A Raisin in the Sun anticipates the massive changes in gender relations – principally, the rise of feminism and the Sexual Revolution – that would transform American life in the 1960s. Hansberry explores controversial issues like abortion (which was illegal in 1959), the value of marriage, and morphing gender roles for women and men. Each of the Youngers takes a different attitude towards shifting gender roles, and the characters’ perspectives shed light on their identities. Beneatha, who Hansberry said was partly based on herself, holds the most modern views, pursuing her dream to become a doctor (a male-dominated profession at the time) and telling a shocked Mama and Ruth that she isn’t concerned about marriage—and that she might not ever get married at all. Beneatha’s brother, Walter Lee, repeatedly criticizes his sister’s ambition to become a doctor, suggesting that she “just get married.” Beneatha’s conviction to her modernized worldview highlights her unique brand of strength, perhaps also serving as an indirect expression of Hansberry’s own opinions.
Mama and Ruth share more traditional views on marriage and their role as women. Both characters work in traditionally female roles as domestic servants, one of the few jobs open to African-American women at the time. Similarly, Walter Lee holds conventional views on gender, and his ability to adequately fulfill his role as a man greatly affects his self-esteem. Walter links his own identity and self-worth to his sense of “manhood,” which ebbs and flows during the play. Walter resents his emasculating work as a white man’s chauffeur and Mama’s standing as “head” of the family, which confines him to the position of a “child” in his home. Mama’s eventual decision to make Walter head of the family “like you supposed to be,” along with Walter’s courageous refusal of Karl Lindner’s offer, prompt Mama and Ruth to note that Walter “finally come into his manhood today.” Thus, Walter’s status as a man parallels both his success as the “man” of the house and his ability to establish himself as an equal in his interactions with Lindner and others.
Gender and Feminism ThemeTracker
Gender and Feminism Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun
Walter: See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off!
Ruth: Walter, leave me alone! Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.
Walter: That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say – Your eggs is getting cold!
That is just what is wrong with the colored women in this world . . . Don’t understand about building their men up and making ‘em feel like they somebody. Like they can do something.
Walter: Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet . . .
Beneatha: Well – you finally got it said . . . It took you three years but you finally got it said.
Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.
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.
Well – son, I’m waiting to hear you say something . . . I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was . . . Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give one baby up to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .
George: You’re all wacked up with bitterness, man.
Walter: And you – ain’t you bitter, man? Ain’t you just about had it yet? Don’t you see no stars gleaming that you can’t reach out and grab? You happy? – You contented son-of-a-bitch – you happy? You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant – surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what it is the giant is talking about.
Well – well! – All I can say is – if this is my time in life – MY TIME – to say good-bye – to these goddamned cracking walls! – and these marching roaches! – and this cramped little closet which ain’t now or never was no kitchen! . . . then I say it loud and good, HALLELUJAH! AND GOOD-BYE MISERY . . . I DON’T NEVER WANT TO SEE YOUR UGLY FACE AGAIN!
Son – you – you understand what I done, don’t you? I – I just seen my family falling apart today . . . just falling to pieces in front of my eyes . . . We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards – talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead . . . When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger.
I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. Walter – what you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. . . . There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. . . . I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.