Conflict is a major theme in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun. Looking at the lives of a black family in 1950s Chicago it explores a variety of conflicts on themes such as financial plans, cultural identity and racial bigotry. As the subject of a research paper on conflict the play is an excellent source of material.
Issues to explore when researching the play can be separated into issues within the Younger family and those between the family and outsiders. The family itself consists of Mama, her son Walter Lee and her daughter Beneatha. They live with Walter’s wife Ruth and young son Travis. Other people involved are Walter’s friend Willie, Beneatha’s suitors George and Joseph and, later, the chairman of a resident’s association; all of these bring additional elements of conflict to the picture.
At the beginning of the play the Youngers are awaiting the arrival of a $10,000 life insurance payment for the death of Mama’s husband. Each of them have different ideas about how best to spend the money. Mama has a dream of moving out of their apartment and into a house in a better area. Walter wants to invest the money in a liquor store with Willie, and Beneatha wants to use it to pay her way through medical school. Mama is devoutly religious and disapproves of alcohol, so is opposed to Walter’s plan. Walter, as the male of the family, feels entitled to the money and Beneatha has to remind him that it’s not his to spend.
As well as his friend Willie – who later steals much of the money – Walter is being influenced by two other men. One is George Murchison, Beneatha’s wealthy and educated boyfriend. He is fully assimilated into American society and rejects his African roots. The other is Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian medical student whom Beneatha meets after rejecting George; he encourages her to look to Africa for her identity, and extends this influence to Walter. This introduces an element of conflict between American society and black identity.
The final conflict arises when Mama puts down a deposit on a house in a white neighbourhood. Worried at the thought of black neighbours, a local resident offers the family a generous payment to sell the house and live elsewhere. Although generous, the offer is blatantly racist. Walter, who initially considers accepting to make up for the money stolen by Willie, finally declines on the grounds that it would be wrong to take money from people who dislike him simply for who he is.
With conflicts happening on so many levels there is plenty to discuss in this play. The different sources of tension create interesting interactions between the characters, making it an excellent choice for a research paper.