For many years, various concepts concerning familial/financial and racism have been an important part of pop culture. The 1959 play, “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry and the 1971-1979 American sitcom, “All in the Family” are examples of two forms of media that touch upon these topics, despite the characters having different backgrounds, ideals, and views about how life should be.
The play, “A Raisin in the Sun” centers on a poor black family who acquire ten thousand dollars from the family’s late patriarch’s ensured passing. The Younger family, consisting of Lena, Ruth, Walter, Beneatha and Travis Younger are in a situation in which all they really have to hold on to are their dreams, but these dreams sometimes do not come true in the story, or cause the characters to make rash decisions that negatively affect the plot.
In “All in the Family” specifically the episode, “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood,” Bunker family’s patriarch Archie, who is a bigot, tries to convince his family to help him keep new black neighbors from taking up residence, though his family does not support him or his ideas and the African-American neighbors seem perfectly content with living in his neighborhood.
Despite the two different genres, protagonists, and purposes for being written, these two modes of entertainment have a lot in common; these significant similarities being the contrasts between “traditional” and “modern” ideals, an African-American family being discriminated against by white neighbors, and a black family’s refusal to move out of a white neighborhood despite being unwanted.
The first significant similarity between these two stories is the clash between an older generation’s “traditional” ideas and a younger generation’s “modern” ideas. In “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lena Younger (also called Mama in the stage directions) gets into an argument with her daughter Beneatha about the existence of a God. In the first scene, Mama, who believes there is a God, grows extremely aggravated with her daughter, who blatantly denies it. Despite any valid evidence either party raises during the conflict, it ultimately results in Mama pulling rank over Beneatha.
Being a follower of traditional belief, Mama promptly shuts Beneatha down. In this scene, Mama represents traditional ideology while in contrast, Beneatha represents modern ideology. They clash, being direct opposites and cause conflict between mother and daughter, however menial.
This conflict between Mama and Beneatha is a near match to one that occurred in “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood.” Similarly in this episode, Archie and his son-in-law bicker over President Nixon and his performance as the president of the U.S. This scene occurs early in the episode (coincidentally, the conflict between Mama and Beneatha happened early in the story as well); instead of arguing over religion, Michael and Archie argue over politics. Michael rather validly insists that Nixon is not a great president and gives multiple examples as to why and how he has negatively affected the country; Archie’s main argument seems to only be: “In my house, the President is respected, effects on the nation aside.”
These two scenes are similar because the older generation (represented by Archie and Mama) are defending their beliefs, which are under attack by more modern ideas from the younger generation (Beneatha and Michael). Therefore, based on these two scenes, there is evidence proving the similarities between the two pieces.
Another similarity between them is that a black family is discriminated against by white neighbors. Though the audience never gets to see what happens to the Younger family after they move to Clybourne Park, a predominantly white neighborhood, it is evident by Karl Lindner’s visit that the residents of Clybourne did not want any black neighbors. Karl Lindner makes his first appearance in Scene Three of Act Two, representing the “welcoming” committee of Clybourne Park, his real intentions being to bribe them. He comes to the Younger household to make an offer to buy back the house on Clybourne Park for what the family had paid for initially.
Lindner’s reasoning was that segregation was best for the family, but in reality, the offer’s only purpose was to keep African-Americans out of Clybourne Park and uphold the norm: white superiority. Archie Bunker tries to do the same thing in “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood.” He tries to convince his family to help him scrounge enough money to buy back the house from the new family that moved in, who were also African-American. In the scene in which he tries to convince his family, he has just discovered Mr. Bowman, a former neighbor, sold the house to African-Americans, to his astonishment.
When he reveals this to his family, he portrays this as some big deal, when in reality, it is not. He even tries to explain it to them using racial slurs, clearly exhibiting his racist views toward them, and showing that to him African-Americans are synonymous with these slurs. While Archie is far more outright about his views and dislikes of African-Americans, it is evident he feels the same way about them as Lindner does: that they are inferior and should be separate from white people. Karl Linder and Archie are both examples of racist discrimination.
The final similarity between the two stories is that when the new black family is presented with an offer by white residents to leave their new home for money, they refuse. When Karl Lindner explains to the Youngers that the white residents of Clybourne Park oppose their moving in, their pride results in a prompt kicking-out-of-the-house for Mr. Lindner, and by the end of the play, they firmly decide to move to Clybourne Park. After Karl Lindner becomes clearer about his ulterior motives, the Youngers become very angry with him. Beneatha, Ruth, and Walter see Karl’s suggestion as a threat to their dignity. The money they would receive if they sold back their house represents them accepting that, as Mama would say, “they [are not] fit to walk on the Earth.”
Despite how Lindner tries to portray it, his offer is not for the benefit of the Youngers, but for the reinstitution of the unspoken and immoral rule: that black people are not meant to have white privileges, are not meant to advance in the world. The Youngers would not accept this, and adamantly refused to take up his offer. While less dramatically, Lionel also refuses not take up a similar offer.
In “Lionel Moves into the Neighborhood,” Archie tries to convince Lionel (an African-American man who seems to be familiar with the Bunker family) to talk the new black family into selling their house, not knowing that Lionel was a member of the family moving into the neighborhood. This scene occurs after Archie conveys his idea to his family, with no support from any of them; they see nothing wrong with a black family moving in.
When Archie tries to explain his plan to Lionel, whom he sees as a wingman of sorts, there is a comedic scene in which Lionel mockingly acts surprised at Archie’s “news,” until revealing he is a member of the new African-American family. These scenes are examples of how a plan meant to strip African-Americans of their dignity backfires—Lindner is thrown out of the Younger household when suggesting they move, and when Archie tries to do the same thing using money as a tool, like Lindner did, Lionel shuts him down, amused. One can clearly conclude that these two scenes are very similar.
Based on these three examples, it is easy to see the similarities between the two stories. First there is conflict, whether over religion or politics, between an older generation’s “traditional” ideals and a younger generation’s “modern” ideals. Second, there is racial tension between a black family and white residents because the African-Americans are unwanted in their new home. Finally, despite racial tensions and the residents’ efforts to keep the black family out of the neighborhood using money, the family decides to move into the neighborhood anyway. These themes are found not only in these two examples, but in many other forms of literature around the world. They reflect both important issues brought up and history, and ultimately move the plot of the story forward into a more relatable literary work.
Olivia Pinney is a high school senior from Massachusetts who loves traditional and illustrative art and writing. She has been writing and publishing her creative artwork, fiction and non-fiction across genres since she attended elementary school. Her other interests and hobbies include reading, music, and anime.