A Raisin in the Sun Summary

A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Loraine Hansberry about the Youngers, a Black family living on the South Side of Chicago.

  • Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family, receives a $10,000 insurance check when her husband dies. Lena wants to use the money to buy a house, but each of her children has their own designs on the money.
  • Lena uses some of the money as a down payment on a new house and entrusts the rest to her son Walter, who loses the money.
  • Despite pressure from their White neighbors, the Youngers refuse to sell their new house.

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Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s most celebrated play, is a realistic portrait of a working-class Black family struggling to achieve the American Dream of careers and home ownership while gripped by the reality of their lives as African Americans who must survive in a racist society.

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Hansberry based her play on her knowledge of life in Chicago’s Black ghetto and the families to whom her father, a successful real estate broker, rented low-income housing. The action takes place in the cramped, roach-infested apartment of the Youngers, where three generations of the family have resided for years. With the death of her husband, Lena (Mama) becomes the head of the family. She has the right to decide how to use the 10,000 in life insurance money that has come with her husband’s death.

Tensions develop quickly. Mama dreams of using the money to move out of the apartment into a new, large home where her family can breathe the free, clean air outside the ghetto. Her son Walter, seeing himself as the new head of the family, envisions the money as a way to free himself and his family from poverty by investing in a liquor store. Walter’s intellectual sister hopes the windfall may be a way for her to break racist and sexist barriers by getting a college education and becoming a doctor.

As the play unfolds, Hansberry explores issues of African American identity, pride, male-female relationships within the Black family, and the problems of segregation. Mama makes a down payment on a house in a White neighborhood. Fearing that her exercise of authority will diminish her son’s sense of masculine self-worth, and in spite of her opposition to buying a liquor store, she reminds Walter of his sister’s right to some of the money for a college education and entrusts him with what is left of the money after the down payment. When he returns despairingly after losing all of it, he considers that the only way to recoup the loss is to humiliate himself and his family by making a deal with the Clybourne Park Association, a group of White homeowners who want to buy back the new home in order to keep their neighborhood White.

In a dramatic conclusion, the disillusioned Walter enacts the dilemma of the modern African American male. Trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder, he must again submit to matriarchal authority. Mama despairs at having to take control and wield the authority she knows is destroying her son’s masculine identity. Walter finally realizes that he cannot accept the degradation he would bring upon himself, his family, and his father’s memory by accepting the association’s offer. Discovering his manhood and his responsibility to his family and his race, he refuses to sell back the house. When the association’s representative appeals to Mama to reverse her son’s decision, she poignantly and pridefully says, “I am afraid you don’t understand. My son said we was going to move and there ain’t nothing left for me to say.” The play closes with the family leaving their cramped apartment for their new home and the challenges that surely await them there.

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