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Raisin in the Sun vs Native Son, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1459

Essay

Raisin in the Sun and Richard Wrights’ Native Son, both depict the plight of pursuing the American Dream for blacks in the early ghettos of inner city Chicago. While both their outcomes are different, in that Raisin in the Sun depicts blacks symbolically escaping the confines of the despondency imposed on blacks , while Native Son shows what happens when the fear of hopelessness are crippling and given into.

The most immediate connection between the two works and how they make a statement about the relationship between black America and the American dream can be seen in the similarities between Walter and Bigger. Bigger and Walter are very similar characters. They are both young black males trying to get ahead in American. They both desire success and wealth, but also have fear of white culture. About Walter Hansberry says, “He is a lean, intense young man in his middle thirties, inclined to quick nervous movements and erratic speech habits—and always in his voice there is a quality of indictment (Hansberry, 842).” This characterizes him as being aggressive and ambitious but also implies that he is defensive and accusatory in reaction to the cultural climate of his upbringing. Walter speaks with a quality of indictment, as Hansberry says, because he feels frustrated about his positioning in society and he feels he spends every waking moment thinking about how he can change his circumstances. Bigger embodies some of these same qualities.

Bigger has a monologue when he is talking to Gus, that is very telling of that he believes his plight to be in regards to his place in America. He says,” they don’t let us do nothing.” He is referring to the ‘white folks’ and when Gus acts surprised that he would even say this, Bigger goes on a frustrated rant saying, “Naw. But I just can’t get used to it,” Bigger said. “I swear to God I can’t. I know I oughtn’t think about it, but I can’t help it. Every time I think about it I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hot iron down my throat……We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like living in jail (Wright, 813).” It is clear that Bigger feels trapped. At one point he compares his life to not being a life at all but to him looking at the lives of others through a hole in a fence. His frustrations in response to this mentality are the same as Walter’s. They both feel the need to break free from their confined spaces in society by pursuing the American Dream. Walter pursues it in the form of trying to buy a liquor business with his father’s inheritance, while Bigger tries to pursue by being the driver for a wealthy white family. They are each trying to break into what they consider to be until now, unattainable.

Another similarity shared between these two characters in addition to the relationship they share with their pursuit of the American Dream, is the relationship they share with their mother. The wisdom, power and authority of the black mother in and African American household and the stern relationship she has with her sons to prepare them for the harsh realities of being black and male in America can be seen in the opening sequence of each story in how the mothers try to wake up their sons to rush them off to work. In the opening parts of the play A Raisin in the Sun Mama is trying to wake up walter and she says, “Walter Lee!… It’s after seven thirty! Lemme see you do some waking up in there now! (She waits). You better get up from there, man! It’s after seven thirty I tell you. (She waits again) All right, you just go ahead and lay there and next thing you know Travis be finished and Mr. Johnson’ll be in there and you’ll be fussing and cussing round here like a madman! And be late too!….Walter Lee—it’ time for you to GET UP (Hansberry, 842)!” This is almost identical to the opening pages of Native Son as Bigger’s mother tries to wake up her boys.

In the opening lines of  A Native Son, Wright notes that, ‘A woman’s voice sang out impatiently: ‘Bigger, shut that thing off!’ A surly grunt sounded above the tinny ring of metal. Naked feet swished dryly across the planks in the wooden floor and the clang ceased abruptly (Wright, 799). Here in the opening passages it becomes clear that Bigger and his family are poor and that they all live packed into a small modest apartment. What also becomes clear is the role of the black mother in a black household with no father figure. Bigger’s mom, like Mama, is the matriarch and patriarch and she is what keeps everyone running and moving, even if they don’t know where they are going.  Wright goes on to say, “She turned to the bed from which she had risen and called: ‘Vera! Get up from there (Wright, 799)!” The stern aggression from the mother is in response to the harsh realities of the outside world. She says she wants time alone in the house, but she also wants them to getup and go to work, and go to school and be early.

Beneatha also has her own conflict with the American Dream and what it means for a woman, specifically a black woman in society. She demonstrates a clear understanding of the superficial values her culture embraces and expects her to embrace as well when she talks about the relationship she has with her boyfriend George. George is handsome and has a flashy car, so he is seen as wealthy in their humble community. Beneatha says, “As for George. Well. George looks good—he’s got a beautiful car and he takes me to nice places and, as my sister-in-law says, he is probably the richest boy I will ever get to know and I even like him sometimes—but if the Youngers are sitting around waiting to see if their little Bennie is going to tie up the family with the Murchisons, they are wasting their time (Hansberry, 853).“ When she tells this to her friend she says “You mean you wouldn’t marry George Murchison if he asked you someday? That pretty, rich thing? Honey, I knew you was odd.” This shows that Beneatha’s community thinks she would be perfectly justified. This makes it very clear that the American Dream for a black woman during this time would be to marry a man with money and become a housewife.

At one point in the play Asagai says, “Then isn’t there something wrong in a house—in a world—where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man? Beneatha: AND YOU CANNOT ANSWER IT! Asagai: I LIVE THE ANSWER!” Within this statement there are many complex messages, but the main idea here is that a black man’s, during this period in time is worth more dead than alive. It also is a statement to Beneath pointing out that she is not really trying to be self sufficient and be independent but relying on her dead father’s inheritance to provide her with a future that otherwise she would not be willing to fight for and earn herself. There is also a strange connection that can be made here between Bigger and Walter and the fate of Walter’s father as they both ferociously try to avoid this fate where Bigger ultimately becomes what he most fears and Walter squanders his father’s inheritance trying not to be like broke and hopeless with the only way to support his family being singing his life away.

In sum, the two works depict the confined and trapped direction imposed by American society imposed on African American culture.  As A Raisin in the Sun was originally based on the Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred,” it’s interesting to see how the wiser Mama ensure that she gets her ream o the house in the white neighborhood, despite the community trying to keep her out, while her naïve younger children take their inheritance and foolishly squander it. Their dreams are deferred. Likewise, Bigger is so controlled by fear and resentment that he becomes the epitome of what he doesn’t want to become. He performs acts of violence in response to his fears and they ultimately lead to his death.

Work Cited

Wright, Richard. A Native Son. 1845. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: Volume One Beginnings to 1865. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2008

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. 1791. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: Volume One Beginnings to 1865. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2008.

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