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While Baraka's play Dutchman ends in fatal violence against a young black male endeavoring in vain to assert his individual identity and manhood, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which takes place in the 1950's, on Chicago's South Side, ends with Walter Younger Jr. being defeated in his quest for individual independence, autonomy, and a sense of authentic manhood apart from his race by a crooked partner and supposed coordinator of Walter and his friends' liquor store plan, who instead runs off with the money from Walter's mother's life insurance settlement that Walter has invested.
Within this play, Walter's sense of manhood depends, like Clay's in Baraka's Dutchman, on his ability (or not) to realize his dreams and aspirations autonomously, apart from race. Like Clay's in Baraka's Dutchman, these are no different from any man's dreams, white or black: autonomy; respectability; the right to pursue and create his own desired destiny.
As in Baraka's Dutchman, however, race intrudes upon Walter's dreams (in his case, of home ownership in a white neighborhood, and also liquor store part-ownership and eventual financial prosperity for himself and his family) and in the end impedes (again, ironically, as in Baraka's play, but this time based on the prejudice Karl Linder represents, and on the unexpected dishonesty of Walter's own prospective business partner) with Walter's ability to realize his dreams, and to live those dreams of autonomy and financial success within a white-dominated society and culture. In the end, Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun does end on much more of a note of hope than does Baraka's Dutchman, with the Younger family deciding, optimistically, to still move from their apartment, despite Linder's offer and subsequent to Walter Jr.'s powerful confrontation with Linder. Still, Walter's own separate dream of business ownership and the financial success to which it might have led is now "deferred" - perhaps forever.
Further, in the process of pursuing his own dreams and independent identity as a businessman, Walter impinges on his sister Beneatha's ("Benny's") dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. In numerous ways, then, within A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry illustrates the social and economic obstacles to a young black man's "having it all" (or even having much of anything) in a white-dominated American society that continually reminds young black men like Walter (and indeed, Walter's whole family) to "know their place," a subservient one, in such a society.
Within Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Jr. yearns, along with his family, for equal acceptance within white-dominated society, and also to go into the liquor store business with two partners. But even the potential seed money for Walter's possible realization of that dream is not his own. Instead it is provided by his reluctant mother (as her eventual path of least resistance) from part of a life insurance payment his mother has just received following his father Walter Sr.'s death. But the women in Walter's family also have dreams, and these, too, would potentially cost some of the life insurance money and thereby interfere with Walter's dream. Lena, Walter's mother, wants a house in a white neighborhood, and Benny, his sister, wants to use part of the money to finance medical school.
In the end, as it turns out, however, Walter loses his own dream, and in the process, having selfishly invested Beneatha's medical school money in his own dream as well, loses that dream for her. But the Younger family itself, after Walter's confrontation with Karl Linder, ultimately decides not to acquiesce, whatever the (potentially ominous) future consequences of white society.
In this essay, I have described and analyzed the respective contexts and nature of both Walter's confrontation with Karl Lindner in Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and Clay's defensive, violent response to Lula's verbal sexual/gender assaults in Baraka's Dutchman. Both of these male characters do achieve a (very temporary and ephemeral) degree of manhood, but neither of these plays ends on a complete note of hope, especially in terms of the manhood these characters have achieved.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Vintage (Reprint edition).
November 29, 1994.
Jones, LeRoi. Dutchman. New York: Morrow, 1964. 4.[continue]
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