For many people, individual dreams and goals develop from adolescence, and evolve into something more feasible, as responsibilities and the onset of reality arise. The influence of these dreams can be different for every person, depending on how elaborate their ambitions may be, and the circumstances which they face in their lives. The play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, which debuted in 1959, is a story about a black family living in Chicago in the 1950’s, in which the adults have differing views about the direction of the family after they come into a large sum of money. Each person’s recommendation is based on their personal goals and dreams, whether they concern the entire family or not.
Through various characters, Hansberry illustrates a few ways in which dreams may influence our lives, and vice versa. These include the ideas that goals and ambitions may be the underlying force behind every action we take in life; that goals and ideals become lost when we must face reality, and that often our perceptions and attention to reality become clouded when we are too ambitious in life. The situations and the motives of each character, though specific to the time and setting of the play, are relatable to most people, as it could be argued that it is human nature to yearn for greater things in life, especially during periods of oppression or distress.
In 1954, the integration of all segregated schools in America was implemented, as the country began to foster new ideas that aimed to eliminate racial prejudice. The perception of this first world was shaded by the oppression that black people in the United States had faced for many decades, so citizens acted to reverse this and change their country into the America of their dreams. In “A Raisin in the Sun,” we are introduced to Beneatha, a young black woman attending medical school in Chicago. Beneatha’s ambitions to heal people, to do “the one concrete thing in the world that a human being could do… fix up the sick,” are the driving force behind her decision to become a female doctor.
Despite the criticisms she would face as a black woman doctor, Beneatha is steadfast in the pursuit of her personal dreams. Her proposition for the money which her family has come into consists of paying for her education to further the possibility of attaining her goals. Much of this motivation has to do with Beneatha’s own struggle to pinpoint her personal identity. Throughout the play, she advocates for a non-conformist, non-assimilationist lifestyle, through which she would refuse to accept her seemingly predetermined fate as an oppressed Negro woman. This is expressed through multiple points, such as the change Beneatha makes to her hair; she chooses not to straighten it any longer, and instead to let it grow naturally as a symbol of embracing her heritage.
The nickname that her African friend, Asagai, gave her meaning “One for Whom Bread-Food-Is Not Enough,” is representative of Beneatha’s ambition to have a name for herself, to decide her own fate, and to live a life greater than the simple one which has been fixed for her. Her attitudes, actions, and decisions all stem from the great emphasis that she has placed on her dreams and aspirations. Beneatha exemplifies the “dreamers” and the optimists in society who put complete faith and effort into the pursuit of their ideals.
Many people develop dreams for themselves when they are children, which tend to adapt as they grow older to better suit the conditions of their lives. In a sense, individual ambitions may take subservience to things that become evidently more important, such as holding a job, attaining higher education, or caring for a family. The fact of the matter is that most of one’s aspirations would require a degree financial stability that is just not present today, especially among the general populous in Westernized countries.
In “A Raisin in the Sun,” two characters come to mind that depict this quality about personal goals and ideals. Lena and Ruth are two members of the Younger family, which have most readily accepted their life in the US during the 1950’s. These two women dealt not only with racial prejudice aimed against them, but with sexist bigotry from their male counterparts as well. For Lena, the protagonist ‘s mother, better known as “Mama” in the play, a home big enough to house her family, a garden to grow flowers in, and the assurance that her family was taken care of was enough to fulfill her dreams in life. The circumstances of her life lead her to settle for a small, one-bedroom apartment, and a potted plant sitting in the lone window in her kitchen instead, through which Mama was able to live out her dreams to her best ability. It can be inferred from the dialogue that this outcome was not Mama’s nor her husband’s ambition, but that racial prejudice and segregation of the time lead to the social stresses and financial hindrance that made progress for the Youngers so difficult. She recalls the circumstances of her husband’s life with the line, “[seems] like God [did not] see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make those dreams seem worthwhile,” (503). It reinforces the retelling of the adversity that black people of this time had to face, and how certain values are what encouraged people to persevere. Ruth, the protagonist’s wife, shares similar values and dreams as her mother-in-law, in that a home would simply be a welcomed change from the tiny apartment that the Youngers had lived in for so long.
However, she too has accepted that the reality which they face does not permit such luxuries for the sake of keeping up segregation and social status differences between blacks and whites. Whether responsibilities, societal pressures, or financial inadequacy are the cause, most people in their lives will hold dreams and goals which are forced to adapt to their lifestyle and the circumstances of the world around them. This may not always be done willingly, but pragmatism is necessary in the world of survival, not just optimism.
For many people, the ability to achieve personal goals is believed to alleviate many potential problems that they could face in their life. Pursuing a business project, completing an education, or uprooting and starting out someplace new are a few ways that a person could expect to find happiness. We often perceive that reaching certain ambitions will set us up for the future and evade hardships that one might otherwise expect to face. When a person becomes so fixated on an ideal, it can make it difficult to evaluate reality in a necessary way or present a hinderance of that individual’s ability to make rational, thoughtful decisions.
Through the protagonist, Walter, Lorraine Hansberry expresses a quality that many people will experience in their lifetime, and that is the infatuation with a sole idea. It seems as if every decision made from a certain point forward revolves around ensuring the viability of this certain dream. For Walter, this dream is investing the newfound money into a liquor business with his friends, a practice not admired by any of his family members. He has absolute faith that the business would provide for his family more so than they could have ever imagined. Walter’s ability to make decisions based on the immediate needs of his family is lost, and he is exposed as a coward when it is revealed that he had invested more into the business than into his family. His intentions were good, and his dream was great, but Walter did not consider the risks to his family, or to himself.
Many people become distracted by their ambitions which develop into elaborate, intricate plans and outcomes, that eventually they are not attainable, or a person will never be satisfied with what they have achieved.
Individual dreams influence each person differently depending on the way that they perceive the world around them. They will also influence a person based on how elaborate or ambitious they may be, which may affect how much effort one puts into reaching their goals. “A Raisin in the Sun” highlights different ways in which individuals may seek out their aspirations, and how impeding these ideas could be in their everyday lives.