Reaching Social Identity
Since the American society has always restricted the rights of African-American people as well hampered the spread and development of black history, the blacks used to fight for their social identity. For women, this struggle is even more intensive as they have to overcome sexual stereotypes. Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) focuses her drama play A Raising in the Sun on a way of black women towards social identity within a society with racial and sexual segregation. Hereby, realization of one’s connection to the roots is an inevitable part of discovering one’s own identity.
The author depicts Beneatha Younger as the most prominent and multidimensional character, who shifts the role of African-American woman in society with her own positive example. Rather than performing common female roles and functions such as preparing food and cleaning the house, the girl is also not afraid of dreaming of a non-traditional female roles of that time such as the carrier of a physician. She is the image of a new free black woman of the twentieth century, the priorities of which are identity and independence. However, her way towards realization of her own identity is uneasy, and she had to undergo multiple trials and transformations.
Thus, at the beginning of the play, Beneatha wants to assimilate into the American society through education and imitation of the appearance and behavior of white people. Therefore, she straightens her hair that is curly in nature, dresses, and behaves as white Americans do. In turn, she faces difficulties in relating to the rest of her family, which have to serve white people to make a living. In this light, she may seem to be too selfish, because she spends a lot of money of her family on her look, education, and hobbies, though her family has rather low income.
However, throughout the play, Hansberry reflects changes in the views of Beneatha. The girl realizes that because she is fully dependent on the money of her family, she is not as independent as she thinks. Moreover, she understands that she is in trap of her dream of getting higher education to live a better life. Hereby, similar to freeing herself from the stereotypes of African-American women as helpless and passive housewives, she has to liberate her mind from the image of intellectual women as representatives of Western culture. She has to find her own identity and follow her own way, while working hard in order to achieve her dreams and gain independence.
The author shows that the women themselves are responsible for finding their identity and gaining independence. Nevertheless, the women’s choice of their beloved as their companions on the way is crucial, as well. Thus, Beneatha rejects to marry George, because he showed no understanding and tolerance towards her identity by saying, “Forget the atmosphere… I want a nice—(groping)—simple (thoughtfully)—sophisticated girl…not a poet—OK?” (Hansberry 2, 2, 18, 21). In turn, Asagai, the other Benatha’s philanderer, not only shows understanding of her true nature by calling her Alaiyo that means “One for Whom Bread – Food – Is Not Enough”, but also supports her aspirations and stimulates her mind (Hansberry 1, 2, 284). By criticizing the girl for straightening her curly hair, Asagai teavhes Beneatha that she should be proud of her African roots rather than hide them. Thanks to Asagai, Beneatha finds her true identity and takes a more African look.
Only after finding theiir own heritage as well as overcoming all the barriers and obstacles of societal stereotypes, the modern women can reach their true identity and independence and start living a new independent life. Hereby, while representing the generation of free people who are not afraid to reach their dreams, woman can experiment with different social images, roles, and behaviors, but in order not to not to lose their identity, they should always preserve their heritage and roots.