Literary Analysis from “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Comparison of Literature – Prompt 4
Black American families in the United States have struggled and battled to ensure they have equal rights. Racism and all forms of discrimination ran rampant in the 1950’s through the end of the 1960’s. The black community struggled for equal rights in every aspect of life: employment, education, housing, and healthcare. They didn’t have access to the same privileges extended to white Americans. Discrimination and racism was a common theme in “A Raisin in the Sun” and in the Letter From Birmigham Jail”. The play “A Raisin in the Sun” was produced by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. Hansberry shares the life of the Youngers, a black family living in a very small rental apartment in Chicago. The characters in the story are Moma Younger, Walter, Ruth, Beneatha, and Travis. Each character has their own set of dreams and aspires for more than their present circumstances. The story unfolds intimate daily struggles of each individual, as well as the family as a whole.
In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King Jr. responded to the announcement of caution and concern made by eight white religious leaders from the South. Dr. King was arrested and put in jail for participating in non-violent demonstrations against racial injustice and segregation. The time frame is similar to Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous letter while incarcerated in 1963.
This paper explores the time-period in which black Americans in the United States faced extreme racial prejudice and were not treated equally because of the color of their skin. Black Americans would have to overcome segregation, denial, or limited access to public services and education, lack of high paying employment, limited and poor housing options. These circumstances resulted in restricted opportunities to improve their quality of life, which continued the cycle of generational poverty. This was a very volatile time in America where non-violent and violent protests, riots, and excessive arrests took place due to the black community standing up against hate, racial prejudice, and unequal opportunities.
Each author demonstrates their own experiences of hardships in their works. They both desire to have a quality life, devoid of discrimination. They seek harmony and the best for their families with equal opportunities. In “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, the authors highlight the needs and actions required to push for equal opportunities and to break through the boundaries of segregation. Lorraine Hansberry critically analyzes the cruel effects of racism between the northern and southern areas of Chicago, as expressed by character, Mr. Lindner in his awkward, mild-mannered way, “It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.” (Hansberry, L. 1988 p 118). In Dr. King’s letter, he discusses Birmingham as “the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States where Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts and had more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches.” (King, M.L., Jr. 1963).
A common theme in both works of literature is black Americans have to fight for equal opportunities. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter addressed that Negroes were feared by whites and that they didn’t feel safe having them live in their neighborhoods. This is an important comparison to Lorraine Hansberry’s literature. She describes the endeavors of her characters and how they faced trials and tribulations in a period when the gender and skin color defined what a person could or could not have or do.
Moma Younger desired better housing for her family and future generations. She purchased a home in Clybourne Park with the insurance money she received from her deceased husband. It was a white neighborhood. When the Younger family was told that the community association was going to offer them money to not move in, Mrs. Younger responded to her son, “I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let no body pay ’em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.” (Hansberry, L. p 142). Dr. King shared similar sentiments, “For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation – and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop.” (King, M.L., Jr. 1963).
Black Americans dealt with high unemployment rates and unequal compensation in comparison to white Americans. Many blacks were employed in roles of service. Walter was a chauffeur. Moma and Beneatha cooked and cleaned for white families. Beneatha, the younger sister of Walter aspired for more. She was a twenty year old young woman who wanted to remain unmarried and go to school to be a doctor. Beneatha wanted to break the curse of generational poverty in her family and make a difference for generations to come. She demonstrated great confidence, as these aspirations were very high, and most unlikely in those days because she was a woman and black. Equal opportunities for education would not be easy for her, yet she was determined to achieve success. In the play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the author vividly expresses the roles of a black woman and the expectations of her. It was apparent that black women were being held back by unequal opportunities and gender discrimination, however, they still possessed pride, dignity, and honor. Similarly, in a “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King shares the confidence and pride of an elderly black woman. “They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feet are tired, but my soul is at rest.” (King, M.L., Jr. 1963).
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses that Negroes were feared by the whites and they didn’t feel safe having them live in their neighborhoods. Dr. King states, “Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation.” (King, M.L., Jr. 1963). In the works of ” A Raisin in the Sun”, the author does not fail to recognize the insecurity felt by the white Americans living with the Negros. She quotes for Mr. Lindner, “Well – I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.” (Hansberry, L. 1988 p. 119).
Both authors express the desires that black individuals have dreams and higher aspirations than they have opportunities. They both stand for racial and gender equality for all people. It is because of people like Hansberry and King who spoke out through their literature that people living in America today have equal opportunities and aren’t discriminated based upon gender, race, religion, and color. They weren’t afraid of getting uncomfortable to become comfortable. Dr. King’s speech brings up his desire for a better life, not only for him, but for the entire black population experiencing the same challenges and disadvantages. A similar desire is evident in Hansberry’s artistic work through the Younger family’s experiences. “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” demonstrated how black families empowered themselves and others to fight for their rights to have a better chance of getting out of the “Ghettos” and become part of a higher profitable society led by white supremacy. Through diligent efforts and hard work, blacks are able to overcome their obstacles and achieve the American dream. This was shown in “A Raisin in the Sun” where the children managed to prosper in life from the payout of their father’s insurance. They fought for their rights to move into better housing in a white neighborhood. They were also able to have additional money to spend on college education for Beneatha that would positively impact future Younger generations. The integrity of the black American stems from generations that fought against discrimination and objection. Both works of literature displayed the common theme of struggle, integrity, pride, moral values, and the desire for equal justice for all. Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever” (King, M.L., Jr. 1963) is a good summary for both works of literature.

References
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the SunHansberry, L. (1988). A Raisin in the Sun. New York, NY: Random House. Retrieved from: https://khdzamlit.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/6/11261956/a_raisin_in_the_sun_-_lorraine_hansberry.pdf
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” King, M. L., Jr. (1963). Letter from a Birmingham Jail. African Studies Center – University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from: https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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