The Art of Social Criticism:

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun




Historical Context










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Character analysis: Beneatha Younger - "Bennie"

"Or fester like a sore - / and then run?"

Bennie is an eccentric and eclectic young, African American woman. She is a serial dreamer who takes pleasure in dabbling in endless possibilities. Ever since she was a child, Bennie has shifted between activities ranging from photography and play-acting to horseback riding and the guitar. In one of the more humorous yet poignant scenes of the film, Bennie dances around in traditional African clothing to an African tune as a sign of yet another whimsical, all-consuming interest [24]. As a result, her family finds it hard to offer support for her dreams because she constantly changes her mind. However, the dream to be a doctor is different from all other thoughts and leanings. Hansberry includes a background story to the reason for this dream to alert the reader that this dream is real and lasting. In a conversation with Asagai, one of her suitors, Bennie reveals the day that she first decided she wanted to be a doctor. She tells about a friend who was in a sledding accident, and how she watched and marvelled at the doctor's ability to fix him up. She realized that fixing people is the one concrete thing a person can do in the world [25]. A problem is presented and doctors offer the solution.

Unfortunately, no matter how true the foundation of this dream may be, Bennie is unrealistic about the obstacles that threaten her dream; namely, her social status, race, and gender. She refuses to acknowledge the reality that many people share Walter's opinion that she should either get married or be a nurse like other women. Bennie's downfall is her attraction to the unconventional. It causes her frustration and forces her dreams to "fester like a sore" on the shelf of improbability. The major reason her dream can be halted is the gap between how she sees herself and how the world sees her. She is constantly seeking ways to express herself because she is under the false impression that she can access all the world has to offer. The culture of the time wants to force her into stereotypes that fall short of her visions.

Bennie suffers from an arrogance and an ignorance about her dreams. She has confidence that her dream will be cared for (i.e. she expects Mama to put some of the insurance money toward her education). Although she defends herself by claiming she never asks for anything, the perpetuation of multiple and complex dreams demonstrates her refusal to set limits on her future. Also, as Walter points out, there is a "line between asking and just accepting", and she is obviously ready to take what is offered to her [26]. She is also quick to view many things as a threat to her dream including Walter's carelessness with the money and obsession with his own dreams, the coming baby that will require a further division of the family's assets, and the expectations to assimilate. In her defense, it is important for her to set her dreams high because education opens doors and provides respect as evidenced by their neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, referring to her as the "only one in the family to make something of herself".

The loss of her medical school funding as a result of Walter's faltering jolts her into looking at the harsh cruelties of reality. In a conversation with Asagai, she says that there is not any real progress. Instead, Bennie thinks that life is a circle in which people fool themselves with a mirage of false hopes [27]. Asagai, as the voice of reason and insight from outside the four walls of the Younger apartment, says that life is an eternal line where you cannot see the beginning, the end, or the changes in between. Perception of this fact is skewed based upon peoples' outlook - those who dream and see the changes are idealists and those who see life as a circle of no progress are called realists [28]. Bennie is representative of what progress has created. The advancements of today are settled for instead of challenged in an effort to once again improve the world. People are quick to give up hope and turn cynical rather than dare to dream and be the innovators of a new generation. In the end, Bennie is reenergized by witnessing her brother's prideful stand, but her journey to find herself is far from over. With the possibility of marrying Asagai and moving to Africa dangling before her, Bennie has a renewed sense that opportunities are not guaranteed but determination can one day create them.


1961 Film