"A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry



"A Raisin in the Sun," a play written by Lorraine Hansberry, portrays the Youngers, an African American family living in a cramped and decrepit apartment. The family consist of Walter Lee Younger, Ruth Younger (Walter Lee's wife), Beneatha Younger (Walter Lee's younger sister), Travis (Walter Lee and Ruth's son), and Mama (Walter Lee and Beneatha's mother). The play is broken up into segments, all of which are order inconsistently and out of chronological order.
At the beginning of the play, the Younger family is awaiting a life insurance check for $10,000 as a result of the death of Walter Lee's father. The family members all have differing views of how the money should be spent. Mama wishes to put a down payment on the Clybourne house, which is unfortunately located in a "Whites Only" neighborhood. Beneatha wants part of the insurance check to pay for medical school and the rest to be spent as Mama pleases. Walter Lee wants the majority of the check to be spent on his idea of investing in a liquor store. Walter Lee believes this would be a fruitful and wise investment because even in hard times, people still spend money on alcohol in order to drink their troubles away. Regardless of the Younger family's conflicting views, they are all excitedly awaiting the arrive of the check.
Later in the play, Walter learns that he has lost his money to Willy, who was supposed to meet Bobo at the train station but never showed up. Walter is devastated along with the rest of the Younger family because he has finally become the head of the family and and disgraced himself at the same time. Walter Lee eventually reclaims his respect by standing up for his family when Mr. Linder visits the apartment to tell them the Clybourne community does not want the Youngers for neighbors due to their race. The first visit from Mr. Linder is a proposal in which he acts as a voice for the Clybourne community, offering to buy their future house from them for a generous price in order to prevent the Youngers from moving in. Mr. Linder's follow up visit is to confirm that the Youngers will not move in but instead accept his offer. It appears as though the Youngers are considering accepting Mr. Linder's request because Walter had lost what was left of the insurance money and left the family financially unstable, once again.
Walter Lee steps in to make the decision that the Youngers will continue with their plans to move into the house, originally as planned. In doing so, Walter Lee becomes the man of the family, much like his deceased father had been.

Overcoming Racism

The most prominent theme is A Raisin in the Sun centers around the family's struggle through the hardships of racism. The play depicts how African Americans were inhibited in their real lives as well as in their dreams. In the beginning of the play, Ruth says to her husband Walter: "So you would rather be Mr. Arnold than be his chauffeur. So--I would rather be living in Buckingham Palace" (Hansberry 1133). This is a prime example of just how helpless this family thought their situation was. They were forced into believing that their dreams meant nothing and that they had no chance of bettering themselves. Sadly, this was the common thought shared amongst African Americans at the time. This tragic and false thought is furthered through the visitation of Mr. Lindner, a man sent from the home owner's association from the neighborhood that the Youngers buy a house in. Mr. Lindner, on behalf of the neighborhood, bribes the Youngers to not move in simply because the residents there do not want African Americans living next door. This is a blatant slap in the face to the Youngers and all African Americans alike. However, in the end, Walter breaks the chains of the hardships of racism and stands up to Mr. Lindner. Walter declares his family's dream of a better life and together the Youngers step forward from a hate-filled past and into the future of equality.

Key Characters

  • Walter: The main character in the play. He is Mama's only son, Ruth's husband, and Travis' father. The play revolves around his actions, which end up being detrimental to the entire family. However, in the last scene, he becomes somewhat of a hero when he is left with a life changing decision.
  • Mama: The mother of Walter and Beneatha. She is the head of the Younger Family throughout the majority of the play. She cares deeply for the well-being of the family, and this is made evident when she gives Walter the rest of her insurance money in the hopes that he will use it for the greater good of the family. She implements Christian values and hopes that Walter will do the right things in order to have a successful family.
  • Beneatha: A college student who's dream is to one day become a doctor. Throughout the play, she is trying to discover who she really is and wants to do in life. She dates two different men who, in the end, help her figure out what she wants to do. George, one of her boyfriends, is fixated on becoming embedded into white culture and being rich. Asagai, her other boyfriend, wants Beneatha to be happy and doesn't care that much about material possessions. In the end, she decides to go to Nigeria with Asagai so she can discover her African roots and one day become a doctor.
  • Asagai: One of Beneatha's boyfriends in the play, Asagai is from Nigeria, and provides a different perspective in the play due to the fact that he is not from America. Asagai truly cares about her. In the play, he criticizes her some, but it is out of love for her. He wants her to do well in life and to make the right choices. He makes her realize at the end of the play that life isn't about material possessions. Instead, it's about being happy.

Real Life Applications

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" can become reality for anyone willing to work for them is what we call the American dream. Some achieve this dream, some don't. A Raisin in the Sun is an excellent choice for literature, drama, history, and film classes. There is plenty of action, dialogue, and a cast of dynamic characters. Rebellion against parents and frustration with a lifestyle that brings little gratification are conditions most young people endure. Hansberry's illustrates carefully, the themes of the importance of dreams and the frustration of dreams deferred, the strength of family, the importance of not selling out, and the problems of conflicting expectations. The belief that love and trust will win over deceit and selfishness and the dangers of prejudice and stereotyping are as powerful today as they were nearly four decades ago when she wrote the play. Today's students, often come from a broken family, need exposure to values taught within a traditional family unit, and the story shows that without preaching.

Symbols and Motifs
  • Plant: The plant in the story represents many things. It represents the family, Walter, and the family's direction. Every time Mama gets upset or something bad happens she takes out the plant and tends to it. Before they leave the apartment Mama ties up the plant and makes sure it is safe and ready for the move. This represents her desire to keep the family safe and make sure they are ready for the move.The plant also represents old roots and new growth. This explanation leans more toward a representation of Walter. Walter has a dream and wants to pursue it and is constantly reminded of where he came from.
  • Apartment and House: The apartment vs the house if a representation of progression. The apartment is small with very little natural light. The house is described as having tons of windows and lots of space. They go through a transition from cramped and closed-minded to open and spacious.
  • Language: The language is used as a symbol. It is subtle but it represents exceeding expectations and the forward thinkers/ modern people versus the old generation. The difference in language is actually quite brilliant in depicting the differences and heightening the drama of conflict between the ages.
  • According to Sparknotes.com Beneatha's hair: "When the play begins, Beneatha has straightened hair. Midway through the play, after Asagai visits her and questions her hairstyle, she cuts her Caucasian-seeming hair. Her new, radical afro represents her embracing of her heritage. Beneatha’s cutting of her hair is a very powerful social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful, prefiguring the1960s cultural credo that black is beautiful. Rather than force her hair to conform to the style society dictates, Beneatha opts for a style that enables her to more easily reconcile her identity and her culture. Beneatha’s new hair is a symbol of her anti-assimilationist beliefs as well as her desire to shape her identity by looking back to her roots in Africa"

On Broadway

This production concluded its historical run on July 11th, 2004. This featured four major actors. These include Sean Combs, Audra McDonald, Phylica Rashard, and Sanaa Lathan. The show was directed by Kenny Leon.
Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan

Videos/ Trailers




Hansberry, Lorraine.A Raisin in the Sun. Literature for Composition. Barnet. Pearson, 2011. Print.