Rebellion and Conformity
Many times in our lives we are faced with the challenge of whether to make our decisions based on the opinion of others in the society and our family or to follow our desires. Regardless of age, economic status, religion or background, we have to decide whether to conform or rebel to societal standards to achieve our dreams. The main characters in Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ depict this struggle all too well. We should always follow our hearts in making our decisions but also take the opinions of others into consideration.
‘A Raisin in the Sun’ portrays the life of the Younger family living in the South Side of Chicago in the mid-1900s. Lena Younger is the matriarch of her family. She is popularly known as Mama. Her husband Walter Younger died before the play begins and the family is awaiting his life insurance check. Lena and Walter had two children, Walter their elder son and Beneatha, their daughter is the younger of the two. Walter is married to Ruth, and together they have a son known as Travis. The whole family lives in the same house.
The main point of interest in the story is the life insurance check. Each of the family members has an opinion on what they would like to do with the money. Before his death, Walter and Mama had a desire to buy a new home for their family. Mama still holds this desire dear to her heart and would like to buy a new house. Her son Walter has a different opinion. He works as a chauffeur, a job that he finds to be demeaning and embarrassing. “Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine, and I say, “Yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?” Mama, that ain’t no kind of job …” (Hansberry 74). He would rather open a liquor store in partnership with Bobo under the guidance of Willy Harris.
Walter’s wife Ruth shares Mama’s idea to buy a new home so that they can have more space. Matters are further complicated when Ruth finds out that she is pregnant and is afraid that they cannot afford a new baby at the time of financial struggle. Beneatha, the Younger’s daughter, would rather use the money to go to medical school, an idea which Walter vehemently opposes. He tells her that she should just become a nurse like any other woman, showing his disdain for women. , “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ’bout messing ’round with sick people—then go be a nurse like other women—or just get married and be quiet …”(Hansberry 41).
The play shows how the family deals with the conflict. Mama is angry with Ruth for considering the abortion and wants Walter to stop his wife from getting an abortion. Walter, however, says nothing, and this prompts Mama to make a down payment on a new house, explaining that they would do better in a new and happier surrounding. Walter does not let up on his dram, and Mama eventually pities him due to his unhappiness. She instructs him to take some of the money for his business and some for Beneatha’s tuition. Walter disregards her and gives all the money to Willy Harris who disappears with it.
Beneatha is angry with her family’s desire to move to a white neighbourhood and her mother’s wish for her to marry her white, wealthy suitor, George Murchison. The new house Mama bought is in Clybourne Park, which is entirely white. On learning that a black family wants to move in, the residents of the neighbourhood send Mr Karl Lindner with an offer to buy the house at a profit to the Youngers. “Our association is prepared, through the collective effort of our people, to buy the house from you at a financial gain to your family.” (Hansberry 118).
The main protagonists in the story are Walter and Mama. Walter is very unhappy with his job as a chauffeur and wants to start a business with his friends. He believes that a business is the only way for his family to gain financial freedom. Walter is rebellious in his desire; his mother despises the idea of a liquor business. His decision is a sign of rebellion. Walter should not be rebellious but instead, consider his mother and wife’s onions. His disregard for any other opinions rather than his own eventually lands the whole family in trouble. Mama advised him to give only part of the money to Willy Harris, but he gives away all of it.
In this case, rebellion is not a good idea. All of the family’s opinion on what to do with the money was entirely valid. Mama’s decision to buy a house would have been the beat so that the family could get more space. Mama eventually relents and agrees to give Walter part of the money to open the liquor store. Walter’s conformity would have served the family better, he could have opened his store, Beneatha would have gone to college, and they would have got a new home. Rebellion proves to be detrimental.
Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ revolves around the Willy Loman, his wife Linda and their two sons Biff and Happy. Willy Loman is failing at his job as a salesman and has just come back from a sales trip. He has begun to drift into a daydream and often mutters to himself in hallucinations. Biff and Happy have come to visit their parents and spend time thinking about their years as adolescents. Biff used to be a football star in high school, and this made him very popular. Willy holds the belief that a person has to be likeable and popular to be successful. He remarks that his neighbour’s son Charley who is an accountant will not be successful because he is not well liked by people.
Willy tries to ask his boss to let him work in New York, but Howard refuses. The two sons dream about buying a ranch out in the West as they are not happy about their lives. Willy has a hallucination about his mistress which leaves him agitated, and he shouts his regret of not having moved to Alaska with his brother he exclaims, “What’s the mystery? The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich! The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress!” ( Miller Act 1). His neighbour comes in, and they play cards together. Charley is confused with Willy’s speech and questions Willy who gets angry, causing Charley to leave. Biff and Happy take their father to dinner one night. Biff is mad at his father for having an affair. Willy gets fired from his job and asks Charley for a loan and Charley offers him a job. Willy eventually kills himself so that his life insurance can benefit his family. Linda cries at her husband’s funeral but is also relieved to be free of him at last.
Willy Loman is the main protagonist in the story as he experiences a lot of transformations. His conformity is what leads to his family to trouble. He believes that the only way to succeed is to be likeable and work hard which is not always the case. He blames their misfortunes on population growth. “There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side… How can they whip cheese?” (Miller, Act 1) The American Dream cannot just be achieved because people like you, you have to believe in something and put a lot of effort into it. He berates his sons for not making anything of themselves. He would like to keep up an expensive lifestyle with a costly car and costly appliances when he cannot afford them. If he were to instil values of hard work in his sons, they would be more successful. Society may want a person to act in a certain way, but every person should choose what they want.
In my own experience, both conformity and rebellion have their pros and cons. For young people, they face many challenges that leave them in a dilemma. For example, when I completed high school, I felt that I did not want to go to college. I thought I would spend some time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Having gotten admission into a good college, not taking it up would be a sign of rebellion. I spoke to my parents who assured me that they understood my feelings, but they also thought I should go to college. College is about getting a good education but its also about many positive and life-changing experiences. In the process, I got to meet many new friends, go on great adventures, have great experiences and also find my purpose in life. Going to college for me has been a time of exploration and after this; I do not doubt that I will find something that makes me happy and fulfilled. Conformity worked out for me. Some parents force their children to become doctors, lawyers and engineers even if the children have no interest. In such cases, it would pay off to stand up for yourself and your dreams even if means rebelling against your parents’ beliefs and desires (Pervin).
Rebellion, on the other hand, was a plus for Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who dropped out of college to pursue their dreams (Watt). Mark founded Facebook and believed in his vision enough to drop out of Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities. His rebellion paid off, and he is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Likewise, Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College to establish all things Apple (Lakin). If the two men had not taken a risk, the world would not be the same today.
Rebellion and conformity have been shown to work in different instances. Many people have passions and dreams that the rest of society may frown upon and not believe in. Self-Belief and confidence should be the primary driver. However, in cases such as Steve jobs, taking the road less travelled requires a clear purpose which will act as a guide. Conformity can stifle great ideas as a person is afraid to stand out from among their peers. Walter in ‘A Raisin in the Sum’ would have benefited from taking his mother’s advice. It is essential to take into consideration the opinion of those older and more experienced than us before making any decisions .
Hansberry, Lorraine. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Samuel French, Inc., 1984.
Lakin, Patricia. Steve Jobs: thinking differently. Simon and Schuster, 2015.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Revised Edition. Penguin, 1996.
Pervin, Lawrence A., Louis E. Reik, and Willard Dalrymple. The college dropout and the utilization of talent. Vol. 2058. Princeton University Press, 2015.
Watt, Peter. “The rise of the ‘dropout entrepreneur’: dropping out,‘self-reliance’and the American myth of entrepreneurial success.” Culture and Organization 22.1 (2016): 20-43.