Discuss A Raisin in the Sun as a Marxist play

Discuss A Raisin in the Sun as a Marxist play

'A Raisin in the Sun,' a legendary 1959 play by Lorraine Hansberry, delves into the hopes, hardships, and ambitions of an African American family residing in a small Chicago flat. The drama can be read via a Marxist perspective, emphasising class strife and economic imbalance, even though it is typically praised for its exploration of racial and social themes. 

Discuss A Raisin in the Sun as a Marxist play

Marxism and Class Struggle

Marxism is a socio-political and economic philosophy that is based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It emphasises the struggle between social classes. It looks at how class distinctions are a natural byproduct of capitalism, since the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production) take advantage of the proletariat (the working class) in order to maximise profits. These class conflicts are investigated in a Marxist perspective along with their effects on people and society at large.

Economic Struggles in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

The Family's Economic Struggles: The Younger family, at the heart of the play, grapples with profound economic challenges. The family's desire to move out of their cramped apartment and attain a better life symbolizes their longing for economic improvement. Their financial struggles are exacerbated by the legacy of racial oppression and discrimination, which has limited their economic opportunities.

Walter Lee's Pursuit of Economic Success: Walter Lee Younger, one of the central characters, is driven by a fervent desire to escape his working-class status and attain financial prosperity. He sees economic success as the key to his self-worth and his ability to provide for his family. 

Discuss A Raisin in the Sun as a Marxist play-His obsession with money and investment in a liquor store venture can be seen as a reflection of the pressures and aspirations common among the working class striving for economic betterment.

Beneatha's Aspirations for Education: Beneatha, Walter Lee's sister, aspires to become a doctor. Her dream of pursuing higher education symbolizes her ambition to transcend her social class through education and professional achievement. Her struggle to fund her education highlights the challenges faced by many aspiring individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

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Characters and Social Class

The characters in 'A Raisin in the Sun' are strongly representative of various social classes, and their interactions and struggles provide a rich exploration of class dynamics. Here's an analysis of the characters in the context of their social class:

The Younger Family (Working Class): The Younger family is the central focus of the play, and they represent the working-class African American experience in 1950s America. The family's economic struggles are evident as they live in a cramped, run-down apartment. Their limited financial resources, exemplified by Lena's insurance check, and their dreams of moving to a better neighborhood reflect the challenges faced by many working-class families. Walter Lee's desire to invest in a liquor store venture, while also emblematic of his personal aspirations, is rooted in his desire to escape his working-class status and provide better opportunities for his family.

Walter Lee Younger (Working Class): Walter Lee, as the head of the family, epitomizes the working-class individual who desires economic betterment. His dissatisfaction with his job as a chauffeur and his yearning for financial success and self-worth mirror the struggles of many working-class individuals who aspire to escape their economic circumstances. Walter Lee's frustration and attempts to gain economic stability make him a quintessential representative of the working class.

Lena Younger (Working Class): Lena, often referred to as "Mama" by her family, is a hardworking and religious woman who embodies the values and struggles of the working class. Her dream of buying a house represents her desire for economic stability and a better life for her family. Her character reflects the sacrifices and determination of working-class individuals who seek to provide for their loved ones, even in the face of financial limitations.

Ruth Younger (Working Class): Ruth is Walter Lee's wife and, like him, represents the working class. Her weariness from working as a domestic servant and her shared desire for a more comfortable life with her family illustrate the daily economic challenges that working-class women often faced. Her unintended pregnancy further exacerbates the family's financial struggles and adds complexity to their aspirations.

Beneatha Younger (Educated Middle Class): Beneatha, the younger sister, stands out as a character with aspirations that transcend the typical working-class experience. She is a college student aspiring to become a doctor, symbolizing upward mobility through education and professional achievement. While her family belongs to the working class, her education and aspirations place her in a different social class bracket. Her interactions with suitors like George Murchison and Asagai highlight the class differences and tensions between her academic pursuits and their more economically driven aspirations.

Mr. Lindner (Economic Elite): Mr. Lindner, a representative of the white neighborhood's welcoming committee, symbolizes the economic elite. He offers the Youngers money not to move into the predominantly white neighborhood, reflecting the power and privilege of the economic elite. His proposition underscores the role of the economic elite in preserving the status quo and protecting their interests, even at the expense of marginalized groups.

George Murchison (Upper Class): George Murchison, a wealthy and educated African American suitor for Beneatha, represents the upper class. His character emphasizes the contrast between those who achieve upward mobility through education and association with the economic elite and those who seek it through entrepreneurship and business ventures, like Walter Lee.

The Capitalist System and Systemic Inequality

A Raisin in the Sun' examines the capitalist system and the systemic inequalities that it perpetuates, particularly in the context of African American families striving for a better life. Here are some key points regarding the capitalist system and systemic inequality in the play:

Racial Discrimination and Economic Disparities: The play is set in the 1950s, a time when systemic racial discrimination severely limited economic opportunities for African Americans. As a result, the Younger family's economic struggles are deeply intertwined with the racial injustices of the era. The systemic racism inherent in the capitalist system is evident through limited access to quality education, job opportunities, and fair housing, which further exacerbated economic disparities.

Housing Discrimination: The Youngers' quest to move to a better neighborhood is a central element of the play. Their determination to escape the cramped and subpar living conditions reflects the systemic housing discrimination African Americans faced in that era. Racially motivated housing policies and practices, including redlining and restrictive covenants, made it exceedingly difficult for African Americans to access desirable housing in predominantly white neighborhoods. This is a poignant example of systemic inequality within the capitalist system.

Conflict Over the Insurance Check: The $10,000 insurance check from Lena's husband's death is a pivotal plot point in the play. The family's struggle to decide how to use the money highlights the economic disparities that are inherent in the capitalist system. Walter Lee's desire to invest in a liquor store is an attempt to break free from the economic constraints he faces as a chauffeur, reflecting his belief that economic success is the path to dignity and respect.

The American Dream and Upward Mobility: The play explores the American Dream as it applies to the Younger family. The idea that hard work and economic success can lead to a better life is central to the capitalist system. Walter Lee's aspirations for financial success and homeownership embody this American Dream, even as systemic barriers threaten to thwart his ambitions. 

Discuss A Raisin in the Sun as a Marxist play-The play raises questions about the accessibility of this dream for African Americans in a society marked by racial and economic inequality.

Mr. Lindner's Proposition: Mr. Lindner's offer to the Youngers not to move into a predominantly white neighborhood is a stark illustration of how the capitalist system can perpetuate systemic inequality. He represents the economic elite who wish to maintain the racial segregation and socioeconomic status quo. His offer reflects the capitalist system's tendency to prioritize economic interests over social justice, thereby preserving inequality.

Beneatha's Aspirations for Education: Beneatha's ambition to become a doctor highlights another facet of systemic inequality. While she aspires to achieve upward mobility through education, her educational pursuits are presented as an exception rather than the norm for African American women of her time. Her character underscores the difficulties faced by African Americans in accessing quality education, one of the means of breaking free from the cycle of economic disparity.

In 'A Raisin in the Sun,' the capitalist system serves as a backdrop to the characters' economic struggles and aspirations. The systemic inequality ingrained in the capitalist system, compounded by racial discrimination, shapes the characters' decisions and the challenges they face in their pursuit of the American Dream. By focusing on the systemic barriers that hinder economic progress, the play offers a critical perspective on the limitations and complexities of the capitalist system in addressing social and economic inequality, particularly for marginalized groups.


'A Raisin in the Sun,' a seminal work in American theater, can be analyzed through a Marxist lens to reveal its deep exploration of economic struggles, social class dynamics, and the systemic inequalities inherent in a capitalist society. The Younger family's aspirations for better living conditions, Walter Lee's pursuit of economic success, and Beneatha's dream of education all mirror the broader Marxist themes of class conflict and the quest for economic betterment.

The play's characters, such as George Murchison, Mr. Lindner, and the Youngers, reflect various socioeconomic strata and highlight the conflict that exists between them. The story's central backdrop of racial prejudice is seen to exacerbate economic disparity, emphasising the Marxist themes of structural inequality.

Ultimately, "A Raisin in the Sun" offers a moving and realistic look at the goals and hardships of the working class, especially African Americans, in the context of a capitalist society. The play offers a potent reflection on the social and economic issues of its day and beyond, resonating with both audiences and academics through its depiction of economic hardships, class tensions, and systematic inequalities.


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