About A Raisin in the Sun


Hansberry's recognition of the close relationship between art and propaganda is the reason she chose the environment of the powerless as a backdrop for her work about American culture. Her objective was to be a spokesperson for those who, prior to Raisin, had no voice. The thought that anyone outside of the black community would care about the struggles of a black family in Southside Chicago, prior to the opening ofRaisin, was all but preposterous. Not only did Hansberry choose as the voice of her theme a black family (and a poor black family, at that), but she also threaded information about Africa throughout the fabric of her play, mainly through her most stable character, Asagai, Beneatha's suitor from Nigeria.

Through Asagai (and sometimes through Beneatha), the audience gains valuable insight into African history, politics, art, and philosophy. Even the character of George Murchison glorifies, by default, the ancient African civilizations when he derisively mentions "the African past," "the Great West African Heritage," "the great Ashanti empires," "the great Songhay civilizations," "the great sculpture of Benin," and "poetry in the Bantu." Although George is being facetious, still he uses adjectives that praise and laud the accomplishments of a continent with which many theatergoers, at the time of the opening of Raisin, were extremely unfamiliar.

To structure her drama, Hansberry utilizes the traditional classic European dramatic forms: Raisin is divided into three conventional acts with their distinct scenes. Yet, Hansberry employs techniques of the absurdist drama — particularly in the scene in which a drunken Walter Lee walks in on Beneatha's African dancing and is able to immediately summon a memory which psychically connects him with an African past that his character, in reality, would not have known. Walter Lee is able to sing and dance and chant as though he had studied African culture.

Hansberry's skillful use of this momentary absurdity makes Walter's performance seem absolutely plausible to her audience. Note also in this work that Hansberry refers to an ancient Greek mythological titan, Prometheus, then makes a reference to an icon of the American entertainment world, Pearl Bailey, and then a reference to Jomo Kenyatta, a major African scholar and politician, yet there is no loss of continuity because the audience is able to immediately perceive the connection.