A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry
Tools of Characterization
Otherwise known in Theater Land as Stage Directions. So when the stage directions say that Walter is acting sweetly, or passionate, or angry, readers gain a better sense of how his character reacts in given situations. At the same time, stage directions are only half the story. If you’re watching the play being performed, the stage directions served as a springboard for the artistic choices an actor makes.
HOWEVER, there is also actual direct characterization in the play. For example, when Ruth sits down with Mama and tells her, essentially, that Walter needs the chance to open up a liquor store in order to feel like a man, that’s direct characterization.
Thoughts and Opinions
Oh boy does Hansberry use this tool of characterization in A Raisin in the Sun. Each family member’s opinion on what to do with the money builds a picture of their character. Ruth, selfless and loyal, tells Mama to use it for a vacation. Money-hungry Walter wants to invest the money in a liquor store. Mama, the matriarch of the clan, wants to give her family a bigger house. Lastly, although Beneatha makes it clear she defers to Mama’s wishes for the money, she would obviously use it to pay for her higher education, which reflects her character’s interest in the intellectual side of life. Additionally, Beneatha and Mama have differing opinions on God, namely, whether or not He exists. Mama’s belief in God reflects her more traditional character.
Speech and Dialogue
Regional Chicago dialect: the Youngers
The fact that the Youngers live on the South Side of Chicago implies a certain regional accent. In the story, Hansberry notes that certain characters, like Beneatha and Mama, slur their speech. Most of the family doesn’t speak using correct grammar, which simply reflects their working-class roots.
Elevated language: Beneatha
Beneatha’s language is different from the rest of the family’s and marks her formal education. To Mama’s dismay, Beneatha is also unafraid to say things like "Christ!" Mama finds this blasphemous.
Social Status or Societal Position
The Younger family is working class, and this impacts each of the characters as the hard work they’ve undergone is taking a toll both physically and mentally. George Murchison, Beneatha’s wealthy suitor, is basically present in the play as someone from outside the Younger family’s economic situation, and Beneatha’s resistance to his suit demonstrates that class doesn’t matter to her when it comes to love. (See Sex and Love.)
Sex and Love
Beneatha has to choose between two suitors named McDreamy and McVet. Wait. This isn’t Grey’s Anatomy! Beneatha has to choose between two suitors named Ian and Mike. Wait. This isn’t Desperate Housewives. Man, this seems to be a recurring problem for fictional women. Beneatha’s two swains are named George and Asagai. George has money, but Asagai has the whole foreign exchange student deal going for him, and he’s much more intellectually compatible with Beneatha. By the end of the play, it’s pretty obvious that Beneatha has picked brains over money.