The definition of the American dream according to average people is the ability for a person to purchase their own home using money earned through their hard work. Of course there are variations and extensions of this idea. After World War II and the creation of the suburbs outside major metropolitan areas, the idea of the American dream came to fruition for middle class white America. However, most of Black America was left behind the movement due to their social standing at the time.
In Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, she explores the American Dream from a black family’s perspective during the 1950’s, just before the major Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s. She weaves in different ideas of the American Dream including the downfalls of the effects it has on people via the characters in the story that face the very issues that Martin Luther King sought to resolve. In ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, three generations of the Younger family are living in a small project apartment in Chicago during a time when black men could still not vote.
Walter Lee is thirty-five and wants to provide for his family but his income won’t allow it. However, he has become so mad at the treatment of the black race and feels the only way to further his race is to become a businessman and buy materialistic items so he can measure up against the white folks. ‘What Hansberry is trying to illustrate is how Western civilization has conditioned society to have materialistic aspirations and how these ideals corrupt the black man’s identity and his family. (Alonso)
Walter has become obsessed with earning money as Hansberry writes ‘I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy… ‘ (Hansberry, 250) Walter believes the only way to improve himself is via money. ‘He is searching for his identity with money. Much of Walter’s dialog is about making money or who has money. ‘ (Alonso) Walter lacks the faith that Martin Luther King speaks about in his speech ‘I have a Dream’ when he states ‘go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow, this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. ‘ (King, 298) Walter’s sister Beneatha has her own ideas about the American Dream. She shares the same apartment with Walter’s family and their mother. She is currently attending college, which is something Walter didn’t do. She has dreams of becoming a doctor and helping people and that is how she views the American dream. However, her treatment of her brother Walter after he loses her college money portrays that she too has some materialistic views that have swayed her judgment.
When speaking with her mother, Beneatha says ‘Love him, there is nothing left to love. ‘ (Hansberry, 289) To which her mother replies ‘There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing… Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is. ‘ (Hansberry, 289) Mama is stressing the importance of not only family, but also loving one another and having compassion. Martin Luther King states ‘Let us not seek to satisfy our need for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. (King, 297) Achieving the American dream with the vision that you are either with me or against me will leave you with a full mind but an empty soul.
Mama’s vision of the American Dream is to own a home and a piece of land in suburbia. When her husband dies, Mama is awarded an insurance check in which she puts a down payment on a piece of property in a white middle class suburb. She firmly believes in the importance of family and to keep a nice clean home, no matter where you live. ‘She believes in striving to succeed while maintaining her moral boundaries. (Sparknotes) After making the down payment, her children are visited by a Mr. Lindor, who is a representative of the people living in the new neighbor hood in which she has just bought the house. Without her being present, her children, along with Walter’s wife Ruth provide Mr. Lindor common courtesy to hear what he has to say. Essentially, Mr. Lindor conveys that he doesn’t want the Lee family to move into his neighborhood as it would upset the people living there as they see the black race as being nothing but troublemakers. Mr.
Lindor’s idea of the American Dream is to own a piece of property and not have black people around as they would spoil it. Mama’s children politely tell him that they are moving in. Their action reveals a lot about their character as to how they were brought up by their parents. To not be intimidated by anyone. The theme of only wanting certain kinds of people in your neighborhood is still prevalent in today’s society. Martin Luther King notes ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (King, 299)
The Younger’s believe in racial harmony and living and working together. ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ is a true American classic in that it deeply explores the ideas behind the American Dream as seen from a black family. After reading it, you can see how the dreams and circumstances of the Younger family not only befit the black race, but also all classes and races of Americans. To want only money builds no moral character. To show no compassion leaves an empty soul and to believe that you can separate yourself from the ‘bad people’ is true ignorance.