A Raisin in the Sun considers multiple topics closely linked to the general theme of disparity. The third act, which is a single-scene act, offers insights into the family’s final reaction to their supposed position in the racially stratified society. It makes the greater disparity theme progress into the conflict of alignment with disparity versus retaining pride. The implications of reading and analyzing the third act include understanding the moral complexities of decision-making when choosing between financial opportunities and holding the family’s dignity. Examining the themes of disparity and pride in the play’s third act enables keeping track of how the Younger family faces economic and social inequalities but still retains a sense of self-worth.
Themes of disparity and pride in A Raisin to the Sun
The structure of the given play is asymmetrical: phrases are often interrupted, and sentences are elliptical. The form is complicated, as characters’ entries and exits sometimes interrupt the action. Moreover, the content of the third act is concerned primarily with family disparities, conflicts, and broken dreams. Scholars suggest that numerous disputes result from the traumatic childhood experiences of each character (Haj 2021). Lena wants her son, Walter, to get ahead: “I came from five generations of people who were slaves and sharecroppers” (Hansberry 1994, p. 126). The formation of her psyche influences how she nurtures her children, although they are already grown-ups.
Family disparities are linked to social inequality, as A Raisin in the Sun covers vastly critical social topics. Walter says, “it’s all divided up… between the takers and the ‘tooken’” (Hansberry 1994, p. 124). When Walter’s dreams are broken, he realizes the duality of the world; it will not give him what he expects. Walter realizes the nature of social disparities: “we worry about it and cry about it … takers is out there operating, just taking and taking” (Hansberry 1994, p. 124). It strikes him that the takers keep taking what they can, which might require minority families to face reality and learn to accept this game’s rules. An important factor to consider is that the family lives in a “racist white-dominated society,” which adds to every play’s character (Muhsin 2021, p. 10). It becomes apparent that Walter subconsciously wishes to identify with oppressing white society. Therefore, Walter’s disappointment with life and developing a new, seemingly realistic philosophy of life and the division of opportunity permeate the discussion of social inequalities in act three.
The disparity becomes a feature for all characters of the play, although some are hoping for a better future. For instance, Joseph Asagai, an African student, reappears in the third act. The reader understands that Asagai pursues Beneatha: he asks her to abandon her family to move to Africa with him. Asagai hopes to help his people, and various obstacles do not disturb him. “Movement, progress… It makes me think of Africa,” he says (Hansberry 1994, p. 116). In contrast, Beneatha is grieving her brother’s decision: “The insurance money, my brother gave it away” (Hansberry 1994, p. 116). The reader sees a fundamental difference in Beneatha and Asagai, with the former being upset with the material disparities in the present. The national origin and background can be the defining factor in this difference; Beneatha grew up in Chicago and could have internalized America’s materialistic understanding of success. Beneatha was assured that her happiness was in the financial component; she considered herself a person whose future was “taken out of her hands” (Hansberry 1994, p. 113). Indeed, it might become an illusion; money cannot bring happiness until society is broken.
The third act serves as the concluding part of the play, making it the section in which the previously introduced issues and tensions are resolved. Racial disparities and the white majority’s unwillingness to share neighborhoods with their black compatriots remain a prominent issue, but act three explores the family’s reactions to the possibility of instrumentalizing this segregation. Not knowing how to improve the family’s lack of money, Walter invites Karl Lindner to “come right over” and makes a firm decision to accept the offer (Hansberry 1994, p. 124). Different characters’ reactions to Karl Lindner’s offer to give the family a large sum of money for refusing to move into a white neighborhood illustrate the moral conflict involving pride and disparity.
The family’s opinions are divided when it comes to profiting from racial disparities in a self-deprecating manner. Beneatha reveals that Walter has agreed to meet with Mr. Lindner to examine his offer more closely and is going to “do business with him” (Hansberry 1994, p. 124). The reactions of Mama and Beneatha are fierce, with Beneatha questioning if there is any “bottom” to what Walter is ready to do for money (Hansberry 1994, p. 124). On the one hand, there is no way that the family misunderstands the positive financial implications of accepting Mr. Lindner’s offer that would partially resolve their current financial difficulties after they have lost the insurance money. On the other hand, the family feels that Walter’s readiness to play a show in front of Mr. Lindner is something devastating and pathetic. Particularly, Mama mentions “some awful pain” resulting from Walter’s willingness to pretend that he accepts their family’s limited decision-making power because of their race (Hansberry 1994, p. 125). Despite this disagreement, Walter is still going to speak for the entire family in a conversation with Mr. Lindner.
Walter tries to act in accordance with his new mindset and monetize the pre-existing racial disparity, but his sense of dignity prevails, bringing the family back to life. When Mr. Lindberg presents the contract, Ruth asks Walter’s son to go downstairs, but Mama says that Walter should “teach him [Travis] good” (Hansberry 1994, p. 129). Walter starts his speech and elaborates on his plain predecessors’ life, but suddenly, which could be due to Travis’s presence, he begins a different narrative, stating how his father “almost beat a man to death” for humiliating him (Hansberry 1994, p. 129). He states how proud his family is, which reveals that his previously stated philosophy of conformity is way weaker than the intention to protect the family’s dignity. The family reacts to this sudden change with amusement, and Mama restates the decision to the confused representative. It seems that the family finally finds common ground and a value-related viewpoint to proceed with in the world of racial and social injustice.
Finally, the themes of disparity and pride are among the crucial topics in the play’s third act. A Raisin to the Sun contains several types of inequalities, including social, interpersonal, and familial. The family hopes for a better future, but achieving it involves conforming to the limitations imposed on minority families and suppressing pride to accept the racial disparity in access to housing as it is. Everyone wishes to get out of the financial and social troubles they meet living in Chicago, but the ending reveals that pride suppresses purely materialistic intentions. Moreover, the analysis might draw broader implications, such as discussing mental disparities and traumas within the family. It can be relevant because every character possesses psychological issues influencing their past and present, which encourages examining.
Haj, Sumaya. “The (ir)representability of the belated traumatic wound in Lorraine Hansberry’s a Raisin in the Sun.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 53, no. 1, 2021, pp. 45–59.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books, 1994.
Muhsin, Atheer J. “Prometheus returns again: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.” Eurasian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2021, vol. 2, pp. 10–19.