always in his voice there is a quality of indictment a description of Walter, who has grown increasingly accusatory about the bleakness of his financial future.
Ashanti Beneatha’s reference to the Ashanti people, along with George Murchison’s references to the Songhay Empire, Benin, and the Bantu language, shows that Hansberry herself had some knowledge of the African continent and its culture. Because her uncle, Leo Hansberry, was a professor of African history at Howard University and, perhaps, because one of his students was Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence, Hansberry’s major geographical focus here appears to be on the history of Ghana, known prior to its independence as “The Gold Coast.” The Ashanti, originally a part of present-day Ghana, were people within the Ghana Empire whose ascendancy was based on the iron and gold found within this wealthy country. By 1180, however, a group of rival tribes united as the nation of Mali, ravaged Ghana, and put an end to its empire. The new Mali Empire, larger and more wealthy that the former empire of Ghana, reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the Niger River and north to the Sahara Desert. The rulers of Mali established the Muslim religion that had come out of Arabia and was sweeping throughout Africa. Mali’s most well-known king, Mansa Musa, advanced his civilization to a point of such great wealth that when he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, he spent more than a hundred camel-loads of gold on his holy trip. Perhaps, because of such abuses by its kings, Mali, once one of the world’s great trading nations, was eventually conquered by the neighboring kingdom of Songhai (Songhay).
Bantu The Bantu language is the tongue common to the peoples of Africa who live below the equator. There are many languages and tribes among the Bantu people — thus, the Bantu are one of the many native African groups who speak one of the Bantu languages. Bantu is the largest language family and Swahili (which consists of Bantu and Arabic) is the most widely spoken.
behind the bureau A bureau is a piece of furniture that was usually kept in the bedroom and used for storing clothing. A dresser, in contrast, is a short piece of bedroom furniture that has drawer space, a large mirror, and a small stool or chair where one might sit in order to put on makeup. The bureau is the taller piece of bedroom furniture, containing only drawer space for clothing. Objects placed on top of the bureau often landed behind it, which, because of its size and weight, was often a difficult piece of furniture to move.
Benin When George Murchison mentions “the great sculpture of Benin,” he is referring to the magnificent works of art that were produced throughout Africa, much to the astonished appreciation of Europeans who had come to Africa, first to trade and later to capture slaves. But, of all the superior works of art that came out of Africa, the most remarkable were those found in Benin. Many factors contributed to the downfall of the aforementioned empires, including weakening from within by internal strife, invasions by outsiders and the beginnings of trade along the West Coast with European merchants. The coastal people who had once been ruled by empires in the interior soon began to trade slaves and gold for firearms and ammunition since lances, spears, and arrows were no match against the rifles and cannons of the Arabs and Europeans. Using their new weapons to fight their rulers, they eventually created their own kingdoms in the coastal forests of West Africa, the most powerful of which was that of Benin (present-day Nigeria). Benin’s theocracy dictated the production of art for religious purposes. Tradition states that around 1170, the Oba (king) commissioned the finest bronze/brass-smith, a man who was so excellent in his craft that to this day, his name is worshipped as a god by the bronze/brass-smiths of Benin. Thus began the Benin practice of making bronze-brass castings to memorialize important events. Sadly, the people of Benin began to involve themselves in the lucrative Atlantic slave-trade — selling captured rival prisoners to Europeans and Americans. At this point, we should note that although Hansberry lauds the Ashanti empires specifically and speaks highly of the art of Benin through the dialogue of her character, Beneatha, Hansberry, herself, in other essays, refers specifically to the Ashanti as “those murderous, slave trading Ashanti.” Hansberry does not mention the slave trading aspect of West African history in this play; possibly she believed that this fact would be intentionally misinterpreted. The inexcusable complicity of the Africans in the heinous slave trade, however miniscule it might have been, is often exaggerated — perhaps in an attempt to assuage guilt over the grand scale involvement in the violation of human rights by all those connected with the Atlantic slave trade. As the economy of Benin grew to depend upon the slave trade, internal strife once again claimed an empire as Benin declined and was eventually overwhelmed by the British. The British attack on Benin, ironically, was initially to retaliate for the killing of nine European travelers. But when the British stormed the city, they were so impressed by the Benin bronzes that they took them back with them, giving the British Museum an incomparable collection of rare treasures of African art. Because this art received such worldwide attention, few wanted to believe that such magnificent artwork had been created by the Africans. Thus, the art of Benin was, at first, attributed to the Portuguese; then someone suggested that the bronzes had been washed ashore from the lost city of Atlantis or had been created by its descendants or survivors; others said that some lost and wandering Europeans had found themselves in Benin and had produced the bronze wonders; others said that nomadic Greeks had produced these works while journeying through Africa. Still others insisted that these works, found in Africa, had been the products of the European Renaissance. All of this confusion was due to the widespread ignorance of Africa, its traditions, its people and their capabilities, and the great lost civilizations. In this play, Hansberry attempted, in her own small way, to educate the world about Africa through her drama about a poor black family living on Chicago’s Southside.
the best little combo in the world This phrase refers to the band of musicians that Walter admires in the Green Hat. “Combo” is a synonym for “band.” Clearly, we can see by the way Walter talks about them that he appreciates their music very much.
Booker T. Washington Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was one of the most influential black leaders during the period immediately following Reconstruction (1865-77). Extremely hard working, he attended school at night. When he heard about Hampton Institute in Virginia, a school for blacks, he enrolled in order to study brick masonry, paying for his education by working as the janitor. Known mainly for his founding of Tuskegee Institute, Washington believed that blacks should be educated only by trade schools. He felt that they should develop manual skills and improve their craft at the building trades and that blacks should become experts in farming. (One of Washington’s first staff appointments was Dr. George Washington Carver, whose brilliance in the field of agriculture is not as well documented as his “peanut” discoveries.) Washington believed strongly that artistic endeavors and intellectual pursuits were not in the best interest of black people trying to emerge from a long period of slavery. Washington felt that having a trade was more logical for black people than painting or poetry. In his “Atlanta speech,” Booker T. Washington urged blacks to cultivate friendly relations with white men. He suggested that blacks devote themselves to agriculture, mechanics, domestic service, and the professions — placing more value on acquiring an industrial skill than on attaining a seat in Congress. Washington’s long-time opponent, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), was a man who dramatically espoused the opposite of Washington’s philosophy. Du Bois, educated at Fisk, Harvard, and the University of Berlin, was a writer and political activist, activities which Washington perceived as frivolous. Black writers tend to side with W. E. B. Du Bois, who believed in the importance of artistic endeavors (which Washington believed to be a frivolous activity). Hansberry has one of her characters call Booker T. Washington a “fool,” which is an elitist comment since only the very well read of her audience would even have known of the political rivalry between the two men. Blacks began to “choose sides,” debating constantly over who was right, and over which philosophy was actually in the best interest of black people. Hansberry has the comical character of Mrs. Johnson act as the defender of Booker T. Washington’s philosophy, as she says, “I always thinks like Booker T. Washington said that time — ‘Education has spoiled many a good plow hand.'” Hansberry, herself, speaks through Mama, who dismisses Washington as a “fool.” And when Mrs. Johnson goes on to say that Washington “was one of our great men,” Mama counters, almost angrily, with, “Who said so?” The debate does not continue and, at this point, Mrs. Johnson concedes by saying, “You know, me and you ain’t never agreed about some things, Lena Younger. I guess I better be going — .”
Chicago’s Southside the area in Chicago in which many blacks live; referred to as “the ghetto,” the poor neighborhood of Chicago.
crocheted doilies The totally bare, classic-line furniture of the fifties contrasted starkly with the furniture of the forties. In the forties, it was customary to place crocheted doilies on the arms and head rests of an overstuffed living room sofa and two sofa chairs, which were usually already covered with slipcovers. This was done in an effort to protect the furniture and to hide worn places; the country was just coming out of the Great Depression and great value was placed on one’s possessions — especially if a family was poor. Having “forties furniture” in the fifties is a clear indication of poverty.
a descendant of Chaka Chaka, also known as Shaka, or Shaka Zulu, was an early nineteenth century African warrior-king who implemented warfare techniques and weaponry which have been studied and adopted by military leaders and personnel worldwide ever since Shaka’s time. Shaka Zulu incorporated into his own army the warriors from defeated tribes; he also established military towns in order to ensure that his armies were well provided for and excellently trained. Shaka Zulu initiated the idea of complex battle formations in order to outflank and confuse his enemies, not unlike those strategies used in football formations. In addition, Shaka Zulu revolutionized the existing Zulu weaponry by designing a short-handled stabbing spear, known as the “assegai.” To this day, the name Shaka Zulu garners high praise in military circles and commands great respect. Hansberry’s description of Walter as he chants to the African music with Beneatha includes a reference to Shaka Zulu, or Chaka: “On the table, very far gone, his eyes pure glass sheets. He sees what we cannot, that he is a leader of his people, a great chief, a descendant of Chaka, and that the hour to march has come.”
Drop the Garbo routine When George Murchison admonishes Beneatha to “drop the Garbo routine,” he is telling her to know her “place” as a woman. Beneatha intellectualizes everything, is clearly independent, does not defer to men, and argues whatever points of chauvinism she finds in her conversation with men. George wants Beneatha to be more quiet and submissive. He implies in his speech that men do not like aggressive, independent, liberated women, and that if she ever hopes to get married and have a family, she is going to have to “drop the Garbo routine,” meaning she will have to stop studying and thinking so much, and start acting “like a [submissive] woman.”
Ethiopia References to Ethiopia can be found in the Bible and in the writings of Herodotus and Homer. For much of its history, Ethiopia was known as Abyssinia. Although it is documented that as early as the first century B.C. some Middle Eastern traders settled there, Ethiopian history cites Queen Makeda of Ethiopia and King Solomon as being the parents of Menelik I who, during his reign, founded the kingdom of Ethiopia in 10 B.C. Queen Makeda was known by many names: “Bilquis” to the ancient Moslems, “Black Minerva” and “Ethiopian Diana” to the Greeks, “Queen of Sheba” to King Solomon, and to her own people, she was “Makeda, the beautiful.” Queen Makeda was so impressed with the wisdom of King Solomon that she visited him in Jerusalem, adopted his religion of Judaism and, upon the birth of their first child, who was a male, she crowned this child King of Ethiopia, an act which united the two nations. She named this child Ibn-alHakim, which means “son of the wise man,” but he was popularly known as Menelik. In 1889, Sahaba Mariem rose to power in Ethiopia, ascended the throne, and changed his name to Menelik II, signifying blood ties to Menelik, Makeda’s son. Menelik II initiated the modern age of Ethiopian development by defeating the Italians, who were trying to establish a protectorate over Ethiopia. Under his reign, roads were constructed, formal education and social services were instituted, and electricity was introduced. Menelik II is also responsible for relocating the capital at Addis Ababa and for modernizing the operation of government. The most dominant figure in recent Ethiopian history is Haile Selassie I, also known as “the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Elect of God, and King of Kings.” He was crowned Emperor in 1930. Five years later, in 1935, after Selassie had offered his people a written constitution and educational and administrative reforms, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and occupied the country until 1941, when the British forced the Italians out, and Haile Selassie returned to his throne. During the following decades, Haile Selassie became a symbol of leadership to other African nations that eventually would demand their independence. The founding of the Organization of African Unity, under Haile Selassie, and the headquartering of the OAU in Addis Ababa attest to the respect that Selassie received from the people of Africa.
fanning herself . . . mistakenly more like Butterfly than any Nigerian This stage direction refers to Beneatha’s exuberance after receiving the gift of the Nigerian robes and headdress from Asagai. Because Beneatha is not accustomed to African dress, she does not “wear” it properly. Although she is dressed like a Nigerian woman, she begins to dramatically fan herself in order to accentuate her outfit, but she inadvertently loses the African look and appears more Asian, looking as though she’s Madame Butterfly instead of African royalty.
fly-by-night proposition a reference to Walter Lee’s idea for a business, a proposition that appears to his family to be risky, irresponsible, and unreliable.
Gimme some sugar then a southern expression that means “Give me a hug, a kiss.” Mama says this to Travis as she tells him about the house that she is planning to buy.
hand-turned hems This refers to sewing that is done “by hand” and not in a factory on a machine. Ruth has purchased some curtains for the new house, proof of her exuberance over the possibility of their moving away from the ghetto, for Ruth did not even measure the windows before rushing out and buying curtains. When she is asked if she considered whether these curtains will even fit the windows of the new house, Ruth says, “Oh well, they bound to fit something.” The curtains, she brags, have “hand-turned hems,” which would, of course, make them more valuable than machine-made curtains.
Hay-lo Beneatha answers the telephone with this greeting, a combination of “Hey” and “Hello.”
He’s got a conked head A “conked head” refers to a hairstyle adopted by some black men during the forties and early fifties. Because of what was defined as “self hatred” by psychologists who studied the phenomenon, oftentimes a group that believes itself to be oppressed will mimic the life-style and, sometimes, even mimic the appearance of the “dominant group.” During this period in history, some black men (especially those connected with show business) would have their hair straightened through a chemical process that was both demeaning and extremely painful. Looking at old photographs of Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and other entertainers of that period, we see that they adopted this style. Many times though, men within the criminal element in the black community also wore their hair in this “conked” style when the style became a symbol of affluence. As a result, people within the black community often had negative perceptions about those who adopted this style. If those men were not a part of the entertainment industry, they were either denizens of the underworld or full-fledged or potential gangsters. The person whom Walter Lee describes as having a “conked head” is a part of the entertainment world; he is a musician at the Green Hat, a bar that Walter Lee frequents.
I don’t want that on my ledger A religious woman, Mama is referring to the book of checks and balances that she believes is kept in Heaven, listing all the good and all the bad that a person does while on earth.
if the salt loses its savor When Ruth says that Beneatha is fresh — and then adds that Beneatha is as “fresh as salt” — Beneatha counters with a pedantic response, a phrase from the Bible, just to show off her knowledge. Beneatha uses the quote with some pretentiousness to press the point that she knows the Bible from an intellectual point of view but that she does not believe in its religious messages. The phrase used by Beneatha is taken from three places in the Bible: Matthew 5:13 “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Mark 9:50 “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” Luke 14:34-35 “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither for the land, nor yet for the dunghill, but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing Mama is so distraught over Walter’s having lost the family’s remaining money that, at first, she decides against moving into Clyboume Park and tries to make herself satisfied with the thought of remaining in her cramped Southside apartment. Mama reminisces about her youth and how she had always wanted more than what had been offered to her. She realizes now, she says, in her moment of defeat, that she was foolish to set her sights so high. She says that everyone around her used to laugh at her; they would say, “That Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing. She’ll get her due one day.” Mama implies that perhaps her misfortune now is the “due” that her detractors warned her of.
The lion is waking This phrase refers to all of the African countries that were beginning to demand their independence of colonial rule. The reference was somewhat unsettling to colonial rulers of that day because of the suggested imagery of the fates of those caught in the presence of an awakening, ferocious lion. This phrase also refers to the Lion of Judah.
make down bed a couch that does not convert into an actual bed but is made up at night with a bed coveting and pillow to look like a bed.
Monsieur le petit bourgeois noir Beneatha is so angry at Walter Lee for having entrusted their family’s money to the unscrupulous Willy that she mockingly derides Walter Lee for having shown such mercantile naivete. To Beneatha, it is apparent that Walter Lee’s financial folly was due to his total lack of knowledge about the workings of the business world; she taunts him by referring to him as “Monsieur le petit bourgeois noir,” meaning “Mister [black] small businessman.” She goes on to taunt him by calling him other names, such as “Symbol of the Rising Class,” “Entrepreneur,” “Titan of the System,” and “Chairman of the Board,” none of which Walter is and few of which Walter has ever heard. By calling Walter Lee “Monsieur le petit bourgeois noir,” Beneatha gives us proof that she is oppressively pedantic since she is clearly showing off her learning and is bragging (once again) about her college student status. She speaks mostly for her own emotional benefit, for she knows that Walter has no knowledge of the meaning of her words in French, just as he barely understands the meaning of the insults she hurls at him in English.
Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity Asagai repeats Beneatha’s words to her, poking fun at her desperation to connect with her African heritage. Beneatha made this statement to Asagai when they first met, a remark he had found amusing.
Mrs. Miniver An Oscar-winning film (1942) which starred Greer Garson as Mrs. Miniver, an English middle-class housewife who appears in many scenes tending her roses. In the movie, despite the blitz bombs of Nazi Germany, Mrs. Miniver stands stalwart, the symbol of England’s hope and strength. Because Mama’s housewarming gift is a set of gardening tools, the card reads, “To our own Mrs. Miniver Mama’s strength and her survival in a nation divided by racial struggle makes her an appropriate parallel to Mrs. Miniver.
my girl didn’t come in today Ruth works as a domestic, a cleaning woman, for wealthy whites who have traditionally referred to these cleaning women as “girls” — a term that the domestics found degrading but never complained openly about for fear of losing their jobs. Even though the cleaning woman was around thirty, as Ruth is, she was still called a “girl.” Even Mama’s being in her sixties does not mean that she would not also be referred to as the cleaning “girl” or just “the girl,” most especially when the white employers were talking among themselves.
the nature of quiet desperation The complete quotation to which George refers is “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” a line from Thoreau’s Walden. George proves to be as pedantic as Beneatha, peppering his arguments with literary allusions and oftentimes esoteric references — for example, calling Walter “Prometheus.” George is trying to persuade Beneatha to abandon her feminist principles when he utters this philosophical truth, but throughout the play, Hansherry shows that many of the characters in Raisin do indeed lead lives of quiet desperation: Mama, although outwardly strong, is consumed with anxiety over the various, disparate directions her children are going; Walter Lee is clearly a desperate man, trying to secure a dream that eludes him; Ruth is pregnant but afraid to have this child (one more mouth to feed), especially since it will be born into a marital relationship that is deteriorating from within; Beneatha is desperately seeking her own identity while simultaneously attempting to escape the stereotypical barriers of her class and gender; and last, even Karl Lindner is a desperate man, rationalizing his rigid beliefs in a rapidly changing world. Of all the characters, Asagai appears to be the most serene, even when his is contemplating justifiable reasons for anxiety — that is, the political turmoil within his homeland and the possibility of his own death in his desire for his country’s independence. Note that Asagai calmly accepts whatever his fate might be and even becomes an inadvertent peacemaker when he diffuses Beneatha’s vitriolic reaction to Walter’s loss of the family’s money.
never been ‘fraid of no crackers After Mama has announced her plans to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood, Ruth at first expresses fear. Then, as if it were an afterthought, Ruth says that she’s “never been ‘fraid of no crackers” even though her previous dialogue says otherwise. Traditionally, “crackers” refers to bigoted whites, especially those living in Georgia; here, Ruth is using the term to derogatorily refer to all white racists.
Nigeria The most populated nation in Africa with more than 250 different ethnic groups. The four major groups are the Hausa and Falani people in the north, the Yoruba people in the southwest, and the Ibo people in the southeast. Nigeria was ruled by the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century, followed by the Dutch, the Danes, the Spaniards, and the Swedes. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the British gained control over the slave trade there. Nigeria finally became independent and a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and, in 1963, it became a republic. Open hostility, however, between the numerous rival factions within the country bred chaos, with several attempts to overthrow the government, civil war, and finally mass starvation. Despite its harrowing past, Nigeria has become a leader in literature, art, music, and craftsmanship.
not a single penny for no caps A popular children’s toy in the fifties, especially for little boys, was the “cap pistol” or “cap gun, “into which “caps” were placed, producing the sound of a miniature firecracker, making the children feel as though they were actually firing a real pistol. Ruth admonishes Travis even before he asks for money for caps, revealing her negative feelings about caps and cap guns.
One for Whom Bread — Food — Is Not Enough Asagai gives Beneatha the Nigerian name “Alaiyo,” which he translates roughly as: “One for whom bread — food — is not enough,” meaning that his perception of Beneatha is that she is a totally developed person, both intellectually and spiritually, and that she demands answers to all of life’s questions. Merely going through the motions of life is not enough for a person like Beneatha; she has to question every philosophy for herself. She is, to Asagai, a person for whom “bread — food — is not enough.”
Owimoweh “Owimoweh” is the title of an African chant, referring to the waking of the lion. Contained in an early sixties song, subtitled “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the word was made popular by Pete Seeger and the Weavers.
peachy keen, as the ofay kids say This is a reference to the racial differences in language, most especially in the area of slang. When Raisin opened in 1959, the expression “peachy keen” was common to white teenagers, as was “swell,” both of which were used to refer to something that was “good,” while in the black communities, “boss,” “zanzy” or “bad” were used to refer to something “good.” In addition, the word “ofay” was a slang word used in the black communities at that time to refer to a white person. (It is the word “foe” in the nonsense language of Pig Latin, in which the first letter of a word is placed at the end with the addition of the long “A” sound. “Pig” would become “Igpay”; in order to refer to a white person as a “foe,” one would say “ofay.”) This is somewhat of a testament to the racial climate of the country in 1959, when fears of reprisals often had blacks concealing their negative feelings in the code words of slang. Translated then, “Peachy keen, as the ofay kids say” means “That’s very good — as the white kids would say.”
peckerwoods no-count riff-raff; poor, shiftless, racially prejudiced whites.
Prometheus As noted later in the character analysis of Walter Lee Younger, George Murchison’s reference to Prometheus fits Walter’s fiery personality, along with several other parallels. Prometheus, the god who was punished for having brought fire to mortals, was chained to Mt. Caucasus, where his liver was torn out every day by an eagle but grew back each night. Prometheus’ suffering lasted for thousands of years — until Hercules killed the eagle and freed Prometheus. Although Walter’s frustrations of establishing his own business appear to devour his hopes, his obsession with his dream restores his hope. George is pedantic, showing off his knowledge, when he says to Walter (after he is safely half-out the door), “Good night, Prometheus.”
Scarlett O’Hara When Travis gives Mama his gift, of which he is enormously proud, everyone laughs because it is an oversized gardening hat worn, as he says, by [rich] ladies “who always have it on when they work in their gardens.” However, instead of looking like a rich “lady” in her garden, in this hat, Mama looks more like a slave who is about to pick cotton, which makes everyone laugh. Mama doesn’t want to hurt Travis’ feelings, so she tells him how much she likes it even though she probably knows better than the others how ridiculous she looks in the hat. Beneatha laughs and says that their intention in giving the gardening tools was to make Mama look like Mrs. Miniver, while Travis’ gift makes Mama look more like Scarlett O’Hara (from Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, a novel that laments the fall of the South after the Civil War).
a settled woman a woman who looks older than her actual years mainly because she has resigned herself to her “lot in life.”
sharecroppers Many blacks were sharecroppers in the south before the mass exodus of blacks to the northern cities. A sharecropper lives on someone else’s farmland and pays, as his rent, a large share of the crop he yields from this farmland. Sharecroppers were, for this reason, poor; it was nearly impossible to clear up the initial debt incurred by renting someone else’s land and farming it for profit, the bulk of which went to the landowner.
slubborness Ruth refers to Travis’ habits as being “slubborn” when she really means both “sloppy” and “stubborn.” Because of Ruth’s lack of formal education, she is not aware (but the audience is) that this is not a real word.
Songhai (Songhay) The Sunni dynastry of Songbai conquered Mali after Mali had progressively grown weaker with its line of ineffective kings. By the 1470s, Songhai had become the largest and richest country in Africa, boasting the city of Timbuktu, which was the center of learning and trade for the Muslim world. In Timbuktu, men and boys (only) studied at its great university, utilizing to great advantage its many active libraries and books on history, medicine, astronomy, and poetry. The first Songhai king, Sunni Ali, destroyed much of Timbuktu, but his successor, Askia, rebuilt this ancient city of learning. However, after the death of Askia, the Songhai Empire weakened and was finally conquered by neighboring enemies. Timbuktu, once the center of learning, became a tiny desert town, important only because of its history. After the fall of the Songhai Empire, the days of the great black kingdoms of West Africa were over. Attesting to Hansberry’s preoccupation with the demise of such great African civilizations and her deep regret that there was a universal lack of knowledge of these ancient black kingdoms are her constant references to Africa in Raisin. Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were the three greatest of the many empires that flourished in West Africa, yet all that remains of these advanced civilizations of past great wealth and strength are relics of ruins and the tales of ancient travelers.
spread some money ’round Walter Lee had previously explained to Bobo that the only way to make “big” money was through the payment of required graft, which Walter Lee refers to as having to “spread some money ’round.” Bobo is apparently too intellectually dense to understand that this is a term that one does not use openly. Bobo uses the expression casually, as though it were conversationally correct.
that big hotel on the Drive Walter refers to “that big hotel on the Drive” in a conversation with George Murchison as he asks George about the Murchison family’s prospective real estate ventures. Clearly, Hansherry uses her own family’s livelihood as being the livelihood of the rich black family in Raisin. Lorraine Hansberry’s father was a successful real estate businessman; apparently, the Murchison family of Raisin is equally successful, for Walter refers to the Murchisons’ purchase of a big hotel on the “Drive.” The “Drive” to which Walter refers is an expressway along a scenic stretch of land — a large sprawling park or a river view; in whatever city, this would be expensive property. In 1959, anyone, most especially a black person, who could afford to purchase a hotel — especially a hotel on such expensive property — would have been very wealthy.
They need more salvation from the British and the French Beneatha says this to Mama as she attempts to “educate” her mother to what Beneatha feels are political realities. She knows that Mama believes in giving money to her church for the missionary work, but the Africans, she says, “need more salvation from the British and the French,” who were the dominant colonial rulers at that time.
Thirty pieces and not a coin less Thirty pieces of silver was the standard price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for the same amount of money (30 pieces of silver) normally paid for a slave. Beneatha taunts Lindner with this allusion when he makes his generous offer to keep the Younger family out of the neighborhood.
We’ve all got acute ghetto-itis Beneatha says this when Asagai drops by to visit, immediately after the Younger family has had a depressing conversation about their financial station in life and Ruth’s possible pregnancy. Beneatha refers to the “ghetto” in which they live as though it brings with it a disease that she calls “ghetto-iris.”
You done wrote his epitaph too Mama says this to Beneatha when Beneatha speaks so harshly against Walter Lee upon learnlng that he lost the family’s remaining money. Beneatha is so relentlessly unforgiving toward Walter Lee that Mama is forced to defend him. She makes Beneatha consider this question: who is Beneatha to write his epitaph — to write him off as though he no longer exists just because she is so angry at him?
You don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar Prior to the civil rights movement, which reached its peak in the sixties, segregated facilities, separating whites from blacks, were common in the south, where “Jim Crow” laws made it legal. (Even in the northern cities, vestiges of segregation were apparent.) In the south, whites rode in the front of buses, blacks in the back. An interesting aspect of this particular “Jim Crow” law was that a black person might be permitted to sit in the front of the bus if there were no white person on the bus who needed that seat. If a white person boarded the bus and a black person was seated in the front, the black person knew, almost instinctively, that he had to get up in deference to the white person who needed that seat. During the thirties and forties, the mass exodus of blacks from the south to the northern cities was an attempt to flee segregation injustices, including being forced to ride at the back of buses. Not until Rosa Parks dramatically refused to sit at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954, an act which accelerated the civil rights movement, did most blacks in the south even think about the absurdity of the “Jim Crow” laws. Mama’s generation worked hard so that their children could have a “better life,” which, to her, meant a life without segregation. To those of Mama’s generation, it should have been enough that Walter Lee’s generation can ride at the front of a bus. Mama cannot understand why Walter Lee wants more from life than to sit anywhere he wants on public transportation. Walter, in contrast, and others of his generation, take that particular “freedom” for granted. Walter wants the larger freedom of being totally independent of everyone; he wants to be able to earn his living without having a “boss”; more important, he wants to be able to generate his own income without being dependent on a salary as a chauffeur. In short, Walter is questioning the reasons he cannot live the way his bosses live. When he asks why his wife cannot wear pearls, he is asking why he has to resign himself to poverty, being ever grateful that he no longer has to ride at the back of a bus. To Mama, that particular measure of equality is enough; to Walter, it is an outrage.