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In the black dialect, the word “done” means something completely different from the Standard English past participle of the verb “to do.” Note the following examples:
It’s too late to ask her cause she done gone.
Mrs. Jackson done burned the cabbage again.
I done told you — I didn’t do it!
In the above examples, “done” means “has already” or “have already.” Note the following examples from Raisin:
Ruth: You done spoiled that boy so . . .
Mama: What done got into you, girl? Walter Lee done finally sold you on investing?
Mama: And all that money they pour into these churches when they ought to be helping you people over there drive out them French and Englishmen done taken away your land.
Mama: Much baking powder as she done borrowed from me all these years, she could of done gone into the baking business.
Mama: [The check] . . . you mean it really done come?
Ruth: Girl, you done lost your natural mind?
Another intentional Standard English deviation is the overuse of the negative in order to emphasize that negative, as in the following: “Nobody ain’t never seen no ghost nowhere.”
In Raisin, this construction abounds as in the following examples taken from various scenes:
Mama: Now here come you and Beneatha talking ’bout things we ain’t never even thought about
hardly . . .
Mama: I’m waiting to see you stand up and . . . say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .
Bobo: Willy didn’t never show up . . .
Ruth: Walter, that ain’t none of our money . . .
In addition to the obvious lack of formal education noted in Mama’s speech, her speech is also flavored with “southernisms” which are absent from Walter’s speech. Even though Walter does not have as much education as Beneatha, he is not as unschooled as Mama, nor does he use the southernisms that define Mama. Ruth, however, proves through her speech that she has not had even as much formal education as Walter, for her speech is as flavored with southernisms as Mama’s. Because Ruth makes far more Standard English errors than Walter does, her speech makes her sound as though she is older than her thirty years. Ruth sounds more like Mama than any of the other characters in the play. The neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, proves that her roots are also southern by her speech, and Bobo also reveals his obvious southern upbringing when he speaks to Ruth and is overly polite in deference to her gender:
Bobo: Well, h’you, Miss Ruth.
Mrs. Johnson: I finds I can’t close my eyes right lessen I done had that last cup of coffee . . .
Mama: My children and they tempers . . .
Ruth: If you don’t take this comb and fix [your hair], you better!
Mama: Who that ’round here slamming doors at this hour?
Mama: This all the packing got done since I left out of here this morning — I testify before God . . .
Mama: Tell that youngun to get himself up here . . .
The luxuriousness of Hansberry’s writing is apparent in her scene descriptions prior to Act I. An example of ordinary writing might be “The room was overcrowded with old, outdated furniture.” Note, as a contrast, Hansberry’s more poetic way of saying the same thing: “The Younger living room would be a comfortable and well-ordered room if it were not for a number of indestructible contradictions to this state of being. Its furnishings are typical and undistinguished and their primary feature now is that they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years — and they are tired.”
As another example, ordinary writing might be: “The furnishings of this room used to be beautiful but are now faded, ugly, and even tasteless.” Hansberry, however, says it this way: “Still, we can see that at some time, a time probably no longer remembered by the family (except perhaps for Mama), the furnishings of this room were actually selected with care and love and even hope — and brought to this apartment and arranged with taste and pride. That was a long time ago. Now the once loved pattern of the couch upholstery has to fight to show itself from under acres of crocheted doilies and couch covers which have themselves finally come to be more important than the upholstery.”
An ordinary way of describing the worn out carpet might be to say: “Although they tried, they could not hide the worn out look of the old carpet.” Now, note Hansberry’s description: “And here a table or a chair has been moved to disguise the worn places in the carpet; but the carpet has fought back by showing its weariness, with depressing uniformity, elsewhere on its surface.”
So too, this example: Ordinary: “Everything in this room looks old and unattractive.” In contrast, Hansberry: “Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room.”
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