Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin In The Sun” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” are both stories that are connected by the common factor of family values. Although both stories have their own individual qualities it is the heritage and importance of family that brings both stories together. The similar personalities of Beneatha from “A Raisin In The Sun” and Dee from “Everyday Use” are a good example of how family values dominate the stories and the characters in them. Both Beneatha and Dee come from families rich in culture, history and traditions but strive to find individuality outside of their family’s norms.
However, it is the way in which they approach conformity that is a testament to how one should and shouldn’t go about this process. Dee’s...
family consists of her mother and younger sister, Maggie. Mother and Maggie are well rooted in family tradition and they live on the premises of those values. Dee likes to be into the latest fashions and trends. She even changes her name to one that sounds more African and starts to date a man named Asalamalakim. However, it is apparent the moment she exits her car and steps foot onto Mama’s lawn that haughtiness has blinded her.
Before even acknowledging her families presence Dee is quick to focus the attention on herself by asking her mother how she looks. Not only that, but the way in which she addresses her mother and snaps pictures of the house, as if her family is a subject of some sort of documentary, depicts her arrogance toward them as well. Beneatha on the other hand lives with her family
and displays more respect toward them, despite her desire to break free from their grasp. Beneatha attends college and is studying to be a doctor. During the time of this story this was not something a lot of women were accustomed of doing.
Her family doesn’t have a lot of money, and although they do get by, Mama Lena still manages to fund Beneatha’s new interests as she moves from one hobby to the next. Toward the end of the story Beneatha starts to date Asagai who is from Africa. It is during this time that she genuinely develops a love for her own culture and decides to be a doctor in Africa. Both female protagonists appear to be torn between two worlds. While their ambitions are to seek out their own freedom and identity they’re also not looking to deny their own heritage. Rather, they are trying to acknowledge it in different ways.
Beneatha shows this after she meets Asagai and soon becomes absorbed with native dresses, music, and hair. Dee recognizes her heritage by contemplating changing her name and expressing interest in a quilt her mother made that symbolized their family background. While they both seek to keep traditions alive, it is also apparent by their actions that pursues these values from a selfish perspective, while the other’s ambitions are more genuine. Dee’s voice is being explored with a multiplicity of vocality and a divergence that represents what it means to be young.
Yet she can be criticized because her freedom extends to only her and little else. She does not see herself as connected to the family, a unit
that sacrifices for her and helps to allow her the freedom she so treasures. In trying to divulge into her family traditions, she becomes self-centered and naively neglects her family. This is a trait her mother recognized back when Dee used to attend boarding school. “[Dee] used to read to me without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon me, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice” (Walker, 560).
Through Dee’s education she begins to reject and belittle her family, thus leading to division and alienation. At the same time, Beneatha's attitude toward her roots is more sincere and selfless. As she gains a college education and becomes indoctrinated by Asagai, she finds more gratitude toward her heritage and begins to view others with deeper gratitude. Her attitude towards the African American identity is in large part fashioned by Asagai's pressure to conform to his standard, but in the end it becomes more a part of her than it was at the beginning of the story.
Yet, she never chastises her family despite the opportunity she has to fulfill her dreams. She is cognitive of the fact that regardless of where she is at in life, she can find solace at home and there are no terms and conditions attached to it. Even though her family may have different opinions on her lifestyle, she understands where their hearts are and learns to accept that, unlike Dee who can’t seem to see past the end of her own nose. Beneatha also understands that when surrounded by trouble her family will be there to help her endure through tough times.
Gordon, when she discusses the importance of a black female’s strong bond with her family during the days of segregation mentions the Youngers, and most specifically Beneatha. Gordon, in regards to Beneatha’s character says that: “Beneatha is a character many young African Americans living through the times of their culture’s liberation because she was by far the one that reached out from the story for being genuine and wanted others, including her family, to recognize that she looks underneath the surface of an individual.
Beneatha always made a point of how she thinks a person should be judged for what is on the inside, a characteristic that was passed down from generation to generation” (Gordon 128). This trait of Beneatha’s appears the most toward the end of the story when her family is facing trauma. Although she rejected her brother earlier in the play, he still stands up for her and the family by discarding Mr. Lindner’s racist overtures. Beneatha and the entire Younger family learn how to grow where they’re planted.
Even though she has a strong personality, she still functions as part of a family and is able to merge her individual dream with the family’s overarching dream. They even move into a home of their own despite the fact the white people there don’t want them there. This act of courage shows the growth of not only Beneatha but the entire Younger family as they’ve learned that together they can weather anything. Unfortunately, Dee ends her story the way she began it, still feeling emotionally detached from her family. She is never able to fully appreciate and understand the importance
Despite possessing a great deal of freedom and autonomy, Dee cannot seem to channel it into happiness or some type of consciousness that will allow her to find some solid ground upon which to build a life. She has constructed a new heritage for herself and rejected her real heritage. She fails to see the meaning and prominence of her family legacy and in essence has little true understanding of Africa. Furthermore, Dee views her real heritage as dead, something of the past, rather than as a living, ongoing creation.
Although her motives may seem pure when she asks for the quilt from her mother, really to her it is nothing more than an artifact of a lost time. This shows how Dee has set herself apart from her family and has rejected her real heritage in favor of a constructed one. In conclusion, while both women appear to want to embrace their culture, Dee does so to be popular, while Beneatha embraces her history because she really loves her family’s deep culture. This highlights that it is not education or money that creates and maintains a family’s rich history, rather its respect and admiration that allow family values to evolve.
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