Set in the South Side of Chicago in the mid-1950s, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by a black woman to be performed on Broadway and proved to be both a popular and a critical success. The play focuses on a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, a close-knit African-American family that struggles with poverty and racial oppression. The play opens as the Youngers eagerly await a ten-thousand-dollar check, payment on the deceased Mr. Younger’s insurance policy. Tension naturally arises over what to do with such a princely sum, and as the play progresses, we learn what each character dreams of and how their dreams are challenged by the oppressive world in which the Youngers live.
Like her characters, Lorraine Hansberry grew up in Chicago’s South Side, and her family, like the Youngers, moved to an all-white neighborhood when she was young. Threatened with violence and legal action by their racist neighbors, her family was forced to defend themselves legally, successfully arguing their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The title of play comes from a 1951 Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.” Does a “dream deferred,” Hughes asks, “dry up like a raisin in the sun,” or does it “fester like a sore”? In the poem, Hughes explores the tension between aspiration and oppression, and the last line foreshadows the social unrest of the late 1960s: “Or does it explode?” Hansberry explores the same themes in her groundbreaking play. Dreams and aspirations are central to the narrative, as are the complexities of racism, identity, and family bonds.
The play was written and is set on the eve of enormous social change in America. The world the Youngers live in seems to be transforming before their eyes, though not without a good deal of resistance from some in society. Beneatha, the daughter in the family, says that progress sometimes feels like an illusion—not a line stretching to infinity or an arc bending toward justice, as Dr. King later pronounced, but an unending circle where little ever changes.
Hansberry examines fundamental issues in this work that soon would envelop the black community and the nation as a whole. Through her multi-dimensional characters, she asks us to consider the nature of oppression, the conflicts and bonds between men and women and between one generation and another, and the myriad ways racism affects individuals and strains the ties of community. She also asks us to face difficult questions about assimilation, identity, and morality. The burgeoning civil rights and feminist movements are introduced into the play, as is the imminent black pride movement. Hansberry looks offshore too, educating her audiences on the struggles for independence on the African continent. What makes A Raisin in the Sun such a timeless and important play is perhaps much simpler though. Hansberry is one of the first playwrights to create a realistic portrait of African- American life, and the Younger family still rings true after more than fifty years.
When the play debuted in 1959, its themes were quite controversial, but Hansberry’s drama was a hit among audiences both black and white. It won the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award as best play of 1959 and ran on Broadway for nearly two years. Sadly, Hansberry’s promising career was cut short by cancer. The playwright died at the age of thirty-four, just six years after the curtain first opened on A Raisin in the Sun.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Describe the struggles of the Younger family.
2. Identify and discuss the play’s primary themes, motifs, and symbols.
3. Identify the dreams and aspirations of each member of the Younger family.
4. Identify and discuss the conflicts of gender, race, and generation explored in the play.
5. Describe the concepts of African-American beauty and identity presented in the play.
6. Explain how poverty, discrimination, and racial segregation impact the lives of the characters.
7. Recognize literary devices, such as metaphor, irony, and allusion.
8. Determine what makes A Raisin in the Sun such an important and timeless play.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
- The Study Guide is organized for a act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
- Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.
- Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
- Study Guide vocabulary lists...
(The entire section is 722 words.)
1. The title of this play comes from a line in a Langston Hughes poem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Why do you think Hansberry choose this line for her play’s title? How does it relate to members of the Younger family?
2. Do you think A Raisin in the Sun has a happy ending? Why or why not? What do you imagine the Youngers’ future will be?
3. Mama tries to explain to her son her decision to spend the insurance money on a house:
I just seen my family falling apart today. . . . We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards—talking ‘bout killing babies and...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
ally: a supporter
anguish: agony, distress
bearing: posture; the manner in which one carries oneself
commence: to begin; to start
conspicuously: noticeably, obviously
contradictions: differences between two things that mean both cannot be true
defiance: rebelliousness, boldness
devilment: mischief, troublemaking
doggedly: persistently, resolutely
expectancy: anticipation; hope
flit: to pass quickly or abruptly from one place or condition to another
furtively: stealthily, secretly
graft: slang money or advantage gained through illegal or dishonest...
(The entire section is 2389 words.)
assimilationism: the belief of the importance of people of different backgrounds changing to fit into a larger national or cultural group
bastion: a fortified area or position
dejection: lowness of spirits
dispiritedly: without enthusiasm or happiness
dungarees: blue jeans or overalls
forlornly: sadly, dejectedly
heathenism: un-Christian or uncivilized behavior or actions
hither and yon: here and there
incredulity: disbelief, doubt
indignantly: angrily, with outrage resulting from something that is unfair or wrong
insinuatingly: with indirect suggestion or hinting
mutilated: severely damaged; cut up or altered...
(The entire section is 1637 words.)
coquettishly: flirtingly; without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men
crackers: slang white people
eccentric: peculiar, strange
exuberant: enthusiastic, energetic
jubilance: exultation; a feeling of extreme joy
measuredly: with a deliberate, unhurried manner
promenades: walks, strolls
retardation: an abnormal slowness in thought or action
revelation: something that is made known or revealed
scrutinizing: inspecting or examining closely
(The entire section is 1730 words.)
acute: heightened; severe
decisive: resolute, determined
exasperated: frustrated, angry
implication: a conclusion that can be drawn, although it is not directly stated
melodrama: a work (as a movie or play) characterized by extravagant theatricality and by overly
mugs: poses or makes a face to attract attention
nonplussed: bewildered, at a loss for words
peckerwoods: slang rural white Southerners who are uneducated and racist
trill: a quick high sound that is repeated
(The entire section is 1696 words.)
enunciating: pronouncing words very clearly
exuberance: enthusiasm, excitement
facetiousness: joking or jesting inappropriately
gall: shameless boldness
ludicrous: ridiculous; comical
maliciously: unkindly, cruelly
plaintively: sorrowfully, sadly
quizzically: with puzzlement, curiosity, or disbelief
raunchiness: acting or behaving in a suggestive sexual way
strident: shrill, harsh
taut: rigid, stiff
1. What does Ruth tell Beneatha is the first thing she is going to do when she gets to the new house? Why is this important to her?...
(The entire section is 1121 words.)
colonialism: the policy or practice of acquiring political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically
epitaph: something written or said in memory of a dead person
flippancy: disrespectful lightness or frivolity toward something serious
gait: a person’s manner of walking
groveling: acting in a self-degrading manner to gain someone’s favor
hoodlum: a young ruffian
illiteracy: the inability to read or write
infinity: the state or quality of being without limits or an end
loftily: haughtily, snootily
martyr: a person who sacrifices something of great value...
(The entire section is 1825 words.)
1. What is the setting of A Raisin in the Sun?
B. Chicago’s South Side
C. the rural South
2. The furnishings of the Younger living room are described at the opening of the play as
3. As the play opens, a check is due to arrive on Saturday. What is it for?
A. It’s a loan from the Murchinsons.
B. It’s money that...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
1. In A Raisin in the Sun, the characters’ dreams express their personal values. Describe Mama’s, Walter’s, and Beneatha’s dreams, and explain how they reflect the values of the characters and their respective generations.
As the main characters struggle with poverty and oppression, A Raisin in the Sun centers on the importance of dreams. The play’s title comes from a Langston Hughes poem in which the author speaks of dreams that are “deferred,” wondering what becomes of them. Do such dreams “dry up,” he asks, “like a raisin in the sun”? As the play begins, the Younger family eagerly awaits a ten-thousand-dollar insurance check, a substantial amount of money that could turn some of...
(The entire section is 2861 words.)