Gender Roles in A Raisin in the Sun

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Gender roles are vital aspects of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun with its illustration of gender stereotypes. Hansberry’s three-act play reflects women’s lives struggling to make a living and identity in a male-dominated society. The play debuted in 1959, reflecting a period when most women were not economically and socially empowered to be autonomous and express themselves freely. The societal norms restricted women to traditional roles in the kitchen and household while men were expected to provide financial support. Similarly, Hansberry utilizes the play to challenge conventional social norms that restrict women’s role in society with a more progressive view. Hansberry effectively explores both traditional gender roles and the modern view of gender roles in the drama.

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Traditional Gender Roles

The author represents traditional gender roles through the conventional view of social norms. Hansberry illustrates a society that expected women, especially married women, to be submissive to their men and take care of the house chores. According to Wiener (2011), Mama and Ruth represent a traditional view of marriage and a woman’s role at home. They both work as domestic workers, a traditional role awarded to women in the early 1960s as the only form of economic empowerment. Ruth and Mama are contented with staying at home and caring for the household chores. Although Mama is the matriarch of the family because of the absence of Big Walter, traditionally, she is restricted in making crucial decisions based on her gender (Wiener, 2011). She believes Walter Lee, the man in the house, should step up to his responsibility of leading the family. Mama states, “I am telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you are supposed to be” (Hansberry, 1959). Mama’s expectation that Walter should be responsible, like his father, is based on a traditional view of gender roles emphasizing men’s strength. Ruth equally believes that it is her husband’s responsibility to make the right financial decision as the man of the house. She tells Mama, “He needs this chance, Lena” (Hansberry, 1959). Ruth is convinced that Walter will use the investment check well if given a chance.

Modern View of Gender Roles

On the contrary, Hansberry utilizes Beneatha’s character to represent modern views of gender roles that challenge the conventional stereotypic perception. Beneatha is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, a male-dominated noble profession. Her view of women’s liberation is in the form of education and economic empowerment, which is strongly challenged by the conventional societal view of females (Gandouz, 2018). Walter criticizes her ambition to become a doctor because of his orthodox outlook on women. He asks, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?” (Hansberry, 1959). Walter suggests Beneatha should “just get married and be quiet,” implying that marriage is more important than her ambition (Hansberry, 1959). However, Beneatha represents a progressive view and thus focuses on pursuing her dreams despite society’s challenges (Gandouz, 2018). She reveals to Ruth and Mama that she is not bothered about getting married and might as well never get married at all. Through Beneatha’s character, the author anticipates a change in women’s movement and empowerment by rejecting societal norms and expectations.

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Generally, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun effectively explores traditional gender roles and the modern view of such roles that has equally challenged conventional outlooks. The play tremendously highlights how such societal expectations based on gender affected women’s empowerment and expression as their male counterparts became more dominant and oppressive. Hansberry uses her position as a female writer to advocate and anticipate a shift in the outlook of women’s rights, liberty, and empowerment in American society.

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  1. Gandouz, O. (2018). African-American girls are better taught to reach stars: Subverting gender and racial stereotypes in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”. Brolly1(2).
  2. Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun (1st ed.). Vintage Books.
  3. Wiener, G. (Ed.). (2011). Gender in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Greenhaven Publishing LLC.
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