Black feminism in A Raisin in The Sun
Sojourner Truth, a prominent women’s rights activist, once stated in her speech “Ain’t I a woman?” at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851:
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?… I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?… What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negro’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure-full? Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman!”.
Her words have strongly contrast the discrimination and oppression faced by women, especially black women. A Raisin in The Sun by Lorrain Hansberry has validated this statement and helped us understand how it was to be an African-American woman living in the US post World War II. They have to suffer from diminishment, oppression, discrimination, and injustice. Despite being rejected the position she deserves in the field of literature, Hansberry still invested in her writing to unveil the struggles of black women during that time, especially through her most well-known work: A Raisin in The Sun. The writing mainly portrays the life of a black family as they have to deal with issues like racism, sexism, self-identity in a white-dominated society. One of the main character, Beneatha Younger represents a modern feminist figure who believes in equality in gender roles as well as human races.
Since Hansberry truly believes in women’s rights, she illustrates her faith through the experiences of three black women finding their ways through a male-dominated society, especially Beneatha Younger, the feminist who believes in gender equality. The story portrays a very strong perception on womanist issues that were happening in the late 20th century. It raises the questions upon the relationship between a black man and women, gender roles, woman’s self-identity as well as their rights for formal education, and poverty.
One of the main characters, the daughter , Beneatha Younger is created to present as a feminist figure with her education and new perceptions. She holds a passionate belief in the new concepts about women’s rights and equality in gender roles. However, during that time, these ideas are considered inappropriate and society still clings to men’s dictatorship. Beneatha is provided with a formal education as a college student at a medical school. Therfore, she has a great opportunity to get access to certain privileges and precious knowledge that her family could not. With this background of knowledge, her new perception is nurtured and grown into a firm belief in feminism. She thinks that all people , despite their gender and races should be equal. Also, she falls for people not because of their wealth or appearance but for their ideal and lifestyle.
She is obviously offered with a great deal of chances which enables her to have a change in her mind, to head towards gender equality. In addition to this, her aspirations of not becoming a nurse, but a doctor is also a significant point. By this, Beneatha challenges the social conventions held for female, especially black women. However, since she is going against all normal social standards and not conforming to her role as a woman should, Beneatha receives criticism from many people around her, even from her family. Though her mother loves all of her children earnestly , her gender bias is shown by the way she treats Walter and Beneatha. With Walter, Mama always embraces him no matter good or bad and even hands him the remaining insurance money because in her mind, the son will take over the role as the head of the family once he has grown into his maturity like his father. On the other hand, with her daughter, she does not consider any of Beneatha’s ideas reasonable and would not tolerate if she disobeys her. Mama focuses more on Walter’s problems and his world than that of Beneatha’s. Even her grandson, Travis, is given the chance to listen to the family’s problems while she dislikes Beneatha’s saying, which she says to be “not nice”. This points out the struggle and social conventions that a feminist has to endure to hold on her belief while living in a predominantly male environment.
First, starting from jnside the family, a woman’s role is considered to be insignificant and a man always takes the lead. This is clearly shown through how Mama and Ruth, despite their abilities to support the family and keep everything running, always wait to hear Walter’s decision or opinion on any problems occur. However, whenever Beneatha raises her voice to any issue, her opinion is immediately considered immature or ridiculous. Outside of the family, she is also mistreated since she is a black woman. As a woman, according to George or Asagai, she should get married and conform to her traditional role and obeys her husband. They think it is her duty to act such way without listening to her opinion. She is thought to be more of an object to a man more than a companion. Not only she has to endure injustice because of being a woman, she is also discriminated for being a colored person. When her family is trying to move in the new house in the suburb, a representative is assigned to ask them to move elsewhere since it is a white community. By this, the author wants to show us the discrimination that African-American face during that time and perhaps until now. They do not have their own voice and are asked to move out white people neighborhood simply because those white mean do not feel comfortable with them. The way Beneatha reacts to it proves how she despises discrimination. When the white man first comes in the house, she is all nice and polite. However, when she realizes his true intentions, she immediately changes. She holds up a hammer and keeps making sound with it; her face expression turns into annoyance and displeasure. That is how she reacts to discrimination. Moreover, when A Raisin in The Sun was first published, it received many negative comments and criticism by male critics as a story which was written by a black playwright who “has lost the intellectual”. So the story basically reflexes how women, especially black ones, are viewed in the social eye: weak and unintelligent. None of the critics address the problems about unfulfilled dreams or gender roles but only about Hansberry’s lack of creation and techniques, especially her racial background as being black. This points out the challenge as a black female writer for Hansberry.
Not stoping there, Beneatha’s, or the authorherself, concept about marriage and maternity is shocking to women in the 20th century. First, she firmly supports Ruth’s rights about having an abortion. During the 1950s, despite the fact that abortion is illegal, she strongly rejects the conservative attitude towards birth and reproduction and believes a new generation should be born into a better living condition and education. This action shows her feminist side which stands up for women as to be in control of their bodies without having to ask for men’s permission. Besides that, by suggesting that she will never marry the wealthy George Murchison, Beneatha has shown one of the most important aspect in gender roles: the equality in the relationship between man and woman. Beneatha, in fact, leaves her mom and Ruth in shock not only because she has the intention of declining the offer of a wealthy life, but also because she considers not getting married at all. This is such an outrageous perspective that goes against the expectation of a woman‘s role. Through Beneatha, the author proposes the idea that marriage is not a must for women and that women can pursue their career goals. Marriage should not be held out as the first object of a woman‘s life, any more than of man‘s. Women should be educated to have their ambitions and dreams as men. Beneatha has shown a strong side of a woman who allows herself to pursue a career like a man.
Through her thoughts and action, Beneatha proves herself to be an early feminist who views her role as a person with her own passion rather than only caring for her family. She does not only want to have her career, but also wishes to find her true identity, to be independent and to pursue an actual career of her own without having to rely on any man. Beneatha is showing to the viewers that not only her but black women in general are making attempts to resist the default stereotype of them by preparing themselves with education to attain their achievements.
Moreover, Beneatha‘s romantic relationship with Murchison and even Asagai shows the prejudice against woman at that time with cultural, educational and economic limitations. Like
Walter‘s attitude, Beneatha‘s efforts to prepare herself as an independent black woman are challenged by both men’s desire to persuade her into the traditional gender roles that holds back her creativity and talent. For example, despite Beneatha‘s intelligence and willingness for self-discovery, George‘s only interest in her is just sexual sine he makes clear that he only needs a nice, good-looking girl that obeys him. Like Murchison, Asagai believes that a woman’s value is good for nothing except marriage. Furthermore, his sexist idea that men are leaders and women have to obey not as partners but as men’s followers. He thinks that Beneatha can only be good enough through marriage with him and as an assistance in his journey.
Moreover, in her journey for self-identity, Beneatha sets her mind on learning culture. With pride and excitement , Beneatha wears the robe from Asagai, plays African music, tries to imitate a tribal dance, and become conscious of her natural hair. Beneatha desires to break free of the idea of black people conforming to the white one. Her new African hairstyle represents her embracing of her ancestors. It is, in fact, a powerful social statement, as she declares that her root is beautiful, that black is beautiful.
Despite the fact that the ending does not give clear answers the problems surrounding the character Beneatha Young, it gets the viewers’ attention about the black people, especially black women. Also, Beneatha’s education still remains unanswered. However, it opens a new view on gender roles and expresses the author’s belief in gender equality