Yesterday And Today In the four year between 1861 and 1865 this country was in civil war over the rights and freedom of blacks in America. When all was said and done, the blacks won their freedom and gained several rights that would make their lives better. Nearly one hundred years later, in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry wrote her great play, A Raisin in the Sun. It described the everyday life of a black family in the Southside of Chicago sometime after World War II. Throughout the play, Hansberry talks of the difficulties that the Younger family faces trying to get from one day to another; the problems that should have been resolved by the Civil War.
Even after the Civil War and this play, many of these problems still exist today. The first difficulty that the Younger family faces is poor housing. The play starts off in a small two bedroom apartment with Ruth waking up her son, Travis, who sleeps on the couch in the living room. He sleeps on the couch because one bedroom is used by Ruth and Walter and the other by Mama and Beneatha. Every morning they wake up early so they can get to the one bathroom that is shared by all of the other families that live in the complex.
When Mama talks about putting a down payment on a new house, Ruth says, “Well, Lord knows, we’ve put enough rent into this here rat trap to pay for four houses by now” (p. 1817). When she says rat trap you would naturally think of some of the houses today with boarded up or broken windows, unattended yards, and streets that are covered with potholes. But in the movie, it is nothing like that. The movie depicts the apartment in a very livable way. You can say they made the best of a bad situation.
There is also discrimination in Hansberry’s play. It is displayed in a couple different ways. Walter cannot get any job except as a chauffer for white family. When Ruth says. “So you would rather be Mr.
Arnold than be his chauffer” (p. 1811), she knows that he is tired of being “low man on the totem pole” and wants to be able to give his son the luxuries of life. While on the other hand Ruth and Mama work in kitchens and do house work for white families. And finally, Beneatha is going to school to become a doctor, and all she gets from Walter is harassment because she is a black female. At one time he even say, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ’bout messing ’round with sick people — then go be a nurse like other women” (p.
1813). He himself is discriminating his own sister by stereotyping a woman’s place in society. Although it is illegal, this type of discrimination is still fairly common today . If a person of a minority and a white person both go in for an interview for two positions, it is more likely that the white person will get the better of the two jobs. Just because a company says that they are an, “equal opportunity” business, does not mean that they always stick to it because there is usually a way to get around most things.
Another way that they are discriminated against is prices for the necessary items needed in life. As Margaret B. Wilkerson points out in her introduction to the original screen play, there is a scene where Mama stops to buy fruit at the local market, but is angered by the “flippant and disrespectful white clerk as well as the poor quality and high price of fruit that, as she says, ‘was at the Last Supper'” (p. xxxii). So Mama went out of her way and went to an open market in Chicago’s far Southside, to an open air market that was ran by probably predominately black seller that had top quality produce for a fraction of the cost. You can see this trend in prices even today.
Not only is it towards minorities, but this also affects whites. It seems to be the wealthier the community the cheaper the products are. A product in a predominately black community will cost a little more than it would in a lower class white community and that will cost a little more than it would in a wealthy community. It seems like someone wants to keep the money in the hands of the wealthy. The third type of discrimination is the most common today.
It takes place a few times throughout the play. It is first introduced in the original screen play when the Younger family went to visit their new house for the first time. In the original directions for this scene, there was to be a panning shot of the neighboring houses. With this done, it revealed “something sinister… At some windows curtains drop quickly back into place as though those who were watching do not want to be seen; at others–shadowy figures simply move back out of view when they feel that Walter and Ruth’s gaze is upon them; at still others, those who are staring do so without apology” (p. xxxv).
This would have given a better introduction for Lindner. Lindner is the representative for the neighborhood welcoming committee but he is not actually there to welcome the Younger family. He is actually there to ask them to reconsider their plans on moving into the house that they bought in an all white community. He tells them, “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into [our community]…and for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities” (p. 1851). When they catch on to his real meaning for his visit, they ask him to leave and that they want nothing to do with him or his offer. This is in direct relation to what Malcolm X points out in his autobiography: The white Southerner, you can say one thing–he is honest.
He bares his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony “integration.”..The advantage of this is the Southern black man never has been under any illusion about the opposition he is dealing with…But the Northern white man, he grin with his teeth, and his mouth has always been full of tricks and lies of “equality” and “integration.”..The truth is that “integration” is an image, it’s a foxy Northern liberals smoke-screen that confuses the true wants of the American black man . (p. 271) Lindner is telling the Younger family that it is not the community that does not want them to move in, but he is telling them that they themselves do not want to move into a community that is different from them. This happens all the time in today’s society. When a family of a particular minority move into a subdivision, the current residents that are unhappy with the move try to get the incoming family to change their minds or harass them after they have already moved to force them out. It is time that we move on and put skin color behind us. The country as a whole has fought over this and it was decided by the Civil War the blacks should have their freedom as “full” American citizens. When will we be able to live as one community? “The history must be taught, and if not in schools then at home.
But that won’t or can’t be done until our home life, our families, get back on track. Its a vicious cycle. We still have a long, long way to go.” (Lee p. xivii) Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun.
Norton Introduction to Literature: 7th edition. Ed. Jerome Beaty, et al. New York: Norton, 1998. Lee, Spike. “Commentary: Thoughts on the Screenplay.” A Raisin in the Sun: Original Screenplay.
London: Penguin, 1992 Wilkerson, Margaret. “Introduction.” A Raisin in the Sun: Original Screenplay. London: Penguin, 1992 X, Malcolm. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As told to Alex Haley. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992 English Essays.