Sample Student Essay on Drama Analysis & Argument
African Americans use distinctive names to identity with their black culture. Most likely, however, if a white man reads the name Shaniqua on a job application, he will reject it knowing the applicant is an African American. Unfair right? Well, who said life in America is fair.
The play A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959, uses a character named Asagai to illustrate the African culture to African Americans wanting to seek their lost identity that can’t seem to be restored (1455). Lorraine Hansberry also uses characters such as Mama and George that are more interested in letting go of their heritage, rather than reviving it.Hansberry's play displays how, in order to achieve equality, many African Americans choose to assimilate into the “white” culture at the expense of their own heritage; furthermore, those who seek to discover their African heritage are both misunderstood and scorned by their own race.
The play uses George’s character to show how African Americans adopt the dress code of the elite class in order to attain higher education and access to economic equality. In the black community, George would be considered a sellout which makes other African Americans give him the side eye. Walter Lee is uncivil with George when he says, “I know ain’t nothing in this world as busy as you colored college boys with your fraternity pins and white shoes” (1488). Although George may look silly to Walter, George knows what he has to do in order to make it in the world of America; he has to present himself in the most elegant way possible for the higher ranking people in America to accept and take him seriously. After Walter calls George out, George replies with, “You’re all wacked up with bitterness (1489). Walter is bitter because right in front of him is a young African American male who is privileged enough to go to school and potentially have a family business. African Americans get filled with rage when they have to work harder while privileged folk get things passed to them. George has followed the guidelines that he must look and act like a somebody to become a somebody.
Hansberry draws on the character of Beneatha to demonstrate that African Americans who seek to discover their African Heritage are misunderstood and often scorned by their own people. Beneatha is proud to wear her African clothing, but George ridicules her by stating, “Oh don’t be proud of yourself Bennie just because you look eccentric” (1486). Beneatha may look different due to wanting to look like her true self, an African queen, but she is only embracing her heritage. George snaps her right back to America, and she changes her clothes. Beneatha wants to embrace her heritage but is discouraged by the negative responses when she tries.
What George does not realize is that African American women are naturally eccentric, starting with their hair. As Asagai asks, “'Where you born with your hair like that,' and Beneatha replies, 'It’s as crinkly as yours'” (1477). A black woman's hair is her crown, but her hair too wild for the white culture. Eventually, a black woman feels obligated to straighten her hair, so she does not feel like an exhibit or petting zoo. Since Asagai is from Africa, he thinks that Beneatha thinks that her hair is ugly, but she claims that it’s just “easier to manage straight” (1477). Unfortunately, African Americans' natural, crinkly and curly hair isn’t always accepted in the work force; it is often consider unprofessional to wear an Afro.
Hansberry illustrates how Beneatha feels empowerment when engaging with her African identity. After Beneatha meets with Asagai for the first time and he gives her African clothing, she feels good about herself. Beneatha even feels that she can become “The queen of the Nile” (1479). In America, it is uncommon for an African American woman to feel like a queen. An African American woman doesn’t feel empowered when she’s wearing her fancy corporate clothing; instead she feels like a puppet. Asagai reminds Beneatha, “Not so much a profile of a Hollywood queen as perhaps as a queen of the Nile. But what does it matter? Assimilationism is so popular in your country” (1477). Asagai observes how much African Americans try to blend in with a society that doesn’t accept them. In the 1950's, a black woman wouldn’t be taken seriously if she auditioned for a Hollywood film in a head wrap; directors would instantly reject her. Asagai believes that Beneatha should embrace her heritage to feel strong, fearless, and empowered. Beneatha’s may not be valued in America but in Africa, she would be viewed and treated as a queen. He believes that African American’s should focus on finding their royal identity, rather than settling for their oppressed identity in America.
Hansberry employs Mama’s character to show how most African American’s don’t associate themselves with African Heritage at all; instead they have adopted the world view and religion of white Americans. Mama is not sure why she should learn anything about Africa (1475). She’s completely astranged from her African heritage and only knows about her American heritage. She states, “I think it’s so sad the way our American Negroes don’t know nothing about Africa ‘cept Tarzan and all that” (1478). Africa has way more to offer than Tarzan; furthermore, there’s beauty in knowing everything about a place a person is originally from. Mama only cares about being free because she came from five previous generations who had to fight for their freedom. Because they were slaves, her ancestors gradually lost their knowledge about their African tribes, names, languages, and more. Beneatha questions why mama is so willing to donate money in church for missionary work, rather than knowing about Africa (1475). Beneatha is frustrated about Mama being so focused on the Bible, but not Africa? Beneatha feels that religion is foolish since her ancestors were slaves and Christians in America at the same time. Most likely, Beneatha feels that the Bible has been used to manipulate African Americans to obey their slave masters. She thinks Mama should keep faith in God, but also seek to discover her African identity.
Hansberry's play illustrates that African Americans lost not only freedom during the slave years, but also their history and heritage. When the slaves were bought and sold like cattle, the slave owners erased the slaves' dignity and natural identity. Without an identity, dignity is hard to recover. Some African Americans are suppressed for being proud of their natural heritage. Other African Americans won’t accept that they have “Africa” flowing through their veins. Tragically, most African Americans can’t trace back their heritage to Africa since their families were separated in slavery. In the United Kingdom, Blacks know their geographical origins in Africa, but, in America, all they know are the states in which their families were slaves. African Americans must fight to not be discriminated based on their appearance. They may not be chained up in shackles anymore, but they’re still slaves of America. As Hansberry so effectively shows, they have to work excessively hard to feel equal.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. The Norton Introduction to Literature. W.W. Norton,
2016. Pp. 1456-1520.
African Americans And Africa. The Norton Introduction to Literature. W.W Norton, 2016. Pp.