A Raisin in the Sun fits the definition of realist drama because the play depicts an ordinary family’s challenges, without resorting to melodrama or stilted, artificial language. Realist drama emerged from a wider movement known as “realism,” which swept the literary world in the nineteenth century. Realism transformed nearly every major element of theater, from the dialogue and storytelling of the script itself, to the direction, acting, and artistic design required for the performance. I
n all of these aspects, realist drama sought to move away from melodrama and its exaggerated characters and sensational plot devices. Realist playwrights also avoided dialogue that made use of contrived language that no one would ever actually use off the stage. Often, realist dramas depict the lives of working-class people, and as such they use colloquial speech and regional dialects to enhance the illusion of reality.
Lorraine Hansberry uses many of the conventions of realist drama in A Raisin in the Sun. For one thing, she portrays the everyday challenges and drudgery of a typical working-class family. In the play, the Younger family faces situations that are all realistic, consisting of frustrations with employment, desires for upward mobility, family squabbles, and the exhaustion that sets in from trying to raise children and keep food on the table. Even the most dramatic aspects of the play, like the loss of the family’s insurance money to a two-timing crook, are entirely plausible; Hansberry doesn’t use melodrama to provoke a sense of tragedy.
Finally, the dialogue in the play reproduces the colloquial speech patterns that reflect each character’s particular class background and education. Whereas Mama, Walter, Ruth, and Mrs. Johnson all speak the dialect common in Chicago’s Black community, Beneatha, George Murchison, and Joseph Asagai all speak Standard English in a way that reflects their education.