A Raisin in the Sun

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Beneatha’s Hair Symbol Icon
Beneatha’s natural hair symbolizes her pride in her African heritage and her desire to explore her African roots. After Joseph Asagai refers to Beneatha’s Caucasian-style straightened hair as “mutilated,” Beneatha reevaluates the significance of her “assimilationist” hairstyle and decides to cut her hair and wear it in its natural form. While Ruth, Walter, and George Murchison are flabbergasted by Beneatha’s abrupt decision to wear her hair “all nappy like that,” Beneatha sees her new hairstyle as a way to distance herself from “the dominant, and in this case oppressive” mainstream culture and to fully embrace her African heritage. With her natural hair, Beneatha proudly marks herself as an anti-assimilationist and visibly expresses her racial identity. Her decision foreshadows the “Natural Hair” movement that many young African Americans embraced in the 1960s, which championed the beauty of African-American hair.

Beneatha’s Hair Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun

The A Raisin in the Sun quotes below all refer to the symbol of Beneatha’s Hair. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of A Raisin in the Sun published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Asagai: You wear it well . . . very well . . . mutilated hair and all.
Beneatha: My hair – what’s wrong with my hair?
Asagai: Were you born with it like that?
Beneatha: No . . . of course not.

Related Characters: Beneatha Younger (speaker), Joseph Asagai (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beneatha’s Hair
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Directly before this quote we are introduced to Joseph Asagai, a friend of Beneatha’s. Asagai, a Nigerian student, has returned from a trip to Canada and visits the Younger home to see Beneatha. When he arrives he gifts Beneatha traditional Nigerian robes. Asagai then comments on Beneatha’s hair. She asks him what’s wrong with it, and he tells her it isn’t “natural.” Beneatha replies that it’s easier to manage longer, permed hair. Asagai teases her, saying that he’s shocked that she would “mutilate” her natural hair for the sake of ease.

Here, Hansberry touches on the themes of assimilation, discrimination, gender, and feminism. Beneatha’s constant change of interests and hobbies represents more than a search for expression; she is also in search of her own identity. Beneatha represents the identity struggle many black people faced and continue to face in America. It is racist society that has dictated that Beneatha’s natural hair is unruly and messy. In Asagai’s view, by perming her hair Beneatha is assimilating to American cultural standards of beauty, which are grounded in whiteness and what white people consider attractive or appealing. Beneatha’s straight hair, although also possibly more manageable, mostly symbolizes her desire to fit in with white culture.

This also brings up questions of gender and feminism in A Raisin In The Sun. Like Ruth’s quote about Walter eating his eggs earlier in Act I, Beneatha’s response to Asagai’s comments about her hair are pragmatic. Straightening her hair is easier than letting it be natural. It’s a utilitarian choice. Furthermore, it’s important to note that only women’s hair is discussed in the play. Even though Asagai's comments are aimed at empowering Beneatha to be a strong black woman, the discussion of hair and her physical attributes of beauty indicate the gender roles and standards of the time. In her interaction with Asagai, there is more discussion about Beneatha’s hair than there is about her becoming a doctor.

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Beneatha’s Hair Symbol Timeline in A Raisin in the Sun

The timeline below shows where the symbol Beneatha’s Hair appears in A Raisin in the Sun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
...the robes, he compliments her appearance, teasingly adding that she looks good even with “mutilated” hair. Beneatha is taken aback by this comment and explains that she straightens her hair because... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Beneatha gazes at herself in the mirror and “clutches at her hair,” squinting her eyes “as if trying to imagine something.” Suddenly, she grabs her coat and... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
...stares at him and “ceremoniously” takes off the headdress, revealing her newly “close-cropped and unstraightened” hair. Ruth and George are both shocked by Beneatha’s “nappy” hair. While Beneatha proudly declares her... (full context)