Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" is considered by critics to be one of the strongest portrayals of the African-American nuclear family. Her plays involve the conflicts of a lower middle class African-American family and their struggle to gain greater social mobility and the constant struggle for acceptance. The interplay of characters within the family nucleus creates both dramatic tension and social cognition throughout the play, allowing readers to both is observers of the family drama and quiet supporters of the Younger family. The implicit theme of "A Raisin in the Sun" is the impact of the family upon the actions of individual units, especially in relations to African-American families. The social premise and moral conflicts of the play focuses on the pursuit of the Younger family to better their current situation. An analysis of their family must be done through several different topics, including the impact of family experiences upon individual action, the impact of social influences upon the entire family, the impact of social and political factors upon the family, and finally the gender roles that come in conflict within the nuclear family model.
Common family experiences have a dramatic impact on the actions of each individual unit, and it unites the family in their pursuits. The Younger family is considered lower middle class; three generations occupy the nuclear model, with grandmother Lena at its head, Walter, Ruth and Beneatha as the second generation, and Travis as the youngest. The hardships endured by the family unit as a whole in their pursuit of survival binds them together. Lena and her husband worked tirelessly to raise their kids. Walter works extremely hard as a chauffeur in order to support his family, while Ruth has the full responsibility of handling the house and monitoring the family. It is the result of their persistent hardship that drives them to all yearn for change and greater social mobility (NPR, npg). This is the primary conflict of the story, as each family member believes that they have their own way towards upward social mobility. Ruth and Lena believe that by using the life insurance money collected from Lena's husband's death towards a better living community would dramatically alter their lifestyle for the better. They perceive social merit and upward mobility to their living situation, because their social conscience is rooted to the concept of the physical "family" translated to their residential area. Walter in contrasts sees social mobility as recognition from his peers and financial security (Maxnotes, 45). As a result, he wants to invest the insurance money into his own business in an attempt to "start on [his] own." Beneath in contrast to both of these philosophies sees education and marriage as the method towards upward social mobility, she is pursuing a career in medicine and looks for rich suitors to give her dreams credibility. Although each of the individuals within the family has differing perspectives of success, they are all bonded by the family sufferings that they have endured. It is the result of this communal suffering in both their physical environment and the enduring nature of being at the edge of social acceptance that pushes each of them to seek out a better life.
Despite their differences it is evident that the family bond between these individuals is extremely strong. Although the focal point of the story revolves around the money collected from insurance, the fundamental reasoning behind each of their individual actions is how to better the financial, emotional, and physical situations of the family unit as a whole. This mutual love can be observed through the differing actions of these individuals. Walter for instance, for all of his crass behavior, wants to give everything he can to his son and constantly dreams of a better future for himself and his family (NPR, npg). Mother Lena demonstrates her love for her son by giving him the rest of the money from insurance for his safe keeping. Even Beneatha, the most self-centered individual within the family, truly believes that her medical career will be financially rewarding for her family (Maxnotes, 41). The commonality of hardship affects each individual's actions because they asses their "cost benefit analysis" through the lenses of family obligation, as well as personal reward. Therefore, each individual within this family unit acts on their own beliefs, but with fundamentally the same family interests and values in mind.
Social influences play a very important role within this play in both a positive and negative manner on the family. The end goal of every member within the family is to reach a higher social station, and each works tirelessly towards those aims. Social influence therefore takes the form of physical status for Ruth and Lena, who believe that living in a better community would grant their family more social credibility. This assumption, at the surface level, appears ill-reasoned because they clearly cannot afford to live in a better community (Noelle, npg). However, it is evident that both Ruth and Lena place heavy social emphasis on physical location, and therefore their desire to move directly correlates to their belief in raising their social position. Walter on the other hand is influenced by social pressures from his peers, who obviously place heavier emphasis on financial success and "ownership." Walter perceives social status as the ability to be his own boss, and to become financially secure (NPR, npg). Therefore he is easily swayed by his friends to invest in a liquor store. Beneatha assesses her social status through intellectualism. Her affections for the snobbish George Murchison shows that she places worth in education and social pedigree. Therefore, she is influenced to condescend upon her family because she believes that none of them have the ability or the desire to rise above their stations. All of these are negative social influences, because they persist in shattering the close knit unity of this family. However, that is not to say that social influences within this play are all bad. It is evident that despite the mistakes that each of these individuals makes, they have a deep concern for the greater social mobility. Social standards motivate these entire individual to act in a manner that would help the family unit and raise their social status (Maxnotes, 45). In effect, social influences becomes the catalyst for action, albeit wrong action in some cases. It creates a clear intent to want more in life than their current station, an important quality to instill in all three generations of the Younger family.
In specific, the interactions of different social and political groups within the play have a deep impact on the actions of individual family members. While society and social influence in general has a strong impact on the actions of the Younger family, this influence creates a subtle and subconscious desire for social change. The direct catalysts for action within this play are the agents of differing social and political circles. They have both a positive effect on the family's unity as well as a negative effect. Social groups have a much greater impact on Beneatha and Walter than on the other two women of the household. This because, Ruth and Lena is completely devoted to their family and as a result, spends all of their emotional focus on their family. Beneatha in contrast, places heavy emphasis on placing herself in a different social circle in order to constantly upgrade her social status. Therefore she is strongly influenced by social groups because she does not have a strong "core self." When her African suitor Joseph Asagai comes into her life, Beneatha attempts to master African traditions and culture such as her attempt to learn African dance. Hansberry clearly shows her "fake persona" however, by ironically portraying her fanning herself with an oriental fan (NPR, npg). She also allows her suitor George to snub her family, because she perceives him of being on a significantly higher social position. Her actions exhibit that social groups has a significant impact on her actions, because it directs her to turn against her family's core values and social position (Noelle, npg). Similarly, Walter is also persuaded by his friends to make an unwise financial investment. The fact that he places more faith in the words of his supposed friends than his mother and wife, shows how strongly social groups can exert their force. This is because Walter, as an individual, relates his current low social status with his nuclear family, therefore he perceives outside social factors as positive forces that steer him further from the low status of his current position (Maxnotes, 49-51). Even though these are both negative impacts of social groups, Hansberry also shows how such groups can be used to bring the family unit together. Karl Lindner is symbolic of a political group within this novel exerting racial tension upon the Younger family. He is the representative sent by the housing community Lena wants to live in to desist in attempting to move into a predominantly white…