The Role of Race and Diction in A Raisin In The Sun

The United States has become a melting pot of almost every race imaginable, yet prejudices are still present today, as they were in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun. In the 1950’s, when this was written, there were many more prejudices being thrown toward the African American race than there are today. There were separate water fountains, separate schools, and even separate bathrooms to discriminate the whites from the African Americans. At some points in time, as seen in Act 2, scene 3 of A Raisin In The Sun, there were even separate communities for the two races. When Mr. Linder comes into the Younger household and tells the family that they would be “happier when they live in their own communities.” (118). Seeing that written on the page is absolutely heartbreaking. The Younger family have been through so many hardships as a collective group, and just when they think they are getting out of the thick of it, a man comes in to tell them that they aren’t welcome in that community. Race seems to be an extremely large portion of this play’s conflicts. Thinking about the time period in which this play was written, there were not equal job opportunities for both black and white people, therefore causing the black population to struggle more and to obtain jobs that not only paid less, but sometimes didn’t even pay at all. The continuous hardships produced by race proved to be a persistent problem throughout the play. 

Hansberry’s play introduced the audience to the problems that were created by racial inequality, with the Younger family being the main victims. However, there can also be a connection made between the description of the furniture and the problems of race that are so blatantly obvious. In the description of the furniture of the house, it’s stated that “…here, a table or chair has been moved to disguise the worn places in the carpet…” (23). According to the description of the furniture, there have been attempts to hide the places of the carpet that nobody wants to see. And it can be equated to the time period in which A Raisin In The Sun was written, because of things like the Jim Crow laws, and the continuation of racial segregation everywhere. The phrase “separate but equal” comes to mind. The black populous is being perceived as equal, meaning that they would have equal protection under the law and they would receive equal opportunities, but that “equality” is just a chair being pushed over a worn place in the rug. Underneath the chair, it is obvious that racial inequality is an extremely large problem being faced by the black population. Hansberry goes on to explain “… but the carpet has fought back by showing it’s weariness, with depressing uniformity, elsewhere on its surface.” (23). While the racial inequality is trying to be covered up with “equal opportunities” and “equal protection” it is still showing up in many other aspects. Some of the aspects that were obvious were the unacceptance of black people in white communities, as explained by Karl Linder by stating “…our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.” (118). He goes on to exclaim “What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements-well-people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.” (119). Obviously there are still many biases based on race being conveyed. In this case, it is being shown through the use of community backgrounds, stating that if they’re African American, they should be with other African Americans, and that they are not welcome in white communities. It’s crazy to think that just by saying these people are equal that it doesn’t have to be acted on. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How else could the Jim Crow laws and segregation affect the Younger family?
  2. Do you think Travis understands what is going on around him regarding all of the prejudice that follows the Younger family? How would Travis handle finding out his family are constantly being seen as inferior?

Thanks for reading! This was made by Chris Feustel (:

9 Replies to “The Role of Race and Diction in A Raisin In The Sun”

  1. Hi Chris! When I read your post, a point that really struck me was the comparison between the racism and false equality the Younger family had to deal with and the chair that “has been moved to disguise the worn places in the carpet” (23). Though I had noticed that the description of the furniture could also be a metaphor for the demeanor of the characters in the play, especially Ruth, I had not thought of the relationship to the larger theme of the play.
    I’d also like to discuss the comments that Karl Linder made when he came to visit the family as part of “a sort of welcoming committee, I guess” (115). When I read this section, especially the quote you picked out, I was both frustrated and shocked. It is hard to understand how a black family moving into a white neighborhood somehow threatens everything that people worked for and their entire way of life. The idea that black people could take away what these white people worked for is ludicrous. I believe that all races should have equal opportunity, but they clearly do not, especially in this play. All they want is to live in a better place and they deserve this. The thought that they could take something away from the white people is unlikely, because they do not have the same privileges or opportunities. The family deserves this. This is how the segregation in society affects the Younger family and other black families of the time. It makes people think that it is okay for black families to have separate things, to be forced to be separate, because they have their own places. Yet these places are nowhere near the same, and it is inherently unfair to force them to use these places.

  2. Hey Chris. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I completely agree with how heartbreaking it is to see all that the Younger family has to deal with and I feel for them as well. Mr.Linder basically tells the younger’s that they don’t belong and they should live somewhere where their race is welcome. He says that they would be “happier when they live in their own communities” (118). That comment was extremely discriminative and quite honestly disgusting. The family already goes through so much and to have a man tell them they don’t belong due to their race is beyond unfair. They try so hard to live a good life, but nothing seems to go their way. Hansberry states, “the chair has been moved to disguise the worn places in the carpet” (23). The family knows their apartment is worn down and not sustainable, but they try to make the best out of it and be accepting of what they have. Although they live a hard life filled with poverty and horrible discrimination, they don’t give up. They continue to keep trying and stay strong, which is extremely inspiring. I think the biggest message here is to be more like the Youngers. Their lives are unfair, yet they keep going.
    Great job on your blog!

  3. Hi Chris. I enjoyed reading your blog and agree with your point that the Younger family has to constantly fac racism and discrimination by the world around them. I would like to add that I believe that due to the time period the Younger’s are in they also have an internal racism where they often seem to doubt themselves. Mama is often saying how they were not meant to be rich, a quote from Mama on page 42 says, “We ain’t no business people, Ruth. We just plain working folks.” This led me to think whether or not Mama would still have this outlook if they were in the same situation financially, just white.

  4. By Nevin
    To answer your second discussion question, no, I don’t think Travis fully understands what is going on around him. That is mainly because we don’t get much of his perspective or what he goes through within the play. I think he understands that his family is struggling financially- which makes him want to help out by carrying groceries- but I don’t think he truly understands exactly why they are struggling which can be related obviously to their race. One important part at the end was when Mama made Travis sit in on the conversation between Lindner and Travis when she says “No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee” (147). Mama wants Travis to know what is going on and that there are other prejudice factors not only their financial struggles.

  5. Hey Chris. I thought your blog was very informative and I like how you focused on the Younger’s struggle with race and discrimination. I also like how you shifted from talking about the description of the furniture to the phrase “separate but equal”. This can be tied into the first question because the family is separated from the rest of the community that they are trying to move into. Karl Linder gives an example of this by saying “I
    am sure you people must be aware of some of the incidents which have happened in various parts of the city when colored people have moved into certain areas.” (116) He explains that the African American community has been facing these hardships throughout various communities because of the color of their skin. As for the second question, I believe that Travis has some sort of understanding of their families struggles as we see earlier in the play when he’s asking about the check. Travis might not fully understand why their family is seen as inferior, but he does understand about the families financial situation.

  6. Jordyn Ferguson
    Hey Chris, I agree with you when you discussed the community discrimination and how it is upsetting to see that happen. The discrimination within the communities really shows in this act.
    I think that is totally unfair on how they were treated in their new neighborhood. It was not right for Mr. Linder to come and bribe the family to get them to temporarily not move into the neighborhood, it clearly upset the family. Beneatha expressed her anger towards Walter for making that decision, and was upset with how easily he gave into the dominant culture to accommodate the white people. She says “[Assimilationist] means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture! (2.1.51)”. Beneatha is saying that he betrayed their culture and race just to let the more “powerful” race win. He did this by letting Mr. Linder get what he wanted, his way. It upsets me the most to see that the family is trying to get out of their worn-down apartment and even after working so hard to do so, they can’t move into their new house just because of their race.

  7. Hey Chris. I liked how you talked about prejudice and racism in your blog post. Another interesting point that was given in the text was how Mr. Linder kept calling the Younger family as you people, “why I was elected to come here this afternoon and talk to you people.” (117). With the term “you people” Mr. Linder isn’t given the Younger family any identity to go by and it makes the family become less than compare to Mr. Linder. Mr. Linder’s behavior becomes worse towards the end of the play. After Mr. Linder comes back over to negotiate about selling the house, Walter then talks to him about how difficult and how hard working each Younger family member must be. Throughout Walter’s speech, however, Mr. Linder constantly tries to interrupt and doesn’t fully understand the family’s hardships. Mr. Linder says, “that is very nice but” (148) and in the end he gets mad at the family for moving to the neighborhood, “I sure hope you people know what you’re getting into.” (149). Mr. Linder is literally the symbol for being racist and I’m glad the younger family didn’t cave in and refused to move into the new house.

  8. Hello Christ, I like how in your blog you choose to compare the problem of racism to the stain on a carpet. During this time period, racism was alive even though there were people who always tried and argued against it. The chair is representing serpent but equal laws and Jim Crow laws, which were implemented by the government to make it seem like they are doing something to prevent racism. These laws allowed racism to continue to occur while also looking like the government was trying to find the issue of racism. Answering your second question, I feel like Travis is not entirely aware of all the prejudice going on around him because the younger family and especially Walter tries to hide it from him. “she won’t gimme the fifty cents … Why not? Cause we don’t have it. What you tell the boy things like that for?” (31) Travis needs money to bring to school, and Ruth says that she doesn’t have money to give him today for school, but when Walter comes in, he provides Travis the money anyways. This shows how Walter wants Travis to stay sheltered and not have to realize the struggles that the whole family has been going through.

  9. Hi Chris! I really like your analogy of the chair being the false equality and opportunities that are presented to African-Americans and the rug being the true conditions of those families. It was a new perspective for me, as I was looking at it as a metaphor for the financial situation of the Younger family more so than the racial prejudice they face.
    In regards to your second discussions question, I believe that Travis must have, at the very least, an inkling of the prejudice his family faces. Although he was not present for the discussion with Mr. Linder, it’s likely that he was present for the fall out of it. Moreover, Travis recognizes that his family’s options are limited, as seen when Walter asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, and he replies “A bus driver.” While other kids would say “doctor”, “vet”, or “astronaut”, Travis chooses a career that reflects his father’s as a chaffeur.
    Travis likely goes to a school that is almost entirely black (assuming he attends a public school), because that was the demographic of Southside of Chicago. If he doesn’t hear his family talk about racial inequality and poverty, then he likely hears it from his classmates. Additionally, it would not be surprising to me if Hansberry had revealed that not only did Travis wear the same shoes for two semesters, but had been bullied for it. Being seen as inferior would be upsetting to anyone, but unfortunately, I think Travis would be used to it because of his family’s situation.

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