1.Title…from Poem… Harlem…By Langston Hughes 1902–1967 Langston Hughes What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
2.The Author…Lorraine Hansberry • (May 19, 1930– January 12, 1965) Note: She died young of pancreatic cancer at just 34 yrs old. • She grew up in Southside Chicago as the youngest of four children. • Her parents were activists. • She moved to New York to pursue writing career. • Wrote the first drama written by an African American woman and produced on Broadway, age 29. • Raisin in the Sun is by far her best known work.
3.HANSBERRY V. LEE…In 1937, businessman Carl Hansberry, Lorraine’s father, defied the local property association by purchasing a home in a white neighborhood. • After losing in state court, the case was brought to the US Supreme Court. • In a crucial decision in segregation, the US Supreme Court, on November 13, 1940, ruled in Hansberry v. Lee that whites cannot bar African Americans from white neighborhoods. • The decision focused on the legal technicalities, instead of the segregation issue. • Though victors in the Supreme Court, Hansberry’s family was subjected to what Hansberry would later describe as a “hellishly hostile white neighborhood.” See more under “Litigation” below
4.A Raisin in the Sun as a Play…Debuted in 1959, prior to the Civil Rights Movement • Received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of the Year (Hansberry was the youngest, 5th woman and only black playwright at the time to win the reward.) • According to James Baldwin (African American writer/phiolsopher), the play received such acclaim from the African American community because “‘never before in American theater history has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on stage'”
5.Overview of the Play…The play is essentially about dreams, taking it’s title from the Langston Hughes poem “ Harlem” • Each member of the household has a separate dream. • As the play develops, tensions rise as each family member comes in to conflict with each other as the limited resources of the family cannot support all of the family members dreams.
6.Setting…Southside Chicago -1950’s…Housing was a constant issue, as the growing African American population was crammed in to a small part of the city known as the “black belt” of the Southside. • Landlords took advantage by chopping up apartment buildings and cramming more people in to each building. • Crime rates increased, quarrels over shared kitchens and bathrooms caused tremendous strain. • African-Americans had traditionally been “last to be hired, first to be fired” after World War II resulting in unstable incomes and more poverty.
7.Themes…Segregation/Poverty The character of Mr. Lindner is a reminder of the kind cruelty of segregation. He represents the homeowners association of the predominantly white neighborhood where the Younger’s are planning to move. The Value and Purpose of Dreams Each character consistently is struggling against the very limited financial resources of the family to achieve their dreams. Although their ambition drives them. It is also a source of anxiety and depression as it becomes apparent each family member may not achieve their dream. Family Although the different members are in conflict with each other throughout the play, they also express love for each other throughout the play.
8.Walter…Walter is both the major protagonist of the play, but also acts as an antagonist at times as he is often angry and quick to temper. • Walter (and his frustrations) represents the struggle of the common African-American man to provide financially for his family with limited opportunities. • Initially he struggles to see the value of other family members ability to contribute to the advancement of the family. • His dream is to own a liquor store.
9.Mama…Walter and Beneatha’s mother and head of the household. • She demands each member to respect themselves and to take pride in their dreams. • Represents some Christian and traditional ideals. • Her dream is to own a house with a garden.
10.Beneatha…Beneatha challenges both racial and gender stereotypes and prejudices. • She is dating two men who seem to represent the split identity of African-Americans. She is most cheerful with her Nigerian boyfriend Joseph Asagai. George seems more interested in assimilating in to American culture, while Joseph allows and encourages Beneatha to rediscover her African heritage.Her dream of becoming a doctor signals her ambition and her desire to be independent.
11.Ruth…Ruth,married to Walter,is a housewife and represents some of the stereotypical images of 1950’s women. • She works in more wealthy white homes to help deal with the financial difficulties of the family. • Ruth supports her husband but is up to countering him when he gets out of the line. • Her pregnancy illustrates the financial stress of the family as she considers an abortion.
All experiences in this play echo a lawsuit (Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940)), to which the playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s family was a party when they fought to have their day in court because a previous class action about racially motivated restrictive covenants (Burke v. Kleiman, 277 Ill. App. 519 (1934)) was similar to the case at hand. This case was held prior to the passage of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), which prohibits discrimination in housing and created the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The Hansberrys won their right to be heard as a matter of due process of law in relation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the Hansberry defendants were not bound by the Burke decision because the class of defendants in the respective cases had conflicting goals, and thus could not be considered to be the same class.
Interestingly, the plaintiff in the first action was Olive Ida Burke, who brought the suit on behalf of the property owner’s association to enforce the racial restriction in 1934. Her husband, James Burke, was the person who sold the property to Carl Hansberry (Lorraine’s father) when he changed his mind about the validity of the covenant. Mr. Burke’s decision may have been motivated by the changing demographics of the neighborhood, but it was also influenced by the Depression. The demand for houses was so low among white buyers that Mr. Hansberry may have been the only prospective purchaser available.
Lorraine reflects upon the litigation in her book To Be Young, Gifted, and Black:”25 years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house… My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.”
The Hansberry house, the red-brick three-flat at 6140 S. Rhodes in Washington Park (see pics) that they bought in 1937, was given landmark status by the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation in 2010.
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