Raisin in the Sun
Significance of the Title
Lorraine Hansberry was an African-American playwright of the 1950s. This famous play was first dramatized in 1959 and created a new place for the Afro American Authors in the literary world. The play won Lorraine a Drama Circle Critics Choice Award and made her a renowned writer. The title of the play came from a poem by 'Langston Hughes' called 'Harlem.' The poem contains a verse that goes like this:
"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" (Lewis, 2012).
The poem also showcased the frustration and resentment born among the black people because of 'deferred' dreams. It shows that this happened due to the discrimination practiced against them. Similarly the play's title symbolizes unfulfilled dreams of the Younger family. Just like the raisin dries up in the sun, the scorching sun of the era's conditions has dried up, shriveled or shrunk the Younger family's hopes of success and a better future. Walter Younger could not have his dream fulfilled and he died before its realization. Walter Younger Jr. wished to strike it rich by investing his father's insurance money in the liquor business. His dream also is shattered when a partner of his runs away with the money leaving him in the state he was in at the beginning of the play (Green, 2000). Walter Lee Younger Jr.'s dreams continue to grow throughout the play they are not dampened by the conditions of his family or conditions of the black people in the society at that time. However, as his dreams continue to grow the hope for the realization of these dreams continue to shrink like the raisin.
b. Strengths and Weaknesses of Walter Lee Younger
Walter Lee is a father, a husband, a son and a brother. He yearns for his wife's support and encouragement for his dreams and aspirations. His wife refuses to back him in his wild dreams. He is an energetic, yet a foolish and simple man who believes that money is the ultimate means of happiness and success. He is ambitious and never gives up hope of fulfilling his dearest wishes which include a brighter and happy future for his son, luxuries for his wife and sister. At he asks why his wife can't have pearls to wear.
He is a loving man who cares for his family's well being and wants to do his duty of providing for them to the best of his ability. But he is simple and naive, he is uneducated and has no skill that can land him a better job. In his simplicity he thinks that he can collect and double his money by investing in business. He has no entrepreneurial skills, but feeling pressure of his economic situation he very foolishly hands over the money to an untrustworthy friend.
In short he is an honest, hardworking, loving man who is made desperate by the horrors of poverty and despondency. This condition gets him to believe that the solution to all his dilemmas lies in acquisition of wealth. As he is an impulsive, over enthusiastic man who has no patience for careful planning or thoughtful reflection he quickly decides to invest all his money in a liquor store, causing his family to lose even that (umich.edu).
The play is basically a depiction of the hopeless, miserable condition of the black people in the 1950s (Washington, 109). It reflects the bias of the white people as a man from the white neighborhood where the Younger family has purchased a house, arrives to issue a warning against moving there. The man tells them in clear terms that black families are not allowed to live in their area. Another example of prejudice and problems of the blacks is that they Walter Lee and Ruth cannot get better jobs because black people are restricted from many occupations and posts (Green, 2000).
But mainly the author uses the play to create awareness about the great African heritage. Through the characters of Beneatha and Joseph Asagai, she gives the other characters and the audience a lesson in the glorious history and culture of Africa. It brings to light historical facts that are not known to even the most learned of scholars and teachers. The author is trying to preach that one should be proud of one's roots and heritage like Asagai and Bennie are, rather than imitate others in a race to impress them like George Murchison does (Cliffnotes.com).
2. The Piano Lesson
a. Significance of the Title
August Wilson, another famous African-American playwright wrote this play to depict the struggle the Afro Americans of his time were going through, struggle between economic gain and maintaining a hold on personal identity or legacy.
One reason for naming the play thus is that it was a result of the author's inspiration from a painting by Romare Bearden. The painting was also called 'The Piano Lesson.' Another reason the author chooses a musical instrument for the title is to depict the musical side of the African culture. He makes the Piano out to be a symbol of the African family's history, their slavery. The piano is the center of the play (Sparknotes.com). Use of music is very common in Wilson's plays, and most common types of music he depicted were Jazz and Blues. Critics thought that his plays were more like opera than works of prose (Gardner, 2008).
b. Boy Willie's Strengths and Weaknesses
Boy Willie is the 30-year-old brother in this tale of conflict between fortune and family legacy. Boy Willie is another impulsive character known for his notoriety, as at the start of the play he is released from prison. He is a materialistic man who seems to think that money is the most important commodity in life that is why he insists on selling the piano. He sees its carving and its beauty as a money making tool. But his desire to sell the piano does not completely stem from greed but from his own attachment to the past. Unlike his sister Bernice, who sees the piano as a family heirloom, a keepsake that reminds her of her parents? The piano has carved pictures of the family and she feels that it is a representation of their father's life. However, Willie' association to the piano is completely opposite of this. He sees it as a symbol of his family's enslavement, their shame and degradation. He wishes to sell the piano and buy the land once owned by a white family by the name of Sutter. The Sutter family was the former owner of Boy Willie's family. Hence by buying that land he feels that he will free his family once and for all from the taint of slavery.
This desire can be seen as something positive or his strength. He is very sensitive and gets angry very quickly on the mention of any race related issue. He is not ready to accept his family legacy and its history of enslavement instead he tends to run away from it. It is this denial that makes him so vehement about racial matters. The slavery issue is a cause of an inferiority complex for Boy Willie as he aims to become an equal to the white man as his desire to purchase the Sutter land is also an attempt to show that he is equal to them.
His weaknesses are his impulsive, immature nature and his love of money and wealth. But the greatest weakness is his complex and his desire to show the white man that he is his equal. His one strength is his courage and determination to achieve what he deems worth (Bradford, 2012).
The main theme of the play is depicted in the line: "What do you do with your legacy and how do you best put it to use?" The central conflict of the play is in how one uses or embraces ones legacy, as is seen in the actions of Bernice and Boy Willie. The 'Piano' which is the cause of the conflict records their family's history during slavery.
Boy Willie views his past as a source of shame and humiliation and considers the piano to be a symbol of that whereas for his sister the family keepsake is a valuable reminder of family history. For her it is a reminder etched with memories of her father and mother. Where the sister wants to preserve this piece of history and treasure it, the brother wants to use it to guarantee a more prosperous future. The Piano, to him is the means of procuring the Sutter house which will help him raise his family esteem and value in the society. Boy Willie uses his memory of the past to fuel his determination for revenge against the people who caused his family great pain and disgrace.
Bernice thinks that her family's spirits are attached to the piano, as her mother…