A Raisin in the Sun: African-American Personal and Collective Identity

 A pervasive generation gap separates Mama and Beneatha in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun. A Raisin in the Sun addresses African-American personal and collective identity in the 1950s, a time of turbulent change for race relations in the country. Therefore, Mama and Beneatha represent a shift in social and cultural values with respect to both racial and gender identity. Mama represents traditional gender roles and family values and also pursues the American Dream with enthusiasm. Her desire to purchase a new, large family home embodies her value system of assimilation into the dominant culture. Her daughter Beneatha struggles against what she feels is an outmoded value system for both African-Americans and for women. Beneatha rebels against Mama’s American Dream in several ways. She rejects the idea of a family and desires self-fulfillment far more than she wants to become a wife and mother. Similarly, Beneatha rejects the idea that African-Americans should conform to the dominant culture’s version of history and proudly proclaims their African heritage through her choice of boyfriends and her goals in life. Because of the generation gap, Mama and Beneatha remain nearly opposite to each other in terms of their worldviews, their belief systems, and their philosophies of life.

Mama’s values are rooted in traditional gender roles and norms, whereas Beneatha is a burgeoning feminist. For Mama, the house is the primary symbol of mother hood. When she finds that Ruth may be pregnant, Mama wants even more strongly to purchase a home, feeling that security and stability depend on owning a house. Mama’s plant also symbolizes her traditional views on gender roles: she cares for the plant with maternal love. Her duty seems to be strictly to her family, and Mama rarely if ever thinks of herself. In fact, one of the main reasons she feels compelled to spend the money on a new home is that she shared that dream with her deceased husband.

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