There is always something left to love
BENEATHA: Be on my side for once! You saw what he just did, Mama! You saw him – down on his knees. Wasn’t it you who taught me to despise any man who would do that? Do what he’s going to do?
MAMA: Yes – I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too… I thought I taught you to love him.
BENEATHA: Love him? There is nothing left to love.
MAMMA: There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. (Looking at her) Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.
A Raisin in the Sun had its debut on Broadway on March 11, 1959. I was born in 1959 and I have a curiosity about things that come from my year. Learn about the year you were born. You will have a deeper appreciation for the speed of truly historic change.
A Raisin in the Sun holds two notable firsts: first Broadway play by a Black author and first Broadway play with a Black director. It’s about family, hope and money, from the microcosm of three generations of one family living in a cramped apartment in a poor area of Chicago’s South Side – too many people living in too little space. The matriarch has come into some money and there is much discussion about how to spend it. While examining the question of what to do with the money, Hansberry’s characters show us their strengths and weaknesses, dreams and fears… and most of the big social issues of 1959, some of which extend to this day.
As the play ends, they are moving out of the apartment, having put some of the money down on a nice house in an all-White neighborhood where other residents do not want “colored” neighbors. The rest of the money is gone, stolen by a con artist who took advantage of one family member’s greed. In the 1961 movie version, Sidney Poitier’s interpretation of this man creates a character we would be relieved to see them leave behind. The family is broken and in turmoil. Mama’s response? “There’s always something left to love.” Drawn together by her fire and strength, they all stand tall and come together.
The entire play takes place in the apartment. We don’t see what happens in the outside world, and we don’t know how they end up. We are left to imagine. It’s an interesting device.
To the Future
I invite you to imagine that what goes on inside your head may be like your own cramped apartment. Are you imagining what direction you’d take, if you were to step outside? Are you fantasizing about building the future, or really breaking ground? Are you going to the same place, the way you’ve almost always seen it? How would you know if you’d left your “apartment,” and could you?
Beneatha, the character whose mother I quoted today, is an irrepressible 20 year-old college student who wants to be a doctor. She describes herself as looking for her identity. Beneatha’s Nigerian admirer calls her “Alaiyo,” meaning “one for whom bread – food – is not enough.”
What did you want to do when you grew up? What is your “not enough,” today?