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Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the Novel “A Raisin In The Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.
Lesson Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners understand the novel ” A Raisin In The Sun”. So by the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:
1. In few sentences describe the author;
2. Identify and write about setting of the novel;
3. Narrate the plot of the novel;
4. Identify and discuss the themes in the novel;
5. Narrate the plot of the novel.
6. List and describe the characters in the novel.
Learning Aids: See Reference materials below lesson content.
Lesson Summary / Discussions
Note: This is just summary of the novel for instruction purpose and does not cover all contents. As students preparing for exams, we always advise not to depend on this alone but get a copy of the book from bookshops for detailed study.
Lorraine Hansberry Biography
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) was a playwright and writer. She was the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play A Raisin in the Sun, highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago. The title of the play was taken from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” At the age of 29, she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award — making her the first African-American dramatist, the fifth woman, and the youngest playwright to do so. Hansberry’s family had struggled against segregation, challenging a restrictive covenant in the 1940 US Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee.
After she moved to New York City, Hansberry worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where she worked with other intellectuals such as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. Much of her work during this time concerned the African struggles for liberation and their impact on the world.. Throughout her life she was heavily involved in civil rights. She died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. Hansberry also inspired the Nina Simone song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, whose title-line came from Hansberry’s autobiographical play.
This play tells the story of a lower-class black family’s struggle to gain middle-class acceptance. When the play opens, Mama, the sixty-year-old mother of the family, is waiting for a $10,000 insurance check from the death of her husband, and the drama will focus primarily on how the $10,000 should be spent.
The son, Walter Lee Younger, is so desperate to be a better provider for his growing family that he wants to invest the entire sum in a liquor store with two of his friends. The mother objects mainly for ethical reasons; she is vehemently opposed to the idea of selling liquor. Minor conflicts erupt over their disagreements.
When Mama decides to use part of the money as a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood, her conflict with Walter escalates and causes her deep anguish. In an attempt to make things right between herself and her son, Mama entrusts Walter Lee with the rest of the money. He immediately invests it secretly in his liquor store scheme, believing that he will perhaps quadruple his initial investment.
One of Walter Lee’s prospective business partners, however, runs off with the money, a loss which tests the spiritual and psychological mettle of each family member. After much wavering and vacillating, the Youngers decide to continue with their plans to move — in spite of their financial reversals and in spite of their having been warned by a weak representative of the white neighborhood that blacks are not welcome.
Ruth Younger The thirtyish wife of Walter Lee Younger and the mother of Travis, their ten-year-old son. Ruth acts as peacemaker in most of the explosive family situations. Very low-key, Ruth reveals her strongest emotions only when she learns of the possibility of their moving to a better neighborhood.
Travis Younger The ten-year-old son of Walter and Ruth Younger. Living in a household with three generations in conflict, Travis skillfully plays each adult against the other and is, as a result, somewhat “spoiled.” In spite of this, he is a likeable child.
Walter Lee Younger In his middle thirties, he is the husband of Ruth, father of Travis, brother of Beneatha, and son of Lena (Mama) Younger. Walter works as a chauffeur and drinks a bit too much at times. When he discovers that his mother will receive a $10,000 check from his father’s insurance, he becomes obsessed with his dreams of a business venture which will give him financial independence and, in his mind, will make him a more valuable human being.
Beneatha Younger The twentyish sister of Walter Lee and the daughter of Lena Younger. She is a college student planning to go to medical school. The only family member privileged to have the opportunity for a higher education, she is sometimes a little overbearing in the pride she takes in being an “intellectual.”
Lena Younger (Mama) The mother of Walter Lee and Beneatha, mother-in-law of Ruth, and grandmother of Travis. Lena’s (Mama’s) every action is borne out of her abiding love for her family, her deep religious convictions, and her strong will that is surpassed only by her compassion. Mama’s selfless spirit is shown in her plans to use her $10,000 insurance check for the good of her family, part of which includes plans to purchase a house in a middle-class white neighborhood.
Joseph Asagai An African college student from Nigeria, Asagai is one of Beneatha’s suitors. Mannerly, good looking, and personable, he is well liked by all members of the Younger household.
George Murchison Beneatha’s other boyfriend, he too is a college student. His wealthy background alienates him from the poverty of the Youngers. Easily impressed, Ruth is the only member of the Younger household who naively overlooks George’s offensive snobbishness.
Mrs. Johnson Brash and abrasive neighbor of the Youngers, she insensitively points out to the Youngers all the negative repercussions that await them should they decide to move into the white neighborhood.
Karl Lindner A weak and ineffectual middle-aged white man, Lindner is the spokesman for the white community into which the Youngers plan to move. He has been sent to persuade the Youngers not to move into the white neighborhood. In fact, he has been authorized by the white community to offer the Youngers a monetary incentive not to move in.
Bobo The somewhat dimwitted friend of Walter Lee who, along with another friend, Willy, plans to invest in Walter Lee’s business scheme.
Two Moving Men Having no speaking parts, they enter at the end of the play to help the Youngers move to their new neighborhood.
Walter Younger The husband of Lena Younger, father of Walter Lee and Beneatha, and grandfather of Travis. His death before the action of Act I provides the insurance money that will change the lives of the Younger family.
Willy The unscrupulous “friend” of Walter Lee and Bobo who absconds with all the money for the prospective business venture. Although the audience never meets him, Willy’s character is assessed through the dialogue of others.
Summary and Analysis Act I — Scene 1
The Younger family lives in a cramped, “furniture crowded” apartment that is clearly too small for its five occupants in one of the poorer sections of Southside Chicago. Walter Lee wants to invest Mama’s $10,000 insurance check in a liquor store venture with two of his friends. Because of her religious convictions against liquor drinking, Mama is uninterested in Walter’s dream of getting rich quickly with this scheme. Ruth, Walter’s wife, is so exhausted from overwork that she too is unsympathetic to Walter’s obsession with the money. Mama makes it clear that part of the check will go toward Beneatha’s education in medical school. At the beginning of the play, money is the focal point of everyone’s conversation, leading to arguments and creating a mood of conflict. Walter leaves for his chauffeur’s job, and Travis leaves for school. Ruth prepares for her job as a cleaning woman as Mama reprimands Beneatha about her fresh talk. At the end of the scene, Mama discovers that Ruth has fainted and fallen to the floor.
Lorraine Hansberry’s debt to Richard Wright can be noted in the similarities between Hansberry’s Walter Lee and Wright’s Bigger Thomas. Hansberry’s play even opens with the ringing of an alarm clock, as does Wright’s Native Son. Raisinopens on a Friday morning as everyone is getting ready to leave the apartment for their respective obligations: Walter Lee and Ruth have to go to their jobs; Travis and Beneatha have to go to school.
When the alarm clock rings, Ruth is the first one up, as though it is her responsibility to make certain that everyone else gets up and ready for the day ahead. Ruth is weary and overworked, a parallel to the apartment, which is worn out and weary in appearance from “accommodating the living of too many people for too many years.” The apartment consists of only two full-sized rooms, the larger one serving as both the living room and the kitchen. Travis sleeps on the living room couch. Ruth and Walter Lee’s bedroom is actually a small alcove just off the kitchen, originally intended to be a “breakfast room” for a smaller, wealthier family. Mama and Beneatha share the only actual bedroom of this “apartment.” The single bathroom is shared by their neighbors, the Johnsons, who apparently have a similar “apartment.”
Ruth appears to be annoyed with Walter, although she does not openly admit it. At first, Walter seems too preoccupied with thoughts about the insurance check to consider what might be troubling Ruth. Their conversation revolves around money and the lack thereof; even young Travis is concerned with money, as he asks, “Check coming tomorrow?” and tells Ruth that his teacher asked the students to bring fifty cents to school today.
Walter admonishes Ruth for telling Travis that they cannot give him fifty cents, and we are immediately more sympathetic to Walter than to Ruth, for their dialogue is reminiscent of the mother in Kathryn Forbes’ play I Remember Mama,who insists that children not be told when there is no money because it makes them worry. Forbes’ play revolves around a mother’s lie to her children about a nonexistent bank account. In Raisin, not only does Walter give Travis the fifty cents that he has requested, but Walter throws in an additional fifty cents — none of which he can afford. Travis never knows that Walter cannot afford to give him the money. After Travis leaves, Walter eats his breakfast; then, ready to leave for work, he tells Ruth that he needs carfare to get to work.
In this scene, note that Ruth’s annoyance with Walter is evident in the manner in which she chooses to wake him up. She is “out of sorts” about something that is not yet clear, although it appears to have something to do with Walter. She asks Walter what kind of eggs he wants, yet she ignores his request for “not scrambled” and scrambles the eggs anyway.
The characters are so real in this scene that it is difficult to take anyone’s side. When Walter expresses a desire to have the insurance money in order to invest in a business venture, he makes sense — even in his argument with Beneatha. Beneatha is a college student who will require a considerable amount of money for medical school, but the reader wonders if Beneatha’s dream for her future is more important than Walter’s. As far as we can tell, Beneatha has been given every opportunity to develop her potential. Why not the same for Walter Lee, who makes a strong point when he says of Big Walter (whose death has provided the $ 10,000): “He was my father, too!”
One of the key focuses in this scene is Mama’s concern for her family; it especially emphasizes her all-consuming love for her grandson, Travis, as she makes excuses for the careless way in which he made his bed, while re-doing it correctly for him. This scene also shows Mama’s strength as head of her household. When Beneatha displays her belligerence and “college girl” arrogance by loudly and emphatically stating that there is no God, Mama slaps her, forcing Beneatha to state aloud, “In my mother’s house there is still God.” Later, Mama acknowledges her awareness of a generational rift that appears to be growing between herself and her children.
When the scene ends, we are left with the feeling that everyone else is so self-absorbed that it is only Mama who senses immediately that something seems to be wrong with Ruth, although Ruth insists that she has to go to work regardless of how she feels. However, Ruth’s fainting at the end of this scene is proof that she really does require medical attention.
Summary and Analysis Act I — Scene 2
The following morning, Saturday, is the day that the check is expected to arrive. Beneatha and Mama are busy doing weekend housecleaning when Ruth comes in, announcing sadly that she is pregnant. Mama is upset when she realizes that Ruth is contemplating an abortion. Joseph Asagai brings Beneatha a gift of African records and some Nigerian robes. After he leaves, Travis brings in the insurance check from the mailbox, and Walter seizes this opportunity to discuss his business plans again. Mama, however, ignores Walter in the same way that Walter earlier ignored Ruth’s attempts to tell him about her pregnancy. Mama eventually has to be the one to tell him about Ruth’s dilemma and is surprised that his desire for the money overshadows his concern for both Ruth and his unborn child.
This scene focuses on the fierce Younger pride that Mama is constantly trying to instill in her children. Although they are poor, still their house is clean; although the furniture is old, there is still the ritualistic weekly polishing. When Asagai telephones for permission to drop by, Beneatha consents reluctantly because she knows that her mother would not want company to see the house in disarray.
This scene emphasizes the clash of cultures between the American-born black and the African. It is clear that Beneatha and Asagai love each other, but there are hints of philosophical disagreement. Asagai teases Beneatha for straightening her hair in order to conform to the European or Hollywood standard of beauty. Asagai is also more serious about their relationship than Beneatha is and appears not to fully understand or accept Beneatha’s “liberated college woman’s attitude.” Although Asagai is not offensively sexist, perhaps due to his Western education and worldly sophistication, still his views are traditionally African, circa 1959, and, therefore, somewhat chauvinistic.
Hansberry uses this scene to express her dissatisfaction with most people’s distorted perceptions about Africa. When the play opened in 1959, all that most people knew about Africa was via the broadcasts from the various colonial rulers and/or the Hollywood messages contained in Tarzan movies. Before Asagai’s arrival at the Younger apartment, Beneatha sternly admonishes her mother not to say anything embarrassingly naive or patronizing about Africa. Beneatha gives Mama some facts about Africa which Mama later parrots for Asagai’s acceptance and Beneatha’s approval. This scene significantly dramatizes the lack of understanding between parent and child. An intellectual gap, however, also compounds the generational difference between Mama and her daughter Beneatha. Mama tries so hard to impress Beneatha’s Nigerian friend that her remarks are almost comical, clearly not her intent.
Beneatha wants to know everything about Africa and is more than pleased when Asagai gives her authentic Nigerian robes, along with some recordings of African music. After Asagai leaves, Beneatha tries on her new identity. Ruth comes into the room just as Travis goes downstairs to get the mail. When Walter enters and begins talking about his plans for the money, everyone ignores him so he resorts to shouting: “WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE LISTEN TO ME TODAY?”
Even if Walter’s ideas were unacceptable and offensive, someone in his family should have taken the time to listen. The frustration Walter Lee exhibits in this scene is recognizable by everyone who has ever felt ignored in spite of loud cries to be heard. It is difficult in such a crowded atmosphere as the Younger household for one person to be singled out and heard. The Youngers do not mean to ignore Walter Lee and are not totally aware that they are doing so. They are simply caught up in the excitement of the moment — the receipt of the check.
The original production of this play, as well as the original movie screenplay, does not contain the incident involving Travis’ chasing a huge rat while he is downstairs playing with his friends in the street. The scene is included in the PBS presentation, however. Hansberry wrote the “rat scene” to dramatically point out the graphic terrors that daily confront the children of the poor and also to show that these children must learn to incorporate such horrific realities into their playtime activities.
Summary and Analysis Act II — Scene 1
Later that Saturday, dressed in her new Nigerian robes and headdress, Beneatha dances to African music while simultaneously giving Ruth an impromptu lesson in its significance. Walter comes in, after having had a few too many drinks, and joins in Beneatha’s ritualistic dance. The doorbell rings suddenly, and George Murchison arrives for his theater date with Beneatha. He gets into a heated debate with her over the history and heritage of black people, all of which he belittles as insignificant, and then he antagonizes Walter by dismissing Walter’s attempts to discuss his “big” business plans with him.
After George’s exit, Walter Lee and Ruth reminisce about their early days together and contrast their early dreams and warm feelings for one another, compared to now, when they seem to be slipping away from one another. Mama returns unexpectedly and announces to Travis especially — and also to Walter and Ruth — that she has put a hefty down payment on a house in an all-white neighborhood. Ruth cannot contain her happiness at the thought of their finally being able to move out of the overcrowded apartment. Walter, however, is crushed by Mama’s news; to him, Mama has “butchered his dream.”
This scene emphasizes Beneatha’s naivete about African culture, for although she is wearing the Nigerian robe and headdress, she is “fanning herself with an ornate oriental fan” and inadvertently appears more Asian than African. Also, Ruth reveals her lack of knowledge about things African as she questions Beneatha about the Nigerian outfit and dance. Walter’s sudden intrusion into the dance is comical on the surface, but on a deeper level, Walter Lee appears somewhat tragic as he attempts to recapture his lost African past.
Even though Walter knows little about Africa, he immediately falls into step with the ritualistic dance and chants as though a psychic memory serves him.
Most blacks wanting to gain acceptance and possible wealth would have to throw off their African past and assimilate, as George has done, which includes deriding and belittling their African culture.
Although Asagai has received a Western-style education, as George Murchison has, Asagai does not have a problem of identity. He knows who he is because he isAfrican. Murchison, on the other hand, knows nothing of his African past, despises the little he knows of his heritage, and, therefore, hates himself. His self-hatred manifests itself in his contemptuous attitude toward other blacks, especially toward less wealthy and less educated blacks like Walter.
Both Beneatha and George Murchison seem to be pedants, showing off their learning, but George is offensive when he flaunts his knowledge in order to insultand degrade others. Although George suspects that Ruth has never been to the theater — and certainly not a theater in another state — he insists on giving Ruth unnecessary information about the difference between curtain times in Chicago and New York’s theaters.
George calls Walter Lee “Prometheus” in order to subtly insult Walter, but mainly to point out Walter’s lack of learning. This scene clearly reveals Walter Lee’s lack of formal education because Walter assumes that George has simply invented the name “Prometheus” to annoy him.
In addition, this scene illustrates how difficult it is to be Walter Lee Younger without being bitter. When George Murchison refers to Walter Lee as “bitter,” Walter Lee agrees that he’s bitter; Walter also wonders how George can be content having to live as a second-class citizen — in spite of his wealth — and not be bitter himself.
Hansberry also uses this scene in order to validate the natural hairstyle (unstraightened hair on black women) — a very new concept in 1959 — and even considered somewhat radical when this play opened, but a hairstyle which became popular in the late sixties as the “Afro” hairstyle. When Beneatha reenters, dressed for her date with George, she is wearing a natural hairstyle. Ultra-conservative George surprises everyone with his praise of Beneatha’s new look; however, his attitude is patronizing and condescending, as though she requires his approval.
Finally, in this scene, Hansberry makes an emphatic statement about integration. Ruth is apprehensive, almost frightened, when she hears that the new house is located in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. But Mama explains that a comparable house in a black neighborhood would cost twice as much. Mama is not moving to Clybourne Park because she wants to integrate a neighborhood; instead, she simply wants the best deal for her money. This scene is often the most misinterpreted of all the scenes in the play.
Summary and Analysis Act II — Scene 2
The scene opens a few weeks later, on a Friday night; packing crates fill the Younger apartment in preparation for the move. Beneatha and George come in from their date and after a brief disagreement, George leaves, puzzled. Mama, still smarting over Walter’s previous accusation that she “butchered” his dream, decides to entrust Walter with the responsibility for the remaining money, stipulating that he first deposit $3,000 for Beneatha’s education. Filled with renewed hope, Walter tells Travis about his dreams for the future and says that he is about to embark on a new venture — a transaction that will change their lives.
In this scene, another character is introduced, a neighbor, Mrs. Johnson. This character, however, was cut from the original stage production in order to reduce production costs. The most recent editions (the complete version) of Raisin includes this character, as did the American Playhouse presentation of this play.
When Mrs. Johnson enters, she brings the Youngers a newspaper that tells of a bombing of a black family’s home in an all-white neighborhood. Mrs. Johnson’s intent is clearly to belittle the importance of the Youngers’ getting away from the horrid conditions of their cramped apartment. Still, her warning to the Youngers was a reality in 1959, when this play opened, and, unfortunately, in some communities, even today.
Hansberry makes it clear here that George and Beneatha are not compatible. Because of their strong philosophical differences, any marriage between these two is destined to fail. George tells Beneatha that she is too much of an intellectual and that men don’t like opinionated, liberated women. He also says that Beneatha is a bit too “moody” and artistic; he tells her that he didn’t ask her to go on a date with him to discuss her “thoughts.”
Beneatha uses George’s weak attempts to change her personality as the excuse that she needs to end their relationship. Later, Beneatha is surprised that Mama agrees with her decision about George, which indicates a softening of the tensions that had previously plagued their relationship.
The “Mrs. Johnson” character brings laughter to the scene, for she is a comical figure, but she also expresses sentiments that have always been prevalent in the black community. She compares, for example, the overt racism of the south at that time with the covert racism found in the north. In 1959, when this play opened, many blacks who had only recently left the south were surprised to find a different type of racism in the north. Mrs. Johnson’s implication is that it is easier to survive the blatant racism of a 1959 southern town than it is to be prepared for the hidden, and therefore more dangerous, racism of the urban ghettos.
After Mrs. Johnson leaves and Mama learns that Walter has not been to work in three days, she feels responsible for his despair (“I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you”), so responsible, in fact, that she gives him $6500, all that’s left of the insurance check after her downpayment of $3500 on the Clybourne Park house, so that he can feel that he is the “man of the house.” She stipulates that $3000 is to go in a savings account for Beneatha’s medical schooling, but it is not clear that he even hears Mama. He is overwhelmed and his sudden exuberance over this financial windfall leads him to share some of his many fantasies with Travis.
Walter’s already exaggerated dreams, however, suddenly turn into an avalanche of pitiful prattle. He says, for example, that one day he will come in from work, “home from my office downtown,” and even Travis is incredulous as he reminds his father, “You don’t work in no office, Daddy.” Walter cannot seem to stop, though, and the more he talks to Travis about his dream, the bigger the dream gets. The bigger the dream gets, the more preposterous it sounds because Walter soon begins to talk about his future gardener, to whom he has given the first name of “Jefferson.” It is then that we realize that Walter has reached a “point of no return.” He must either take action now to make his dream a reality or just give up on his dream altogether
Summary and Analysis Act II — Scene 3
This scene begins one week later. Ruth and Beneatha are in good spirits; this is the day that the family will move to their new neighborhood. Ruth tells Beneatha that on the previous evening, she and Walter had gone on a date to the movies. Walter comes in and is dancing playfully with Ruth when a white man comes to the door, asking for Lena Younger. Walter tries on his new status as “head of the household,” telling the stranger that he handles his mother’s “business matters.”
The man, Karl Lindner, acting as representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, makes a very generous offer to buy the Youngers’ new home (in order to keep them from moving into Clybourne Park). At first, Walter listens then tells Lindner to get out. When Lena returns, they each try to shield her from the reality that Lindner represents by giving her the housewarming gifts they’d purchased. Soon afterwards, Bobo arrives to tell Walter that Willy ran off with their money. Both Mama and Walter explode with feelings of loss, anger, helplessness, and grief.
When the curtain rises, Ruth is singing a well-known spiritual, “No Ways Tired,” the same song that Mama asked Ruth to sing at the close of Act I, Scene 1, just before she realized that Ruth had fainted. At the end of Act I, Scene 1, Ruth is overwhelmed with fatigue, compounded by an unplanned pregnancy. These facts give the lie to the title of the song and end the act with dark irony.
When Act II, Scene 3 opens, Ruth is singing this song without waiting for someone to ask her. The significance of the song lies in its words: I don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come too far from where I started from . . . I don’t believe He brought me this far — to leave me. The song is proof that there has been a resurgence of faith among the members of the Younger household. Mama, however, it is important to note, never relinquishes her faith — not even after she learns that Walter has lost their money; rather than succumb to feelings of despair, Mama cries out to God for strength in dealing with her new crisis.
The song also foreshadows the Youngers’ decision to occupy their new home in a new neighborhood — in spite of their fears of what might await them. Interestingly, the song eventually became one of the songs sung by civil rights demonstrators in the early sixties, perhaps because of the popularity of Hansberry’s play.
Here in this scene, Hansberry highlights Lindner’s weakness in negotiating with the Youngers. He is not straightforward or honest, so considerable time is wasted before they actually know what he is actually proposing. Beneatha, however, distrusts Lindner immediately; the “thirty pieces of silver” to which she alludes refers to the betrayal of Christ for that paltry sum. But neither Walter nor Ruth trusts Beneatha’s quick judgment of a white person because of Beneatha’s almost obsessive pro-African stance. Walter even tells Beneatha to be quiet and “let the man talk” when Beneatha tries to interrupt Lindner.
After Lindner is ordered out of the apartment and Mama returns, they give her the housewarming gifts. Now that Mama’s dream of having a garden is about to become a reality, gardening tools are appropriate, as is Travis’ special present of a gardening hat. Travis intended his present to be a symbol of Lena’s new “rich woman’s” status, for he has seen wealthy women in magazines wearing similar hats. Ironically, though, Travis’ gift serves more to make Mama look like a field hand than a wealthy woman, ready to go out and inspect her spacious garden.
In this scene, Walter too sings a Negro spiritual, anticipating all the money he will make from his secret deal. The song “Heaven” was sung by the slaves in order to ridicule the slave owners in code. The line “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t goin’ there” was the slaves’ way of poking fun at the slave owners who were often “religious” and had no doubts that they would eventually get to heaven. Walter’s singing the song has a special meaning to him because he is “on top of the world,” anticipating a happy future for himself. However, Bobo’s arrival proves that the one key line in the song which Walter does not sing will have major significance in Walter’s fortunes — that is, for the present at least, Walter is not “gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”
Summary and Analysis Act III
An hour later, having no knowledge of the Youngers’ financial reversals, Asagai drops by the apartment, hoping to help with the packing, but instead he is greeted by a changed Beneatha. Seemingly, she is in shock. Very simply, she states, “He gave away the money.” Her previous positive idealism has been replaced by a loss of faith in humanity. The money that should have financed her medical education is gone.
She wants and expects sympathy from Asagai, but instead, he upbraids her for her materialistic outlook. (Later, in her often quoted “measure him right” speech, Mama too will challenge Beneatha’s egocentric perceptions concerning the loss of the money.) Beneatha listens, then agrees to consider Asagai’s proposal of marriage, along with his invitation that she move to Nigeria to practice medicine.
Later, Walter comes in and begins searching frantically for Lindner’s telephone number while ignoring Beneatha’s insults. Mama suggests that they give up on their dream of moving and that they make themselves satisfied with the apartment in which they are presently living, a suggestion that seems to upset Ruth more than anyone else.
Shortly thereafter, we learn that Walter has decided to accept Lindner’s offer of paying them generously not to move in. Aghast, the three Younger women watch Walter rehearse an exaggerated servility with which he plans to greet Lindner. However, moved by Mama’s word about black pride, Walter changes his mind and disappoints Lindner. He tells him that he and his family have decided to live in Clybourne Park.
Through Asagai, we see that the African struggle for independence is similar to Walter’s struggle for independence; however, at the same time, Hansberry expresses her own fears that the new black leadership of the emerging African nations might prove to be as corruptly oppressive as the previous colonial rulers. Ironically, Walter achieves his independence — that is, he comes “into his manhood” without the money that has been his obsession throughout the play. Previously, Walter stated that his self worth was predicated on the amount of money he could garner or generate. He is broke now and feeling foolish over his egregious error, but he has a more realistic and mature vision of what independence means and demands of individuals. It is also through Asagai that we are made aware of the Western definition of success, as he questions the happiness one should expect through money gained because of someone’s death.
Hansberry also uses the final scene to show us the maturation of each character, including Mama, who has learned while teaching. When she tells Beneatha that the true test of love is the ability to love a person when he is at his lowest, we realize that Mama has had time to reflect upon this fact herself.
The Younger apartment is the only setting throughout the play, emphasizing the centrality of the home. The lighting seems to change with the mood and with only window, the apartment is a small, often dark area in which all the Youngers – at one time or another – feel cramped. While some of the play’s action occurs outside of the apartment includes Travis’s playing out in the street with the rat and Walter’s drinking and delinquency from work. The home is a galvanizing force for the family, one that Mama sees as crucial to the family’s unity. The audience sees characters outside the family Joseph-Asagai, George Murchison, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Lindner, and Bobo-only when they visit the apartment. These characters become real through their interactions with the Youngers and the Youngers’ reaction to them.
The play is set in late 1950s when racial segregation against the black is highly invoked in United State of America. The play ends, fittingly, when mama, lagging behind, finally leaves the apartment.
The Value and Purpose of Dreams
A Raisin in the Sun is essentially about dreams, as the main characters struggle to deal with the oppressive circumstances that rule their lives. The title of the play references a conjecture that Langston Hughes famously posed in a poem he wrote about dreams that were forgotten or put off. He wonders whether those dreams shrivel up “like a raisin in the sun.” Every member of the Younger family has a separate, individual dream—Beneatha wants to become a doctor, for example, and Walter wants to have money so that he can afford things for his family. The Youngers struggle to attain these dreams throughout the play, and much of their happiness and depression is directly related to their attainment of, or failure to attain, these dreams. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unites the family.
The Need to Fight Racial Discrimination
The character of Mr. Lindner makes the theme of racial discrimination prominent in the plot as an issue that the Youngers cannot avoid. The governing body of the Youngers’ new neighborhood, the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, sends Mr. Lindner to persuade them not to move into the all-white Clybourne Park neighborhood. Mr. Lindner and the people he represents can only see the color of the Younger family’s skin, and his offer to bribe the -Youngers to keep them from moving threatens to tear apart the Younger family and the values for which it stands. Ultimately, the Youngers respond to this discrimination with defiance and strength. The play powerfully demonstrates that the way to deal with discrimination is to stand up to it and reassert one’s dignity in the face of it rather than allow it to pass unchecked.
The Importance of Family
The Youngers struggle socially and economically throughout the play but unite in the end to realize their dream of buying a house. Mama strongly believes in the importance of family, and she tries to teach this value to her family as she struggles to keep them together and functioning. Walter and Beneatha learn this lesson about family at the end of the play, when Walter must deal with the loss of the stolen insurance money and Beneatha denies Walter as a brother. Even facing such trauma, they come together to reject Mr. Lindner’s racist overtures. They are still strong individuals, but they are now individuals who function as part of a family. When they begin to put the family and the family’s wishes before their own, they merge their individual dreams with the family’s overarching dream.
Female Gender Identity
Three generations of women are represented in A Raisin in the Sun. Lena, who is in her early thirties, becomes the default head of the household upon the passing of her husband, Walter Sr. Raised in the South during an era where blacks’ very lives were in danger because of the prevalence of lynching, Lena moved to the North with the hopes of leading a better life. The move up North was significant in that she had hopes of a better life for herself. Although Lena is ahead of her times in some respects, her dreams and aspirations are largely linked to her family’s well-being, rather than to her own. Scholar Claudia Tate attributes Lena’s low expectations for her individual self to gender conditioning – a term used to describe the expectation that a woman’s goals and dreams be linked to her family alone. Lena tolerates her husband’s womanizing and remains loyal to him even though they suffer under the same impoverished conditions throughout their marriage.
Walter’s wife, Ruth, is in her early thirties. She is different from Lena in that she vocalizes her frustrations with her spouse, Walter. Ultimately, however, she seeks to please him, talking positively about the business to Lena on his behalf, encouraging Beneatha not to antagonize her brother so much, and being willing to work several jobs so that the family can afford to move into the new house.
Beneatha, a young feminist college student, is the least tolerant of society’s unequal treatment and expectations of women. Beneatha constantly challenges Walter’s chauvinism, and has no time for shallow men like George Murchison, who do not respect her ideas. Through these three women, Hansberry skillfully illustrates how women’s ideas about their identity have changed over time.
“What defines a man?” is a critical question that Hansberry struggles with throughout the entire play. In many ways, the most debilitating affronts Walter faces are those which relate to his identity as a man, whether it be in his role as father, husband, or son. Being a father to Travis appears to be the role that Walter values the most. He sincerely wants to be perceived as honorable in his son’s eyes. Knowing the family has little money to spare, Walter gives Travis a dollar when he asks for fifty cents. Walter chooses the liquor store investment not just to make more money for himself, but also to be better able to provide for his wife and family. He wants to be able to give Ruth pearls and a Cadillac convertible; he wants to be able to send his son to the college of his choice. As a son, he wants to walk in his father’s footsteps and provide for his mother in her old age. Walter is framed by the examples of his father and son. At first, Walter is willing to degrade himself in order to obtain these goals, but he faces a critical turning point when he reconsiders Mr. Lindner’s offer. Ultimately, he chooses the honorable path so that he can stand before his son Travis with pride.
There is a strong motif of afrocentrism throughout the play. Unlike many of her black contemporaries, Lorraine Hansberry grew up in a family that was well aware of its African heritage, and embraced its roots. Lorraine’s uncle, Leo Hansberry, was a professor of African history at Howard University, a well-known, historically black college in Washington, D.C. Hansberry’s uncle actually taught Kwame Nkrumah, a revolutionary who fought for the independence of the Gold Coast from British rule. Hansberry’s afrocentrism is expressed mainly through Beneatha’s love for Asagai. Asagai, a Nigerian native, is who Beneatha seeks out during her search for her own identity. She is eager to learn about African culture, language, music, and dress. The playwright is well ahead of her times in her creation of these characters. Hansberry is able to dispel many of the myths about Africa, and concretely depict the parallel struggles both Africans and African-Americans must face.
Class Tensions Within the Black Community
A Raisin in the Sun is not just about race; class tensions are a prominent issue throughout the play. George Murchison is Beneatha’s well-to-do boyfriend. Although he is educated and wealthy, Beneatha is still trying to sort out her feelings about him. Her sister-in-law, Ruth, does not understand Beneatha’s ambivalence: he is good-looking, and able to provide well for Beneatha. However, Beneatha is planning to be a doctor, and is not dependent on “marrying well” for her financial security. Hansberry also hints that marriage into the Murchison family is not very probable. Beneatha says, “Oh, Mama- The Murchisons are honest-to-God-real-live-rich colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people. I thought everybody knew that I’ve met Mrs. Murchison. She’s a scene!” Beneatha is sensitive to the reality that even though the two families are black, they are deeply divided. Beneatha suggests that class distinctions are more pronounced amongst African-Americans than between African-Americans and whites. Despite their degree of wealth or education, blacks in America were discriminated against. Wealthy African-Americans had limitations on schools, housing, and occupations just like their poor counterparts. Mrs. Murchison’s ‘snobbishness’ is emblematic of a desperate yet futile attempt to be seen as different from poor blacks and thus gain acceptance by whites. However, radical legislative and social change proves to be the only substantive solution to America’s problem.
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Lipari, Lisbeth. “Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberry’s 1957 Letters to The Ladder” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San
Diego, CA, May 27, 2003. Online. 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2020-02-05
Anderson, Melissa. “Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters Reveal the Playwright’s Private Struggle”. The Village Voice. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
Cheney, Anne. “Lorraine Hansberry” (Boston: Twayne, 1984). Regenstein Bookstacks, PS3515.A595Z8C51.