Taking their readers back to the times when racism was rampant and legal in the U.S., both “Fences” by August Wilson and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry demonstrate the effects racist ideas have on the African American community. Moreover, both plays use symbolism extensively and portray characters through their dreams. However, due to the differences in perspectives, “Fences” tends to portray the drastic impact on the relationships within the African American family, whereas “A Raisin in the Sun” keeps the family integrity intact, pointing to the challenges in its interactions with the White community.
Depicting the lives of African American families in the era of segregation, “Fences” and “A Raisin in the Sun” share quite a number of similarities. Specifically, in “A Raisin in the Sun,” the focus is consistently retained on the relationships between the Youngers and their community: “You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done” (Hansberry, 1959). In comparison, in “Fences,” racism devours the trust and support that the Maxsons’ family members have for one another: “Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you” (Wilson, 1985). Thus, there is a visible thematic distinction between the two plays.
Another important difference that makes “Fences” notably different from “Raisin in the Sun” concerns the nature of the problems that the protagonists in each of the plays have. In “Fences,” the main conflict seems to revolve around Troy’s affair with Alberta: “Troy… that was the hospital. Alberta had the baby” (Wilson, 1985). In turn, “A Raisin in the Sun” introduces much more complex social problems, including employment-, housing-, business-, and education-based discrimination: “Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses” (Hansberry, 1959). Consequently, the nature of each family’s concerns is very different.
Moreover, the dreams that the characters in each play share a little similarity. For instance, Troy’s aspiration to become a professional baseball player is important to his character development. Specifically, Troy’s dream allows him to overcome numerous obstacles, particularly one of fear: “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner” (Wilson). Likewise, in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Walter’s dream of buying “this little liquor store” also fails, yet it becomes a symbol of his strength and cares for his family (Hansberry). Thus, while being quite different, the characters’ dreams in both plays emphasize key themes, namely, those of resilience and family support.
The symbolism of both plays is also quite similar in their effect. Specifically, the “little old plant” that Mama Younger nurtures embodies the love and care that she has for her children and her family in general (Hansberry, 1959). Similarly, in “Fences,” the eponymous object represents both the care that Rose has for her family and the obstacle between Troy and his son: “Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in” (Wilson, 1985). Arguably, the specified sentiment can be extended to the disagreements between older and younger generations overall.
Arguably, there is a plethora of similarities between the two plays, the key one being the family relationships and the way they progress. Though the family dynamics in each household are unique and easily distinguishable from the other, there is an evident sense of similarity between them. Specifically, both the family of Troy and the Younger family experience a dramatic divide, even though in Troy’s case, the rift is significantly larger. Namely, Beneatha outright states that her mother’s way of managing the family is tyrannical: “I also see that everybody thinks it’s all right for Mama to be a tyrant” (Hansberry, 1959). Similarly, in the Maxsons’ family, the rip between Troy and his family members is instantly noticeable, his attitude being borderline indifferent: “I ain’t got no tears. I done spent them” (Wilson, 1985). Thus, the disconnection between family members is apparent in both plays, even though “Fences” make it significantly more pronounced.
Nevertheless, the perspectives offered in each play are quite different. Specifically, “Fences” gives the perspective of Troy and his son primarily, whereas “A Raisin in the Sun” sheds an equal amount of light on each character. Furthermore, the character development observed in both plays demonstrates two different paths. In “Fences,” Cory seems to retain his resentment for Troy, while “A Raisin in the Sun” features a notable change in the protagonist’s attitudes: “I always thought it was the one concrete thing in the world that a human being could do” (Hansberry).
Finally, the core conflict is strikingly different from “Fences,” where the problem comes from Troy having an affair, as opposed to “A Raisin in the Sun,” where racism remains the main issue. Nevertheless, even with these differences, racism still has a tangible and destructive effect on the relationships within the family, slowly making the relationships between the lead characters deteriorate. Overall, despite the presence of a clearly delineated common theme of racism and prejudices, the two plays in question are quite dissimilar since they focus on different aspects of the family.
Caused of differences in the approach that each writer chooses to address the problem of racial discrimination, “Fences” and “A Raisin in the Sun” use different perspectives to address the same problem of racism. Furthermore, both plays incorporate symbolism to render the complexities of familial relationships. The specified approach to character building and plot development allows for a nuanced and relatable portrayal of the lead characters both in Wilson’s and Hansberry’s works. Finally, the dreams that the protagonists shape their relationships in both “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Fences,” thus, allowing for an in-depth character study.
Hansberry, L. (1959). A raisin in the sun.
Wilson, A. (1985). Fences. Archive.org.