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The Major Role of Hansberry’s Minor Characters

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Shara Kleiman


Dr. Wise

April 2nd 2019


                                                      The Major Role of Hansberry’s Minor Characters

Two of the minor characters in A Raisin in the Sun: Joseph Asagai and George Murchison, play important roles in the development of the play’s central themes as well as in representing different, yet crucial political perspectives. Joseph Asagai believes that black Americans should be more in touch with their African roots and injects the play with symbolism, whereas George Murchison thinks that this is a ‘’sentimental waste of time’'(Foertsch,408), and is perfectly content with assimilating into white American culture. While Joseph Asagai and George Murchison are central to the play in their representation of contrasting ideologies, they also serve to develop our understanding of central characters Beneatha and Walter Lee as well as Hansberry’s view on male dominance.

Joseph Asagai and George Murchison play major roles in developing multiple key themes that run throughout the play. Some of which include Assimilation vs. African identity, dreams, and the theme of male dominance over women.

Joseph Asagai’s main function as a character seems to be to inject the play with ‘symbolism’, and to “represent Africa” (Foertsch,409). Asagai represents one extreme of the American debate on assimilation, and his presence in the play forces the audience (and Beneatha) to ask what it truly means to be African American. Asagai provides an international perspective, and knowing that Beneatha has a longing for her identity and roots, he tells her all about Africa and gives her African records and a robe. He even goes as far as to suggest that her straightened hair is a sign that she has “assimilated” into white American culture and that “[she] wears it well” (96) Though Asagai criticizes Beneatha a few times over the course of the play, he seems to do so out of a desire to help her. We see this loving attitude through the fact that while he criticizes her straightened hair, and persuades her to cut it to keep more natural, he is only doing so as to maintain her ‘African look’, and to help her stay connected to her roots. 

Asagai is portrayed in a much more positive light than George Murchison is, and feels more fully drawn and three dimensional. We see Asagai as “strong, independent, and wise,” (Carter, 161) and he stands in obvious contrast to Murchison, who is viewed as “an arrogant African American who has [only] succeeded in life by assimilating to the white world.”(Foertsch, 425)

George Murchison is Asagai's competition for Beneatha’s affections. George is very good looking, and his family is very well off, yet none of this impresses Beneatha. George often gets bored when Beneatha wants to talk about politics with him, and is shown to be a “flat and static character, one without depth (as seen by the fact that he wears no mask)”(Carter,160) In the great debate on assimilation that runs through the play, George represents the total opposite point of view of Asagai. George and his family are perfectly happy with assimilating into white America, whereas Beneatha, and Asagai are not. Although the Youngers approve of George, Beneatha dislikes his willingness to submit to white culture and forget his African heritage, which challenges the thoughts and feelings of other black people through his arrogance and knack for intellectual competition. George is trying to function as a black man in a white man’s world, which leads him to feel scorn for others such as Walter, who are struggling to establish their identity on their own terms, instead of trying to mirror white society. 

These minor male characters are crucial in developing Hansberry’s perspective on the two extremes in the black experience in America. Asagai symbolizes the African identity of African-Americans living in the United States, while George represents the African-Americans wanting to assimilate into American culture.

Another way in which Asagai and Murchison stand incomplete contrast with each other, is seen by the fact that Asagai represents idealism and has a ‘dream’ while Murchison represents materialism and does not. In addition to this, both men are portrayed as assertive, and seem to try and force their male dominance over Beneatha. 

Asagai dreams of returning to his homeland, and strongly believes that all Africans belong in Africa. Idealists have dreams and go after them, and this is the epitome of Joseph Asagai. Murchison, on the other hand, seems to be the only character in the play who doesn’t have a dream, and this is not surprising seeing that he is portrayed as arrogant and materialistic in his valuing of image over substance. The gender roles in which Hansberry has placed on these two minor characters is clearly evident throughout the play. Asagai is proven to be sexist in many instances such as when he says that ‘for a women it should be enough’ to just love, as if there is nothing more to a woman than that! Murchison clearly places his male dominance over Beneatha as well, and is very dismissive of her ambitions. His ideal for a woman is purely superficial, and he doesn't really want a woman with her own personality; he just wants a girl to compliment his “supreme manliness” (Foertch, 426). George shows his male dominance as well, when he states that “[Beneatha is] a nice-looking girl…all over”, and that it is”all that [she] needs.”  He says that “Guys aren’t going to go for the atmosphere – they’re going to go for what they see.” (2.2.5)



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