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Dreams in A Raisin In The Sun Essay


A Raisin in the Sun

A dream can be a goal that one individual wants to achieve and strives to make a reality, and while dreams can occur during the night when fast asleep, they can also occur throughout a persons lifetime. The dream can make a person feel valuable in society and feel as though they have a purpose for living. In A Raisin in the Sun by Loraine Hansberry, many goals are reached for, but not all are acquired. In the epigraph Harlem (A dream deferred) Langston Hughes poses the rhetorical question What happens to a dream deferred? (Qtd. In Hansberry) When a dream is deferred, all aspects of life no longer seem necessary and obtaining a better life by moving up Maslows hierarchy of needs is no longer possible. The hopes that cannot be fulfilled can have lasting negative effects. The protagonists, Walter and Beneatha Younger, both had their dreams deferred, and in turn their efforts to move forward and accomplish more challenging needs in life to come to a halt.

In order to develop, grow, and mature throughout life, first one must achieve their basic needs and then, only when all physiological needs are fulfilled can a person move on to try to achieve more complex goals. Physiological necessities are those that are essential to the life of the individual. These include breathing, nutrition, and water. (File: Maslows) Without these components it would be impossible to stay alive and ultimately continue the human race. As individuals progress throughout their life and attempt to achieve more, the process of trying to fully reach the next higher level on the hierarchy becomes harder. The next level in the ladder is safety needs which include the feeling of being personally and financially secure, having health and well being, and having protection against accidents. This level of safety is an important second step on the way toward leading a better life. In order to obtain this sense of security, one must get a job, a house and have a feeling of health and well-being. The next stage of Maslows theory is the need for love and intimacy from another person. To prevent social anxiety, humans need to believe they are accepted and belong to a social group. After achieving this level of Maslows Hierarchy, the next more complex level is the level of esteem. Esteem includes the need to give and receive respect. This need is very important because it forms self respect which helps a person to feel valuable. Without having respect for oneself and feeling needed by others, an individual would not have a sense of contribution or a purpose for living. The highest level of Maslows pyramid is the ability throughout a persons life to reach their full potential. This level is also known as self-actualization which if achieved, would make a persons life complete in every way possible. Walter and Beneatha Younger both have tried to achieve their full potential, but obstacles along the way prevent them from achieving a state of self actualization. (File:Maslows)(Dr. Christopher L. Heffner)

Walter Younger dreams about becoming prosperous and obtaining a better life for himself and his family. He lives in the same apartment for thirty-six years of his life. Walter is tired of being a servant to wealthy, and working as a limousine driver for a well-to-do man, which can be seen when he says, I drive a man around in his limousine and I say Yes, sir, no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir? Mama, that aint no kind of job (Hansberry II.i) He is very frustrated with the fact that he has to wait on people and do what they tell him to do. He wants to earn money by being in charge of the situation and have no one control him. But, Mama is controlling him by withholding the money from him that could be invested into a liquor store. He hopes to reap a huge profit, and with that profit he wants to be able to give his only son Travis the things that he did not have himself and that Travis has not had before. This is proven true when Walter gives Travis twenty-five cents in the beginning of the story, even though he needs the money. While he wants to give so much, Walter also wants to be recognized for giving. He says Yes, I want to hang some real pearls round my wifes neck (Hansberry III.) because he wants to be known for being able to provide nice things for his family. He wants to give Travis a bed other than the couch, and he wants to be able to provide a new pair of shoes for every semester of school. However, he cannot give what he wants, and he cannot provide for his family. His family has been stuck in the deep and unforgiving hole of poverty. He has to watch his old mother work like a dog and his wife look after somebody elses kids.(Hansberry I.ii) Walter cannot be the prosperous man that he wants to be, and he cannot be the savvy entrepreneur he aims toward. At first his dream was to go into the dry cleaning business. He saw the opportunity to become rich and wanted to invest in the business, but his financial condition prohibited him from investing in the newly invented business. When the next opportunity comes to invest in a liquor store, Walter immediately wants to go all in to the company. When the ten thousand dollar check arrives from his fathers life insurance, he wants to put it all into the business. With this investment, Walter hopes to become the wealthy man that he has always dreams of.

Walter is a very unstable character in the play. He constantly has huge mood swings that are based on the needs that are being fulfilled at the time. At the beginning of the play, Walter is in a dark mood. His relationship with his wife is terrible, and he has a lousy attitude about the world around him because sees everything in a negative light. This is because his need for safety is not being taken care of. Walter has a lack of the resources that are necessary to pay for rent or to get a house, and this causes a strain on his relationships with family members. He constantly bickers with both his wife Ruth and his sister Beneatha. He even considers giving up his and Ruths unborn child because of his instability in the hierarchy. Walter is exploding inside just like the bombs that threaten his safety as part of the African American community. The last sentence of Hughess poem the question, Or does it explode?(Qtd. in Hansberry) reflects Walters feelings after his dreams finally seem to be within reach, only to slip away when he discovers the money he hoped to use is unavailable. As a result of this disappointment he goes out drinking every night, he and his wife get in to many fights a day, and he treats his mother with no respect. This entire negative attitude turns around as soon as mama puts her trust in Walter and gives him a portion of the money to invest into the liquor store. With this investment, Walter feels more financially secure and hopes Travis can have his own bedroom while he can have his own business that he likes. This sense of security leads to significant changes in his personal relationships. His change from before and after the money was given to him can be seen when Ruth says, we went and we held hands. (Hansberry II.iii) This shows that before the money was given to him, Walter was not romantically involved with his wife, but now that he is hopeful about his financial future, he tries to fix his relationship and mend his feelings towards Ruth. Unfortunately, when he finds out that the money is gone because his untrustworthy friend Willie Harris took all of his money that was supposed to be invested, Walter starts to act ill-tempered again. He begins to treat his wife and mother with disrespect and loses all the progress that was made while the money was in his life. However, Walter does posses the potential to become a better person because he ends up not giving up the house for the money that was offered. While they could have lived in the apartment with extra money, he decides to move to the house to be the better person and give a better life to Travis which shows a step toward self actualization.

At the time, women were not doctors because they were seen to be inferior to men, but like Walter, Beneatha Younger has a difficult dream to conquer. She wants to be a doctor because of the possibilities to fix the people surrounding her. Her need to fix things is caused by her seemingly unfixable life. She cannot fix her surroundings because of the lack of money that is not provided. She wants to fix others so that she can provide that better life that she did not have for herself. She first got the dream to be a doctor when she saw her friend Rufus slide down the icy steps outside in order to have fun in the winter time because they live in a bad area of Chicago and there are no hills. When Rufus slides down the steps, he plummets to the destruction of his face which will be forever embedded in Beneathas mind. Beneatha thought that would have been the end of Rufus, but the doctors fixed this tragedy and all he has left is a little scar down the middle of his face. Beneatha says, fix him up- sew up the problem, make him all right again. That was the most marvelous thing in the worldI wanted to do that. She wanted to mend the hole that was in her heart from her own lacking childhood. Even before the money came into the Younger household, Beneathas dream was in the midst of turning into a reality. Everyone in the household spent a share of their paycheck and put it toward her education. She believed that getting a high level education was the most important thing that she could have. While she was very egotistic on the fact that she believed that everyone should have to suffer a little for her to get what she wants, she only does this in order to help the people surrounding her. Before Mama decided what to do with the money, Beneatha already believed that her schooling would be taken care of. When Walter first learns of the news that he has lost all of the money, including the three thousand five hundred dollars that was going to be put towards her schooling, Beneatha became so enraged that she was very similar to Walter in the way that she almost exploded on the inside as well. Beneatha says, He made an investment! With a man even Travis wouldnt have trusted with his most worn-out marbles (Hansberry III). Beneatha, now realizing that her dream would not be able to become a reality starts to explode on Walter. She angrily says sarcastic remarks to him even though she knows that he is in a very fragile state. However, when Asagi, her romantic interest, suggests that she could do so much more and help so many more people in Africa, Beneatha begins to simmer down realizing that her dream can be extended and shaped however she likes.

The reason why Beneatha wants to become a doctor shows that she posses some of the qualities of the self actualization level. Her reasoning is based on morality and problem solving. She wants to become a doctor so she can become the best person possible and help others, and that is a main principle of self actualization. While she is able to strive to the top of the hierarchy, Beneatha still struggles with the resources that she needs to achieve her dreams. The money that is not available for her schooling, her own room which she wouldnt have to share with Mama, and understanding from members of her family are all things that she would need to achieve the goal of becoming a doctor. However, Asagi understands Beneatha perfectly. He understands her need to express herself in different ways such as horseback riding and photography and this understanding can be seen when Asagi calls her Alyaio. Beneatha is a very complex character which is seen in her advances in the hierarchy and thoughtful reasoning for her dream.

While the Youngers are struggling with their needs and dreams, so is the plant that Mama is growing. The plant is small and withering. It does not receive as much of its basic necessities as it should such as sunlight and room in its pot to grow and develop. However, just as much of a chance the plant has to die, the plant has just as good of a chance to live. The plant is fully supported by Mama. The plant is loved, looked after, and cared for even though it would probably grow to nothing significant. The plant in the play symbolizes all of the dreams of the Younger family. All of the dreams such as getting a house, becoming prosperous, and becoming a doctor all could fail because of lack of resources just like the plant could have died without water and sunlight. But, because of the will power of the people, the dreams dont die. They live on and pursue their dreams just like the plant continues to grow bigger and stronger. As long as the plant keeps trying to live and survives the rough patches of its life, so will the Youngers. And although the plant may not be comfortable in its small and cramped pot just as the Youngers are uncomfortable in their small apartment, the plant and the Youngers both get to move on to bigger and better things because of preservation.

The author of this play, Lorrain Hansberry, related A Raisin in the Sun to many aspects of her life. She was born and lived through the depression era in a ghetto community, which is when the play takes place. Hansberry, being of African American descent herself, faced much racism throughout her life which is reflected in the segregation that the Youngers face. Another similarity is that Hansberrys father decided to defy the white community and buy a house in a strictly white neighborhood. Her father was determined to be able to have the rights that everyone else had and even took his case to court to prove he had the natural right to live in the area. Like Hansberrys father, Mama bought a house in a white community because she thought that the house was much nicer and better than any of the other houses for sale. She and her family went against what the head of the white community told them to do, and they decided to stay and live in the new house. Living in the depression era without equal treatment of different races, both Hansberry and the Youngers faced attacks from outsiders. While the youngers did not directly get hurt, they had the threat of the attacks surrounding them. Lastly, Hansberrys father was a prominent member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Her father was friendly with the black rights movement leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. Hansberry often got to meet with these men, and because of her regular visits, she got to know them and used one of Hughess poems in the epigraph of this work. Hansberrys personal life and experiences greatly influenced her plot and enriched her character in the play A Raisin in the Sun.

When dreams are put off because of a lack of resources or the surrounding environment, it greatly affects the people who had the dream. Maslows hierarchy explains the different levels of needs that need to be obtained for a dream. Lorraine Hansberrys work A Raisin in the Sun shows through Walter and Beneatha Younger some of the possible outcomes of what cam happen when a dream is deferred.

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