Assimilationism in A Raisin in the Sun
The play A Raisin in the Sun demonstrates the intense opposition that white families in Clybourne Park displayed in response to the Youngers moving in to their primarily white neighborhood. The conflict of assimilationism intensifies and provides the central theme throughout the play. Assimilationism means that one race conforms to another in an effort to blend in.
The play provides a uniquely personal look into racism. The setting of the play is Chicago in the 1950’s. At that time, segregation laws still separated white people from African Americans. The Civil Rights Movement had begun by the 1950’s but would not result in equality for African-Americans until the next decade. The play’s main characters, members of an African-American family called the Youngers, are coping with the loss of their patriarch at the play’s introduction. The family is trying to decide what to do with the life insurance money. Mama, the mother and widow of the family, buys a house in Clybourne Park. When the neighborhood association discovers that a black family will be moving in, they offer them money to leave. The white people of Clybourne Park are racist enough to want to pay for a black family to leave them alone. This act of racism provides a glimpse of what African-Americans went through during this time period. Because of the racism of white people, assimilationism was impossible for the Youngers to attain.
The Youngers’ collective attempt at assimilationism is not motivated by personal desire but by necessity. They want to move out of their apartment and into a house to live as a family, a lifetime dream of Mama and her deceased husband. This goal is not fueled by the desire to assimilate with white people. It is a practical goal to put a roof over the Youngers head. Housing is a basic necessity, and it does not matter to Mama that the house she buys is in a white neighborhood. However, because they choose to move to a white neighborhood, they are inadvertently attempting to assimilate. In this circumstance, assimilation occurs as an accident or afterthought.
Beneatha states that she is not an assimilationist in Act II scene I. George Murchison, Beneatha’s suitor, has a heated debate with her when he comes to pick her up and she is dancing with her brother in a traditional African costume. George is from a wealthy African-American family. It appears that George has assimilated to white culture by the way he dresses as well as the way he acts. He talks about their heritage negatively and chides Beneatha for wearing the African garb. Beneatha tells him that she is not an assimilationist and that she would rather stay true to her heritage than try to be more like a white person. An example of this would be her hair. She does not try to straighten it to look like a white woman’s hair, but instead lets it grow naturally into an afro.
A Raisin in the Sun focuses on the theme of assimilationism. The Youngers indirectly try to assimilate into a white neighborhood and receive intense racial opposition. Beneatha and George provide opposite perspective on assimilating into white culture. Beneatha vehemently opposes trying to be more like a white woman, while George tries to blend in by conforming his speech and dress patterns to be more like a white man. There are many sides to the topic of assimilationism in the 1950’s, and the play presents many different sides using different characters.
- Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: a Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, 1959. Print.