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Literary Devices Used in the Story "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry

by Michael Stratford, studioD

"Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: eat your eggs." With classical simplicity, Lorraine Hansberry personifies the struggles not only of the characters in her play "A Raisin in the Sun," but also of disadvantaged groups everywhere. Such global inclusion is typical of "Raisin," where Hansberry uses literary devices not only to enrich her text but also to intensify her characters and their interactions.

Setting and Symbolism

Hansberry's "furniture-dark" apartment reminds us of Plato's cave; the absent sun symbolizes life, advancement and self-knowledge, all of which the Younger family lacks. They share not only cramped quarters but also scant self-awareness. For instance, Mama, the protagonist, must decide to use her husband's life insurance policy to buy a home in an all-white neighborhood or let her son, Walter, invest in a "godless" liquor store; she naively allows Walter access to the money, courting disaster. Early in the play, Mama enters tending a dying plant that "ain't never gonna see spring again," a symbol for the family's fading chances.

Character Revealed Through Allusion

Allusion runs rampant in "Raisin." In Act One, Beneatha, Walter's sister, mentions "salt losing its savor," a reference to Jesus' warning about rebellious natures; Hansberry foreshadows Walter's stealing Mama's money for a disastrous investment. In Act Two, Walter cries, "The lion is waking," calling not only for independence for Africa but for financial freedom for the Youngers. George, Beneatha's boyfriend, calls Walter "Prometheus," an ironic reference since he brings darkness rather than light. Finally, the play's title alludes to Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem," whose final line depicts a deferred dream as a raisin in the sun, shriveling like the family's future.

Metaphors Reveal Irony

Metaphors pepper the text. George tells Beneatha, who is putting on movie-star affectations imagining her future, to "drop the Garbo routine." When Mr. Lindner offers to buy Mama's house, Beneatha demands "30 pieces, not a coin less," the cost of both a Mosaic slave and of Judas' betrayal of Jesus; the price becomes both a biblical allusion and a metaphor for the family's betrayal. Mama gets named for cultural icons: She is selfless "Mrs. Miniver" or woebegone "Scarlett O'Hara." Irony underlines all: Mama's family will lose their money, despite her selflessness, just as Garbo and Scarlett also went broke.

Portmanteau Combination

Finally, Hansberry joins Lewis Carroll in the creation of portmanteau words, words whose two meanings are fused along with their letters, as in "slithy" from "Jabberwocky," a combination of "slimy" and "slithery." Ruth refers to the "slubborn" habits that Travis displays, combining "stubborn" and "sloppy." "Slubborn" also personifies Travis' thoughts, ideas and general outlook. Not bad for a single word; Hansberry puts a whole character into it.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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