A Raisin in the Sun Summary
A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine 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.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of The Youngers, a Black family living in a cramped apartment in Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s, who are expecting a check in the mail. The family’s patriarch, “Big Walter” Younger, has recently passed away, and the $10,000 life insurance check is being sent to his widow, Lena.
Lena’s son, Walter Lee Younger, hopes that Lena will give him the money so that he can invest it into a liquor store. Walter dreams of owning his own business and becoming a wealthy business tycoon, elevating his family into a new social class. However, his family generally does not support his aspirations, instead preferring to focus on more practical matters.
Beneatha, Lena’s daughter and Walter’s younger sister, is a college student who hopes to attend medical school. Walter resents Beneatha’s goals, mostly because of how expensive her education has been. Beneatha hopes that some of the insurance money might be used for her tuition, but she ultimately asserts that the money belongs to Lena and that she should be the one to decide how it is used.
During a conversation with Walter’s wife, Ruth, Lena reveals that she would like to use the money to buy a house for the family. It was a dream she shared with Big Walter, and she would like to get the Youngers out of their cramped, rundown apartment and into more spacious lodgings in a better part of town. Ruth supports Lena’s goal, although she also worries about the changes she has noticed in Walter. He has become discontented with life, and she worries that he longer loves her the way he used to.
Meanwhile, Beneatha is balancing two very different suitors. Joseph Asagai is a Nigerian student with dreams of liberating his country from colonial rule. He gifts Beneatha with Nigerian robes and teaches her about different aspects of African culture. George Murchison, meanwhile, is a wealthy Black student who is dismissive of his African heritage and heavily assimilated into white culture. Beneatha believes that he and his family look down on other Black people as a result of their superior socioeconomic standing.
The insurance check’s arrival continues to sow discord between the Youngers, with Walter passionately appealing to his mother to allow him to invest the money in the liquor business. Lena rebuffs him, citing both religious objections to liquor and general discomfort with the idea of investing in something so intangible. She instead encourages him to talk with Ruth, who is revealed to be pregnant and considering an abortion, since another child would add additional financial strain for the family. Lena hopes that Walter will talk Lena out of the abortion, but he instead departs without a word.
Concerned over the changes she has noted in her family, Lena decides to put a downpayment on a house, hoping that it will be good for everyone to move somewhere with more space and “fresh air.” She also hopes to give Walter and Ruth’s son, Travis—as well as the unborn baby—the chance to grow up in a real house with a yard to play in.
Ruth is overjoyed by the news, but Walter is devastated. However, after Lena tentatively reveals that the house is in a Clybourne Park, an all-white neighborhood, even Ruth’s enthusiasm is dimmed somewhat.
The Youngers spend the next few weeks preparing to move to their new house. After George reveals that he has no interest in hearing about Beneatha’s thoughts and is only interested in her because of her looks, Beneatha dumps him.
Meanwhile, Walter has fallen into a depression, skipping...
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work in favor of wandering aimlessly around the city and drinking. Realizing that Walter needs someone to believe in him, Lena gives him the remaining $6,500 from the insurance payout. She tells him to set aside $3,000 for Beneatha’s education but assures him that the rest is his to do with as he pleases. This reinvigorates Walter, who promises Travis that he will be able to “hand [him] the world.”
Walter’s improved mood infects all of the Youngers, and they cheerfully continue packing their belongings in preparation for the move. However, a representative from Clybourne Park—Karl Lindner—arrives and informs them that the residents of the neighborhood do not want a Black family moving in.
Mr. Lindner reassures the Youngers that “race prejudice” has nothing to do with the decision, instead emphasizing that people of different races are “happier when they live in their own communities.” Furthermore, the residents of Clybourne Park have all donated money in order to buy back the house from the Youngers. Thoroughly insulted, the Youngers tell Mr. Lindner to leave.
However, disaster soon strikes when Walter’s friend Bobo arrives and nervously informs him that their third investment partner, Willy, has run off with all of the money. A distraught Walter is forced to confess to his family that he has lost all $6,500, having never set any aside for Beneatha as he was instructed to do. A furious Lena begins beating him before being stopped by Beneatha.
The entire family is upset by the news. When Joseph Asagai arrives, he attempts to comfort Beneatha, but she angrily lashes out at him, mocking his dreams of African liberation. Asagai gently chides her for allowing the loss of money that was never truly hers to kill her idealism. He effectively proposes to her, inviting her to return to Nigeria with him and practice medicine. She tells him that she will need time to think, but she seems excited by the idea.
Meanwhile, a manic Walter calls Karl Lindner and invites him back to the apartment. He intends to set aside his pride and accept the money Mr. Lindner offered. However, his family is distraught at the idea, with Beneatha expressing disgust over how “low” Walter has fallen and Lena lamenting that even her enslaved ancestors would not have let someone pay them as “a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.”
When Mr. Lindner arrives, Walter seems prepared to go forward with accepting his offer. However, surrounded by his family, Walter instead tells Mr. Lindner that the Youngers will be moving into their home as planned, with the promise that they will do their best to be “good neighbors.” Lena proudly reflects to Ruth that Walter has finally come “into his manhood.”