Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry and "Barn Burning" by William Faulkner. Specifically, it will compare and contrast the concept of family in the two works - the unity and disunity in the families and how this unity influences the lives of the entire family. Both of these stories are about families, but two very different families. One is a family that overcomes obstacles to reach their goals, while the other is a dysfunctional family that tears itself apart strictly as a result of the father's actions. The main characters' growth directly affects the outcome of both stories and the families themselves. Without this growth, neither work would be as memorable or carry such an important message. Character growth is essential to both works.
Each of these works explores the lives of a family and the growth and awareness of at least one major character in the story. In "A Raisin in the Sun," the Younger family dreams of buying a home in the suburbs and making something better of their lives. The center of the family is Lena (Mama), the matriarch of the family who believes buying a home is the best thing she can do for the people she loves most in the world. She is a strong, loving woman who only wants the best for her family. She can be domineering, but she rules over her family with the best intentions. One critic says of the play, "Hansberry created each member of the Younger family with weaknesses and strengths that evoke an audience's sympathy" (Domina xii). This sympathy comes from identifying with the characters - their struggles to survive, their dreams for the future, their hopes for a better place to live, work, and raise their children, and Mama's eternal struggle to do what is right for her family.
In sharp contrast, the Snopes family in "Barn Burning" is led by a cruel and dysfunctional patriarch who guides the family into ruin and poverty. The father is domineering and consistently makes the wrong decisions for his family, which cause them untold grief and despair. While Sarty, his son, is on a path to growth and change, he cannot and will not change who he is and how he reacts to adversity. His method of dealing with opposition has always been to "get even" with his enemies by burning their barns. Another critic states, "Abner Snopes is also depicted as a man who will not hesitate to evoke the power of fire against those who oppose him. In 'Barn Burning' the narrator suggests that for Abner, fire has almost mystical powers" (Loges 44). The people know this about him, and his family knows it, but no one will stand up to him, because they fear him. He cannot grow and change as a character because he is flat and one-dimensional, while his son is not. Another literary critic notes, "Abner Snopes, Sarty's father, terrorizes his son and impels him prematurely toward manhood when Sarty must choose between the dictates of his own conscience and his father's frontier justice" (Ford 527). Sarty, this younger son, has hopes and dreams, and he knows they will never come true if he stays with the family or his father is allowed to continue his actions. For the boy, the best step for him is to leave the family. He has caused the death of his father, and that has liberated him and made everything possible. He has the ability to grow, change, and understand right from wrong. Even though the tale is tragic, there is hope at the end of it, because it seems the boy has made the right decision and will somehow prosper. He has changed from the beginning of the story, and he will continue to change until he reaches manhood.
Even at their most hopeless moments, when they must face racism and dislike from their soon to be neighbors, the Youngers maintain their hope. Even when their situation seems hopeless, they hang on to each other and their dreams. However, the Snopes family is desperate and hopeless - they do not have dreams of their own home or a decent life. If anything, they have dreams of just setting down roots in one place for longer than a few months. Faulkner writes, "He did not know where they were going. None of them ever did or ever asked, because it was always somewhere, always a house of sorts waiting for them a day or two days or even three days away" (Faulkner). The family is hopeless, a stark contrast to the Younger family, who live in poverty but still hope for a better tomorrow. For the Snopes, tomorrow is just another day where they could end up anywhere, and the bleak, hopeless poverty that surrounds them will never go away as long as their cruel father is in charge of the family. In contrast, the insurance check gives the Younger family infinite possibilities. Critic Domina continues, "For each member of the family the check signifies possibility, though their individual hopes differ and at times conflict" (Domina 20). However, it is not just the money that gives this family possibilities. It is the love that surrounds the family and the caring mother that wants to do the best for her family. She gives them hope, while the Snopes' father only gives them grief and despair. This hope helps Walter Lee attain manhood and take over the leadership of the family, and hope is the only thing that fuels the young boy. He, the only member of the family to have hope, turns in his father and grows to manhood in the process. Thus, the two characters who grow and change have hope and it gives them courage.
Both of the families make sacrifices, even though they may be totally different. Hansberry writes early in the play, "Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you -- why can't you do something for the family?" (Hansberry 19). The Younger family has made many sacrifices to stay together, and Mama will make many more as she attempts to give her son the tools he needs to grow, change, and become the head of the family. Another critic writes of their sacrifice, "For at the deepest level it is not a specific situation but the human condition, human aspiration and human relationship -- the persistence of dreams, of the bonds and conflicts between men and women, parents and children [...]" (Cooper 61). This may be the most striking commonality between the two families. The Snopes family sacrifices too, but their sacrifice is not their own choice, it is a result of the father's actions, which always force them to pack up and move at a moment's notice. The father cannot control his reactions and his bitterness, and so, his entire family must sacrifice to keep the family together. Unfortunately, their sacrifice is not for the ultimate good or betterment of the family. It is simply a matter of survival. The Younger family has more hopes than that. They make sacrifices, such as living together in one small house, and saving money to buy a business, to make themselves better, while the Snopes sacrifices do not enrich them in any way, they simply add to their plodding and pathetic existence.
The Younger family ultimately survives because of the inner strength their mother has helped them attain, and because they are loved and loving. Near the end of the play, the author writes, "There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing" (Hansberry 135). Unfortunately, the Snopes family and their actions are not based on love. This family is rooted in hate and violence, which colors all the activities of the members of the family. On the run from town to town, they never have time to make friends or see their dreams realized. Their father is a bitter and violent man who only knows how to cause trouble and get even. He even strikes his own children when they threaten him. Faulkner writes, "His father struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without heat, exactly as he had struck the two mules at the store, exactly as he would strike either of them with any stick in order to kill a horse fly, his voice still without heat or anger" (Faulkner). Mama strikes Bennie too, but out of care, not hate, and that makes all the difference between the two families.
In conclusion, the main characters grow in these stories, and that gives them their power and importance. The young boy becomes a man in "Barn Burning," even though he betrays his family. He knows what is right and wrong, and knows he cannot hide his father's actions any more. He leaves the family but will grow to be a strong, confident man because of his experiences. Faulkner alludes to this when he…