A Raisin in the Sun
By: Lorraine Hansberry
Review of the 1994 Vintage Books Paperback Edition, with Introduction by Robert Nemiroff
First Pub: 1959
Wow. Ok, so I have already read this play- hence the ‘re-read’ element of this review. Not every re-read warrants a brand new review, as often your opinion of a book will remain the same over time. However, when something happens, like your re-read book turns out to be SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVER REMEMBERED, well, this warrants a Re-Read Rapid Review.
Why did I have such a shocking change of heart- changing my review of ‘Raisin’ to the coveted 5-star section of my Goodreads account immediately upon finishing? Perhaps, I am now old enough to appreciate this play more than I did whilst reading it at school. OR, perhaps it is because this time, I *chose* to (re)read this title, instead of *having to read it* for a class. Or, perhaps I understand that era of American history better now than I did then, when my history classes were about Canadian history. No matter which factor influenced this fantastic re-read, I don’t care. I am just happy it happened.
The Younger family, a working class African American family in 1959’s Chicago, is about to inherit an amount of money that will change their lives- if it doesn’t change them fundamentally as people, first.
This one is bumped up to 5 stars. It is not only a great story in general, but as you’re reading, you can ‘see’ how it would be a great, entertaining staged *play*, as well, and that’s what a great playwright can do: make the action on stage come to life for the person reading the drama on the page.
Lorraine Hansberry is able, with only 5 characters (I’m not counting those not in every Act, like ‘Movers’ or Bennie’s ‘boyfriends’)- with just 5 characters, Hansberry is able to portray SO MANY DIFFERENT Characters- even more so than these 5; but using only 5 to do so.
For example, the husband/father/eldest son, ‘Walter Lee’ is many things, and actually has many different character traits- more so than I remembered from my first read. Also, I had forgotten how much ‘Bennie’ is not just ‘the little sister’. Within the context of the play, she comes to represent: ‘the college student’, ‘the dreamer’, ‘the fair maiden with offers from men’, ‘the serious woman who wants to be a doctor in a time when females just ARE NOT doctors’, ‘the sister’, ‘the aunt’, ‘the laughing stock’, ‘the daughter’, ‘the revolutionary’, ‘the younger Black woman’, ‘the educated Black woman’, ‘the atheist’, ‘the sister-in-law’, ‘the rebellious daughter’, etc. At least, she embodies all of those things/characters to me.
At the end of the play, I actually wanted to know more about HER story more than any other character; whereas upon my first reading, I did not even recall her NAME after writing my mandatory essay. Such is the power of the re-read!
This play is both hopeful and hopeless, at the start as well as at the end. It is up to society to determine WHY. The Younger family’s society is the south side of Chicago in 1959, which was-almost *shockingly so*- NOT a great time nor place to be a working class African American family- even worse than I would have thought. The prejudice faced by the Youngers is drastic and sad.
Personally, I forget just how long segregation (informal or formal) existed [ ] in the United States and it is books like these that help the world to NOT forget such histories. This is an important work of fiction. Yet, despite being a fictional play, it felt like historical literature. Looking in on this family’s apartment setting felt like realistic voyeurism, such was the immediacy of the writing. (Yes-despite the 1959 slang, even.)
Highly readable and absolutely unforgettable. Read. This. Play. (Or, re-read it!)
This guest review was contributed by Jennifer Lynn Harrison. Jennifer (a.k.a. MuppetBaby) is a high school English teacher, a writer, a reader, and a passionate geek. You can also find her on Goodreads.