Many times, the daily oppression of African Americans back in slavery times made being their own persons extremely hard to do. Many times, families were seriously affected by the mental, physical, and emotional abuse inflicted by their slave masters, thus, causing rifts between family members. This is evident in both Lorraine Hansberrys A Raisin in the Sun and August Wilsons The Piano Lesson. Both authors tackle the issue of identity and family ties in their plays. Both families in the two plays are forced to deal with the economic, social, and moral pressures imposed upon them since slavery. Each family handles and deals with the pressures in very different ways, while at the same time share some similarities that tie them both together in their fight for freedom.
In A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, there are many issues that the Younger family deals with pertaining to their economic status. There are so many economic pressures, being African American, which they are forced to tackle. Take Walter Lee Younger and his wife, Ruth Younger, for instance. Walter Lee truly wants to be the man of his house and provide for his entire family, but being an African American male at that point in time just would not allow it. Thus, Ruth is forced to work as well to help provide for the family. This makes Walter feel like even less of a man than his mother already makes him feel like. Walters inability to grow up and be the man that he wants stems from his mother. He still lives under his mothers roof, adding to his inability to provide for his family, and be the man of the house. When Ruth becomes pregnant, the tension of not being able to provide for his wife, son, sister, and mother weighs on their marriage even more, because one more person in the house will constantly remind Walter about what he can not do because he is a Black man in a White mans world. Walters father died and he had life insurance worth one hundred thousand dollars. Walter wanted to use the insurance money to invest into a liquor store. He felt that owning his own business would aid in him feeling like a man, providing for his family. Yet, when his mother refuses to give him the money, he is furious. When Mrs. Younger finally decides to give him the money, he loses it out of irresponsibility. Still, she knows that in order for Walter Lee to become the man that she desires him to be, she must allow him the opportunity to take on manly responsibilities. She knows that it hurts him to know that he cannot provide for his family even as his father did because of their economic situation.
As if dealing with economic pressures was not enough, the Younger family is forced to handle social pressures because of their race, as well. Beneatha Younger is looking to break the socially accepted clich of black women in her time. She does not see satisfaction in becoming like her mother or her Ruth. She rejects being a typical black woman with no dreams outside of the home. She wants to do things and live her life for herself. Beneatha is all about a higher education and making a better life for herself and her future without assimilation holding her back. Beneatha refuses to allow the color of her skin to define and predestine her future. Beneatha is involved with two men that are two opposite representations of society and its pressures on African Americans. Joseph Asagei represents Africa and the desire to be connected back to the roots of African ancestors. George represents the new Blacks that want to be considered in the same sense as white people, and who look down upon struggling Blacks all because of economic issues that affect the social pressures faced.
The pressure of being morally correct was overbearing upon Beneatha, especially living in her mothers house. Beneatha does not believe in God despite her Christian upbringing. When she argues with her mother about the existence of God, her mother makes her say that there is a God. Mama left no room for any other spiritual journey for Beneatha to go on, except that of Christianity. She smothered Beneathas desire to be an individual and decide in what she believed. Beneatha knows that by believing in Christianity, only because her parents told her to, she would be conforming into the moral pressures inflicted upon Blacks. Walter Lee wanted to use his late fathers life insurance money to invest in and open a liquor store. His mother refused to put money into any sinful business. She said that she is too close to death and Heaven to mess it up by partaking in something that will ruin her chances. She does not give Walter the chance to expound on his business venture. All she hears is liquor store and she sees sin.
In August Wilsons, The Piano Lesson, the African-American family goes through similar pressures as the Younger family, they just handle some pressures differently. The economic pressures that the family unwillingly went through centers around Boy Willie. Since the death of Bernieces husband, Berniece has been forced to care for her daughter, Maretha, and the house pretty much all on her own. She teaches piano lessons for some extra money, and her uncle, Doaker Charles helps out as well. Since Berniece thinks that Boy Willie is the reason why her husband is dead, she is not happy when he comes back. Boy Willie comes back up from the South to Philadelphia to get the familys piano. He comes with his friend Lymon selling watermelons. Money is tight and Boy Willie wants to sell the family piano so that he can buy the plantation that his ancestors were slaves on. Berniece rejects the idea from the first time she saw Boy Willie after three years. Boy Willie wants to have money and valuable land to call his own. Berniece knows that money is tight, but she feels that the poem has been in their family for too long to just sell it for any amount.
The fact that the family is black and came from a slavery lineage, adds to their social pressures in society. Boy Willies main reason as to wanting to sell the piano is to buy and reclaim the plantation in which his grandparents slaved over. He only wanted to be a man and give his own family something, unlike what his father did. Avery is a single minister that believes that the only way for him to be an established man of God, he must marry. He continues to try and persuade Berniece into marrying him, but he continues to get rejected. Berniece knows that Avery thinks that she cannot handle her own family without a man, so she purposes to prove him wrong.
The moral pressures that the family in The Piano Lesson goes through are countless. They have been haunted by the ghost of their grandparents slave master. Reverend Avery tries to cast it away, but he is not successful. Reverend Avery schemes to try to have Berniece marry him. He also has a very outlandish, contrived story as to how he was called into the ministry. The morale in Boy Willie trying to sell his family piano is low, because he is not thinking about what sentimental value the piano holds, hes thinking about the financial value that the craftsmanship entails.
Both plays exhibit the pressures that Black families had to endure during the time that they were written. The family in A Raisin in the Sun handled their pressures far better than the family in The Piano Lesson. Even though both plays had issues that made their dysfunction evident, the family in A Raisin in the Sun overcame their problems. They worked through their differences with each other and society, and began to see the beauty in living with each other and being black. Though the family started to fall into the stereotype of Black families in society, they found a way above and beyond it. They rose out of the slump that their race had put them through, and bought their very own house. That is truly the epitome of what a strong black family is supposed to do to conquer and overcome the pressures of a white society.