oppression. Through the use of the plant, Hansberry has demonstrated how the problems and struggles in the Younger family and society as a whole need growth and the suitable environment in order to thrive. Things may not always be perfect, but if given enough attention, motivation, and strength, the Younger family will be able to grow and reach their full potential. The plant most clearly represents hope. Hope that someday the family will come together again, to live in a house of their own, and society will accept them for the hardworking people they are. Overall, the plants purpose serves as a metaphor to symbolize reoccurring themes, including Mamas familys dreams, her own dreams, weaknesses of the family, and black America during the Civil Rights Era.

Glass 5 Works Cited Brown, Lloyd W. "Lorraine Hansberry as Ironist: A Repraissal of a Raisin in the Sun." Journal of Black Studies 4.3 (1974): 237-47. Web. <www.jstor.org>. Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print Washington, Charles J. "A Raisin In The Sun Revisited." Black American Literature Forum 22.1 (1988): 109-24. Web. <www.jstor.org>.