“Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he is at his lowest and can’t believe in himself. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child. Measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valley’s he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
– Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
I love experimenting with symbolism and imagery in my writing and in my poetry. Last year, I participated in a Writing 101 assignment that asked us to Critique a Piece of Work, in which I shared my thoughts on Gwendolyn Brooks “We Real Cool”. I thought that would be fun to experiment with again today.
Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” is the classic play by Lorraine Hansberry that was performed on Broadway in 1959. The title comes from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. A Raisin in the Sun is a piece that is loaded with symbolism.
To start, heat from the sun is very intense and it drains just as much energy as it gives. It is exhausting and causes death to those who cannot escape a temporary refuge away from its obvious danger. While some sunlight causes plants to grow, too much sun can be destructive.
Raisins come from grapes that are dried out by the sun. The sun sucks its moisture and nutrients until it has withered dramatically. However, dried grapes writhe and get small, but they do not turn to mush and rot. (Which is totally awesome. I love raisins!)
A raisin in the sun is symbolic of a family’s dreams under the intense struggles they must endure to reach it. It symbolizes that the family’s dreams and hopes for a better life will never dry up, but more importantly, their dreams will never rot despite the intense struggles they are under.
The plant that Mama keeps near the apartment’s sole window is barely surviving because it lacks adequate nourishment. Yet she is completely dedicated to the plant and lovingly tends it every single day in the hopes that it will one day be able to flourish. This is by far the play’s most overt symbol because the plant acts as a metaphor for the family.
Cockroaches, Rats, etc.
These creatures heavily reinforce the Younger family’s undesirable living situation.
Hansberry writes about sunlight and how the old apartment has so little of it. The first thing Ruth asks about in Act Two, Scene One is whether or not the new house will have a lot of sunlight. Sunlight is a symbol for hope and life, since all human life depends on warmth and energy from the sun. Light is also symbolic for truth. It is the truth that truly sets a people free.