Throughout Lorraine Hansberry’s story of A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha’s character is forced to deal with conflict from many different sources, thus taking her through a process of self-actualization. Externally, upon introduction to her character, Beneatha struggles against a society that does not readily accept her as an African-American woman. Set in Chicago’s Southside in a time before the Civil Rights Movement had really gained momentum, A Raisin in the Sun places Beneatha in a tumultuous environment.Simply by virtue of her birth, this young African-American woman finds herself catapulted into a time of social conflict and unrest due to the highly charged civil rights issues coming to surface. Additionally, in this time, if they insisted on working, women were expected to become domestics, secretaries, nurses, or teachers: all roles which ultimately submitted to male authority. To add fuel to the fire of her individual situation, Beneatha finds inspiration from a personal experience and decides to become a doctor, which at that time was rare, if not dissident, to the current society as a woman of her race.In a moment with her friend Asagai, Beneatha shares the memory of a neighborhood child being injured and her internal response to his treatment: “That was what one person could do for another, fix him up – sew up the problem, make him all right again.
That was the most marvelous thing in the world…I wanted to do that” (p. 1241). Beneatha saw that the medical treatment made an active impact on the boy’s life. She herself wanted to participate in the active positive change in people’s lives. Beneatha’s professional aspiration proves an admirable dream but surely sentences her to an uphill battle throughout her future.Going deeper, more personal to Beneatha is the sibling rivalry she experiences with her older brother, Walter. Jeremy Boyle, a family-based website writer, expounds on the dynamics of a sibling rivalry: As siblings grow into mature adults, they hope and expect rivalries will recede into the past.
For most siblings this is the case, but for some rivalry continues to burn deep. In some cases, new rivalries pop up. When sibling rivalry persists into adulthood, the conflict and self-doubts can be devastating. Boyle touches on the aspect that a child easily forgives a broken toy or a smaller piece of dessert.However, as the child matures into adulthood, a lifetime of favoritism or lack of respect ultimately wears down the bonds shared by siblings. The most tangible point of conflict between Walter and Beneatha involves Walter’s resentment towards Beneatha. Walter resented Beneatha because the family made financial sacrifices so that Beneatha would have the money necessary to pursue higher education.
Meanwhile, Walter felt stuck in his job, holding a position as a chauffeur, and furthermore felt stifled by his family who responded skeptically to his own business ideas and desires.Instead of taking personal responsibility for his own decisions and results thereof, Walter blames the family’s lack of resources on the expense of Beneatha’s education. Furthermore, while he himself professes a desire to rise above the status quo of his community, he begrudges Beneatha for her assertive actions to realize her own dreams even to the point of trying to discourage her success. Unable to see beyond his own insecurity and afraid that he himself will not realize his own dreams, he exclaims, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet” (p. 1204). The climax to this conflict surfaces when Walter, due to a bad business agreement, looses the money allocated for Beneatha’s medical education. This inevitably forces Beneatha to question and reassess decisions she previously made about her life.
The money previously available for her education disappeared; this meant that in order to continue with her plans she would need to work even harder to accomplish her goals. Does she really want to become a doctor? Can she really afford it?What if she failed to succeed? This financial conflict proved to not only fire the rivalry she and her brother shared, but it also triggered the conflict within her own being. Most intimate to Beneatha rages the internal battle between living a more socially acceptable life versus a more personally gratifying life. Beneatha’s two suitors, George and Asagai, act as the personification of this division. On one hand George represents an easier life in her current society. Because of his family connections, established financial security, and assimilation into the American culture, a future with George promises comfort and approval.The hopes of assimilation provided an amount of relief from the conflicts she faced; the more cultural and social acceptance she gained, the less struggle she potentially faced.
Transversely, Asagai, a Nigerian native, woos her internal hunger for a life more true to her African heritage. Asagai seems to have the ability to see beyond the surface of her demeanor. He speaks to the core of her being, challenging her motives, her words, and her actions all the while encouraging her to pursue the desires of her heart even to the point of suggesting a new life with him in Nigeria.He promises her, “I will show you our mountains and our stars; and give you cool drinks from gourds and teach you the old songs and the ways of our people” (p. 1243). Using poetic imagery, Asagai allures Beneatha’s feminine desire for beauty as well as the pull she felt to bond more closely with the truths of her ancestry. The dichotomy of these two polar opposites does not afford Beneatha neutrality; she knows her choice of actions will ultimately profess her position.
Ultimately, much like life, though an optimistic tone emerges in the end of the story, the future still remains uncertain.The audience does not see the final resolution to Beneatha’s conflicts. However, the audience does see that Beneatha’s courage to face these specific confrontations brings her closer to being at peace with the antagonists in her. Again, Eleanor Roosevelt’s words become relevant when she said, “Friendship with oneself is all-important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world. ” Eleanor Roosevelt recognized the phenomenon that unless a person works to resolve her internal conflict, she will always face external factors that consistently trigger the emotional voltage behind the situation.