Theatrical dramas breathe life into the words of a playwright by pulling together characters, setting, sound and imagery. Some playwrights provide a high level of detail to the setting so the reader or audience member can envision what the writer is trying to convey. However, writers also make use of imagery as a means to complement the setting, providing the reader with a deeper experience of the story. In the play “A Raisin in the Sun” Lorraine Hansberry uses imagery as a way to supplement the setting of a small apartment in Chicago by transforming an ordinary household plant into something that intertwines with the overall sense of hope and oppression felt throughout the play.
Hansberry opens the first scene by painting a dismal picture of an apartment, describing the main living area as weary, dusky and cramped with a “single window” by which a fragment of sunlight “fights its way through” (1.1.436). In this window resides a small sickly plant that comes to symbolize a measure of hope in the face of oppression as felt by the Youngers and many other black families during the post-civil war era.
As Lena ‘Mama’ Younger enters the scene, she immediately opens the window and introduces a “feeble little plant growing doggedly in a small pot” (1.1.444). While the plant is in a state of fragility, the use of the word “doggedly” suggests a stubbornness to survive amongst difficult circumstance, much like the near poverty conditions that surround the Younger family. Mama “feels the dirt” (1.1.444) to check its need for water and returns it to the window. Clearly an important connection is being established between Mama and this small plant.
Part of that connection is soon realized when a heated argument between Mama and Beneatha ends harshly. While Mama tends to the plant with small droplets of water, she begins to compare her children’s lack of respect to the sickly plant (1.1.451). As sunlight is a key element of life, the lack of it suggests a stifled growth in both the plant and her children. In the latter, sunlight appears to represent the spectrum of opportunities that could afford one inner growth.