The Differences and Similarities between Maya Angelou’s and Lorraine Hansberry’s characters.
Written works usually reflect themes and events through the author’s consciousness and the writer’s perception of things shows very well in the personalities of the main characters. Maya Angelou’s novel “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” depicts the events from her own life and shows many obstacles which she had to go through on the way of the happiness which she was dreaming about. Lorraine Hansberry’s play “Raisin in the Sun” has a different genre but deals with the same problems as the ones depicted in Maya Angelou’s novel- poverty, sufferings and humiliation because of racism but it introduces to the reader a completely opposite type of the heroine- a strong black woman with high self-esteem who knows what she wants in life and is going to fight for her rights without subterfuges, and this creates basis for detailed simile.
Maya Angelou represents her outlook through the consciousness of a particular girl (herself) who suffers from race and gender inferiority and who has to overcome those complexes to get peace on her mind. Lorraine Hansberry gives a complex image of 3 female characters in the play who represent youth, middle age and older age and who all together provide an image of the major heroine who is a struggler and has always been proud of her race, gender and culture.
Lorraine Hansberry captures all the features of a black female fighter in her characters.
Even though the situation of characters in both works is the same, they regard life in different ways and this shapes their future. In Lorraine Hansberry’s play all 3 female characters are described as strong black women free from any kinds of complexes and able to struggle against any sort of racial discrimination. Lena is described as “…a woman who has adjusted to many things in life and overcome many more, her face is full of strength. She has, we can see, wit and faith of a kind that keep her eyes lit and full of interest and expectancy. She is, in a word, a beautiful woman. ” (6, pg. 22.)
Lena has suffered very much during her whole life but she didn’t give up since her early years. She has always been proud of her race and she has learned to overcome all the obstacles life was putting in front of her. When she sees her son Walter has turned out a very selfish person, she cries out: “Something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too… You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done…” (6, pg.62). All of this woman’s life was a struggle and she expects everybody to take her as an example. The family she has is very poor and after her husband’s death life became very hard but Lena never gave up in her life and she is not going to do that now.
Other 2 characters shaping the image of the black female fighter in the novel include Ruth and Beneatha. Beneatha is a young girl who realizes that she should be proud of the black color of skin which she has and of her roots. She would never want to become a white girl and she regards them as snobbish people she would never want to look like. She feels particular disgust towards rich black people who are behaving just like whites: “The Murchisons are honest-to-God-real-live-rich-colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people.” (6, pg. 34). Beneatha realizes that the most important thing in her life is studying and getting a profession, she wants to develop her mind and outlook.
Ruth represents a middle-aged woman who is very unhappy that her son is living in a poor house and doesn’t even have a proper place to sleep on. When Ruth gets pregnant and realizes they would have no money to raise the kid, she even thinks about doing an abortion. No matter how miserable Ruth’s relationship with her husband is, she always remains a strong person with very high moral values. According to the description given we can conclude that Lorraine Hansberry’s heroine never stops in front of obstacles, is an optimist and is never afraid to load responsibility on her shoulders because she has high self-pride.
Maya Angelou’s heroine has to overcome many complexes to become a “formidable character”.
In contrast to the image of a strong black woman described above, Maya Angelou’s heroine appears to be more of a lyrical character and a complete opposite because her life perception is completely different. Even though Maya always had Mamma and Bailey to count on, she was still feeling lonely and subtle, so most of her complexes were caused by that feeling. Even though Ruth in “Raisin in the Sun” has no parents and lives with her husband’s family, she learns to love them and she feels happy with them because she wants that. Beneatha has forever lost her father and Lena- her husband, but they never feel lonely as long as they have somebody to rely on. Maya still has a feeling of being neglected by her parents and she fails to focus on the deep and unconditional love which her grandmother and brother provide for her, she feels out of sorts Mamma’s house: “I didn’t come to stay.” (1, pg.3).
Another big difference between the authors’ perception is the opinion of humiliation and segregation because of racism and female gender. Maya considers her gender inferior and thinks that men can achieve much more owing to their physical strength and a better appearance than hers. This perception serves as a foil for Lorraine Hansberry regards female gender as an advantage because in many situations a woman has to take responsibility on her shoulders and often gets much better results than a man and the whole play reflects this opinion.
A great source of Maya’s sufferings lies in the fact that she is black, she considers herself ugly and sometimes starts dreaming so much that even imagines she is white. She considers white people angels. shows she wants to be like them with a metaphor: “I remember never believing that whites were really real.” (1,pg. 25). Maya regards her present life as suffering from her skin color: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” (1, pg.6). Lorraine Hansberry’s heroines are proud of their race and no matter how many painful experiences they go through in life, they don’t give up and don’t lose their self-esteem. They also get humiliated because of race but they go through all the painful situations in their lives with honor.
The situations which happen to the main characters of the novels are similar but they go out of them in different ways. We can compare the situation when the dentist told Maya’s he would rather treat the teeth of the dog than her teeth: ”…my policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” (1, pg. 184) to the episode when Karl Linder told the Youngers that the white people didn’t want to have them in their neighborhood: “Well – I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted?”(6, 105). However, the characters react in a completely different way on that. If Maya surrenders and suffers, Lorraine Hansberry’s heroine fights for her rights and finally achieves all the dreams come true.
The main differences between Hansberry’s and Angelou’s heroines lie in their perception of the world. Hansberry’s heroine is an optimist who fights during her whole life and has learned to be happy at what she has, while Angelou’s heroine needs at first to overcome all of her complexes, gain her self-pride and only after she achieves this, she is able to turn into that “formidable character” which she admires. If Hansberry’s heroine has already made sure her dreams come true and her hopes will never dry like a raisin in the sun, Maya still has to do all the fighting in order to achieve all the goals which she has set. The end of the novel reflects the positive change in Maya’s self-perception and her confidence in the happy future as she believes that she can obtain anything she wants in the world as long as she puts her efforts in it.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
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Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Twayne Publishers: New York, 1994.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House: New York, 1959.
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McMurry, Myra. “Role-Playing as Art in Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird.”