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A Raisin in the Sun: Mama's Plant

In the beginning of A Raisin in the Sun, Mama “goes to the window, opens it, and brings in a feeble little plant growing doggedly in a small pot on the window sill (1779).” What does Mama’s plant represent? How does the symbol of Mama’s plant evolve over the course of the play? What does it reveal about the characters and the historical context of the play?

Comments (6)

Michelle Thompson [TypeKey Profile Page]:

At the time of "A Raisin in the Sun," African Americans were on the cusp of a new era. As Mama realizes in the play, "once upon a time, freedom used to be life - now its money. I guess the world really do change.... (1796)." New generations were developing new values and new objectives. In addition to this shift in ideals, unrest lingered because black Americans were still in the midst of racism, segregation, and other forms of political injustice. Throughout the play, Hansberry uses the experiences of the Younger family to illustrate the tensions arising amongst the black family on the cusp of the Civil Rights Era. Mama's plant, especially, represents African Americans, who having gained freedom and distance from the chains of slavery, were still struggling to thrive in America. Throughout the play, the descriptions and locations of the plant symbolize the status and role of the African American in America. Hansberry introduces the plant as "a feeble little plant growing doggedly (1779)." From the beginning the plant is described as something lacking strength and growing somewhat waywardly. Mama then compares the plant to her children, Beneatha and Walter, when she says they are "like this little old plant that ain't never had enough sunshine or nothing - and look at it... (1786)." Hansberry, through Mama's love for her plant, is expressing how the African American continues to adapt to life in America. Sunshine might symbolize acceptance or relief from hardship. Thus, though disrespected and made to feel inferior, black Americans continue to press on in their growth, despite the lack of sunshine. Hansberry stresses the dreariness and darkness of the Youngers' apartment, especially when she says that "the sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through (1771) the little window in the kitchen. Again, the sunshine evades the plant, yet the plant continues to grow. Even though Beneatha, Walter and Ruth all belittle the plant, calling it "raggedy-looking (1815)" and the like, Mama continues to have faith in her plant, because she recognizes the plant's stubbornness to grow. Mama even says that the plant is the closest she will get to having a garden (1786). The plant, in its old and decrepit state, is still something that Mama is proud of, because it gives her hope for the future and satisfaction for the present. The plant is barely living, like the Younger family, and African Americans in general, because of the stifling environment and limited opportunities for personal mobility, but it is most important to note that all three are still surviving. The environment leads us to the importance of the plant's location. Despite everyone's low expectations of the plant, Mama makes sure to "fix [her] plant so it won't get hurt none on the way (1815)" to the new house. In the sequence of events, the plant starts out on the windowsill, which is outside and detached from the family, and then is picked up my mama when she is moving to the new house. This kind of imagery could represent Hansberry's hope that the black American would, in time, be accepted and welcomed into American society. When Mama is disappointed with the way Beneatha isolates her brother, she "goes to her plant... looks at it, picks it up and takes it to the window sill and sits it outside (1824)." The plant, when outside, shows how the African American is a kind of outcast, a being that is not accepted or understood by those around it; sometimes not even Mama can understand it, so she places it outside. The last action of the play, when Mama "goes out... and comes back in, grabs her plant, and goes out for the last time (1830)," is an incredibly important section. By leaving the plant, and then coming back for it, Hansberry might be suggesting that black Americans might be forgotten or isolated in the course of American politics or culture, but that with time and thinking, America will realize the importance of the African American. And hopefully, white America will come to recognize the African American as part of the family, like Mama does in the play. Mama's plant is not just an object, but a metaphor for the black American. The plant, like the African American, is not as strong as it could be, and many people disregard its perseverance, however, one person, Mama, believes in the plant. Just like Mama, Hansberry and other writers believed in the strength of the black community, and were willing to "sprinkle a little water on it (1786)," through their writings, to help it to face its obstacles and continue to grow.

Jess Jardine:

Hansberry, during the time that she wrote A Raisin in the Sun, was describing the shift between the values of the older black generation and the values of the new one. This shift is best described by Mama who says that freedom used to be what black people were striving to get and her children's generation was more concerned with money. While the Younger family may not have still been dealing with trying to find their freedom from slavery, they were trying to find their financial freedom in the midst of racism as well as segregation. Hansberry uses various locations and descriptions of Mama's plant to represent African Americans who were trying to be successful in America. It serves as a representation of their setbacks and victories in America. In the beginning of A Raisin in the Sun, Mama "goes to the window, opens it, and brings in a feeble little plant growing doggedly in a small pot on the window sill (1779)." This plant is a representation of Mama's dream for her family and how she continues to nurture and care for her dream. Tending to her plant is the first thing that Mama does in the morning; from the beginning of the play we see that her plant -her dream- is of the highest importance to her. Mama admits that the plant has never had enough sunshine but still survives. In other words, her dream has always been deferred but still remains strong. The plant is described as feeble and little. The plant is struggling to survive. It is not a very good environment for the plant to grow and yet, it still does. Mama's care for her plant is similar to her care for her children- unconditional and unending despite a less-than-perfect environment for growth. Like the plant, her children don't have much monetarily but they do get all of her love and care, and therefore, still flourish. As African Americans they have learned how to be successful despite their hardships. Mama brings the plant inside. This seems to represent the two worlds that the plant grows in: The outside- American- world and the inside -African American- one. The plant remains weak while it is outside and Mama brings it inside to give it special care and attention. Just as the white community does not seem to care about them, it is important for African Americans to care for and nurture each other to help them survive outside. The thought of the plant makes life worth living at the present because it represents the work you're doing now and how far you've come. It also gives one hope for the future- something to strive towards- because it can continue to grow with proper care. Mama always thinks about her future when she cares for the plant. She says, "But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams I had 'bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back" (1782). Her success with the plant helps her believe that she would be successful as a gardener. Her persistence and dedication to the plant fosters her hope that her dream may come true. Her tending to the plant shows her dedication to her dream. The fact that the garden will be in the back seems to show that while her dream may be realized, there is still more work for the African-American to do- to bring the garden to the front. By the end of the play, Mama's dream is fulfilled when the Younger family decides to move into a house in a white neighborhood. Mama decides to bring the plant with her to their new home. In doing so, she gives a new significance to the plant. While it initially stands for her deferred dream, now, as her dream comes true, it reminds her of her strength in working and waiting for so many years. When asked if she is really going to bring such a "raggedy" plant with her when the family moves, Mama says, "It expresses me" (1815). Mama is expressed through her actions with the plant. After finding out that Walter's friend has run away with the family's money, Mama is disappointed because it appears that her dream will not come true. She can not believe what has happened and "She goes to her plant, which has remained on the table, looks at it, picks it up, and takes it to the window sill and sits it outside... Then she closes the window, straightens her body with effort, and turns around to her children" (1824). Mama puts the plant back outside. This seems to be a statement on how she can not keep her dreams too close to her for fear of disappointment. She can see the plant- her dreams- through the window, but the plant remains intangible. Mama has to straighten her body with effort before turning around- it is difficult to ignore her dreams, especially when you were so close to achieving them. Mama has a change of heart when it is time for the family to move. She will not move into the new house without her plant. Before they leave, Mama leaves the plant on the table but then, "The door opens and she comes back in, grabs her plant, and goes out for the last time" (1830). By leaving the plant and then coming back for it, it seems that black Americans may lose sight of their dreams but they never forget them. As a symbol of black Americans, Mama's returning for the plant may also be a way of saying African-Americans are important, and can not be overlooked. As the family is about to move into a white neighborhood that does not want them to come, the plant serves as a kind of inspiration. Mama returns for the plant because it reminds her of her hardships and the attainment of her dream. The plant is a member of the family that has suffered with them. Hopefully, one day, white America will see African Americans as part of the American family. Like Mama, Hansberry believed in the strength of the black community and wanted to use her writing to turn the feeble plant that we saw in the beginning into a beautiful garden.

Thomas Tullius:

In "A Raisin in the Sun," the manifestation of the American Dream takes on many forms depending on the character. Beneatha sees the dream as the opportunity to become a doctor. Being a doctor will give her the economic freedom to make her own decisions and be independent. Walter's dream is to be wealthy and powerful so that he can provide for his family and affirm his manhood. Mama, who remembers her cultural past as the descendant of share croppers, has a much simpler dream-to be free and supply her family with necessities. At the beginning of the play, her "feeble looking plant" symbolizes her version of the American Dream, but as the story unfolds, the plant and its future begin to take on the more complex dreams of her children.
Mama has lived in the same small, dark apartment on the Southside of Chicago for many years. Through the years, Mama has kept a withered plant which symbolizes her version of the American Dream. In 1950's Chicago, this dream is to own a home and give your children the necessities they need because Mama "ain't never really wanted nothing that wasn't for [Walter]" (1808). No matter how hard she tries to help that plant grow, she cannot make it bloom, because it cannot get enough sun in that apartment. This mirrors the economic situation that keeps her from owning her own home. Achieving her dream seems unlikely but she never loses hope. "Well I always wanted me a garden like I used to see sometimes at the back of the houses down home. The plant is as close as I ever got to having one" (1786). She keeps the plant and her dreams alive and at the end her persistence and faith is rewarded.
She tries to nurture both the plant and her dream, and although the existence of both is a struggle, they survive In the process, both the plant and her children learn to be tough and "spirited." "[Looking at her plant and sprinkling a little water on it] They spirited all right, my children...Like this little old plant that ain't never had enough sunshine or nothing--and look at it" (1786). The absence of comfort in the lives of Walter and Beneatha has an effect that is unexpected. Instead of being downtrodden, the struggle encourages them to dream even bigger than their parents. They no longer dream of a pained existence in poverty but of the luxury that economic freedom brings. The American Dream has unquestionably changed. It is no longer enough to just get by and be able to stand on your own two feet. As Mama says to Walter, "So now it's life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life--now it's money. I guess the world really do change..." (1796). No longer are they content to survive in a dimly lit environment, they need the confines of a fertile garden with a filled with sunlight and a bright future.
Beneatha's vision of the American Dream is to be independent and reliant on her self, not a man. "I'm going to be a doctor. I'm not worried about who I'm going to marry yet--if I ever get married" (1785). As a doctor, she will have the economic flexibility to live out her feminist dreams.
To Walter, the American dream is to be the ideal man who takes care of his family. "Hell, yes, I want me some yachts someday! Yes, I want to hang some real pearl's 'round my wife's neck" (1826). His ambition is to accumulate wealth and provide for his family, thus re-establishing his manhood. In the end, it seem the plant will finally be potted in its garden and the children seem to be in the process of following suit.
In some ways the plant's evolving representation is a sign of progress. While African Americans still struggle with poverty, their dreams have evolved. No longer is the younger generation of African Americans dreaming to survive. Walter and Beneatha want the best the world has to offer and even feel a sense of entitlement to those dreams. The dreams of African Americans are no longer a solitary, withered potted plant, but a fertile garden.
The American Dream has evolved over the course of the century. As the play progresses, the transformation from a little plant on the window sill to a flourishing garden is like that of the adaptation of dreams between the generations. Mama's "feeble little plant" is symbolic of the much larger dream she covets, to provide for her family and have the freedom to own her own home. Much larger, fertile, and more economical based aspirations occupy her children.

Danny Scotton Jr.:

When the character of Mama first appears in the play, Raisin in the Sun, she brings in the "feeble little plant" that was growing in a small pot on the window sill, she feels the dirt and then puts the plant back (39). Next, she asks who had been slamming the door so early in the morning. Ruth tells Mama that her two children, Beneatha and Walter had been arguing again. She responds, "My children and they tempers. Lord if this little old plant don't get more sun, than it's been getting it ain't never going to see spring again" (40). This abrupt change in topic has a purpose. Throughout the play, the feeble little plant symbolizes the welfare, mental, physical, spiritual, and economic, of Mama's family. As the current head of the household, everyday Mama checks to see how everyone is doing and mediates rising conflicts when necessary. In the same way, every morning Mama feels the dirt of her feeble plant to make sure it's moist enough. She then, most likely, intervenes (waters the plant) when necessary. Mama says that the "feeble plant" might not make it to next spring if it doesn't get more sun that it has been getting. Similarly, her struggling family needs some source of hope, some type of boost or a lift, because she senses the that welfare of the family is deteriorating. Mentally, Walter Lee feels like he cannot truly be a man in his current condition. He is basically a servant at work, a chauffeur, and a servant at home since Mama is still the head of the household. He feels that black women should support their black men and make them feel like they are something (). He does not receive that sort of treatment from his outspoken sister, his mother, or his wife, and he does not feel like a man. His wife, Ruth, is suffering physically as a hard-working, but pregnant woman. She even falls out and faints at the end of Act I Scene I. The spiritual welfare of Beneatha is questionable as well. Mother literally has to slap some sense into her when Beneatha claims that she doesn't believe in God. And lastly, the family is at a financial stand-still before the insurance check arrives. The Younger Family is the feeble plant that won't make it to next spring unless they receive more sunlight. On Page 52 Mama says, "They spirited, all right, my children. Got to admit they got spirit -Beneatha and Walter. Like this little old plant that ain't ever had enough sunshine or nothing -and look at it..." Along the same lines, the Younger family has never had enough "sunshine", but yet they continue to press on and try to better their situation. Then, on page 123, while the family takes a break from packing in preparation for their move in to Clybourne Park, Mama symbolically receives gardening tools as a gift from her family. Mama, now has the tools to prune and cultivate a new garden when they move into their new house. Likewise, the Younger finally have a chance for upward social mobility and the ability to "move on up" by purchasing a home. The Youngers had previously been a feeble plant that received no sunshine, and now they have the possibility to actually grow and to fully blossom.

Mai Hinton:

A Raisin in the Sun is a play rooted in the strengths and weaknesses of the African-Americans in the 1970s. There is a focus on a generation coming up without the memories and firsthand knowledge about the struggles of slavery and the ensuing violent racism and discrimination of Jim Crowe. Still, Mama presents the past for which the hardships of Black people is very real for her and the future is brighter than ever before even though she must deal with the present to get there. The feeble little plant which is so dear to Mama in represents the passage of time for her - it is her past, present and future.
Mama's plant is described as "a feeble little plant" that sits on the windowsill observing the family in their daily activities (1779). It is lovingly cared for by Mama and she returns to it several times during the play. Although it is small and frail, it is still holds great significance in the play. The plant's position in the windowsill symbolizes that it is like a passage to the future. Mama knows the potential that her family holds to make a difference in the future, and she knows her dream of moving into a nice house is a real possibility in her lifetime. She also knows that the future depends on change in the present. She claims that her children are very much like her plant in that "they ain't never had enough sunshine or nothing" (1786). And, Mama had commented earlier in the play that "if this little old plant don't get more sun than it's been getting it ain't never going to see spring again" (1780). The need for change is imperative now because the family is obviously falling apart with Walter and Beneatha fighting, Ruth's unplanned pregnancy, and Mama's doubts about Walter becoming the man that his father was - even going as far as claiming Walter is "a disgrace to [his] father's memory" (1796).
While there is an immense on the future and the present, the little plant also represents the past. It has been undoubtedly been a companion of Mama's for a long time because she has formed the kind of attachment to it that can only developed over a significant amount of time. The image of roots stabilizing the plant is conjured when one analyzes the significance of the plant in the same way that Mama stabilizes and lends strength to the entire family throughout the play. She claims that "the plant expresses me" - her struggles, her disappointments, her hope, and her pride of what she has accomplished and what her family is going to accomplish (1815).

Dharia Balthazar:

I think "A Raisin in the Sun" i s a great book. It is a good read for everybody from any age.

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