The Youngers are desperate, in varying degrees, for change and are presented with the means necessary for change in the form of a $10,000 life insurance payment which they are to receive following the death of the head of the family. Disagreements about what to do with the money, however, threaten to alienate them from one another.
Walter Lee Younger, a chauffeur with a wife and son, wants to buy a liquor store. Beneatha, his younger sister, wants to go to medical school. Lena, their mother, wants to buy a decent house in an all-white neighborhood. Lena decides to compromise and split the money between them, but Walter is robbed by a business partner. After Walter makes the conflict worse by accepting money from a representative of the white neighborhood for not moving there, he changes his mind, realizing he would be sacrificing his manhood.
The problems which might have destroyed the Youngers have unified them, made them stronger as individuals and as a family because they have gained self-knowledge and learned to love one another more.
The first of the two full-length works which Hansberry lived to complete, the play is one of the most widely known literary creations by a black American. She makes the Youngers more than typical American blacks; they are members of the universal family of those who strive to realize their dreams.
Abramson, Doris. Negro Playwrights in the American Theater: 1925–1959. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. The definitive work in African American drama. Treats the origin and development of the black drama—its structure, themes, innovations, and impact—from its nineteenth century beginnings through Hansberry.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr., and Margaret G. Burroughs. “A Lorraine Hansberry Rap.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 226–233. A discussion between Bennett, a historian and editor of Ebony magazine, and Burroughs, an artist and teacher. The article focuses on Hansberry’s career, with much of the discussion devoted to an assessment of the themes and characters in A Raisin in the Sun and the reasons for its popularity with both black and white audiences.
Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. Poetry and Drama. Vol. 2 in The Black American Writer. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1969. Provides a historical development of African American drama, with a full chapter devoted to Hansberry’s plays.
Carter, Steven R. Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. A detailed study of Hansberry’s entire canon. Chapter 2 focuses on the stage version of A Raisin in the Sun, and the following chapter discusses the two film versions as well as the hit musical, titled Raisin, that appeared in 1973.
Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Twayne, 1984. In this generally complimentary biography, Cheney cites both Paul Robeson (as political radical) and Langston Hughes (as poet of his people) as major influences on Hansberry. She also defends Hansberry’s assimilationist views, which some African Americans criticized harshly.
Chinoy, Helen Krich, and Linda Walsh Jenkins, eds. Women and American Theatre. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987. In “Lorraine Hansberry: Artist, Activist, Feminist,” Margaret Wilkerson stresses Hansberry’s early awareness of the connection that exists between racism and sexism. She also makes the point that Hansberry understood and tried to dramatize the difference between Lena’s notion of material advance for the family and Walter Lee’s crass materialism. Furthermore, she asserts that the playwright had come to terms with her lesbianism, but she gives no concrete evidence for this assumption.
Cruse, Harold. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. London: W. H. Allen, 1969. Ignoring completely the feminist value of A Raisin in the Sun and the fact that Hansberry was the youngest dramatist to win the Best Play award, Cruse is vehement in his criticism of the dramatist simply because she represents assimilation and integration as a solution for racial difficulties. Cruse is a separatist who believes that all black acceptance of middle-class [white] values is a “sell-out” and that therefore A Raisin in the Sun should be considered a “soap opera.”
Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. Edited by Robert Nemiroff. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. Hansberry’s husband and executor of her estate has put together bits and pieces of her work—published and unpublished—letters, autobiographical statements, and speeches—which give a clear picture of this extraordinary woman. As a work for the stage, it had a long run at the Cherry Lane, off-Broadway in 1968 and 1969, and it has been done in a number of university and regional theatres since that time. The introduction, the affectionate essay “Sweet Lorraine,” by James Baldwin, poignantly describes the playwright from 1957 until her untimely death in 1965.
Hairston, Loyle. “Portrait of an Angry Young Writer.” Crisis 86 (April, 1969): 123–124. Examines the ways in which Hansberry’s activist philosophy and rebellious attitude influence her work, especially in terms of themes and character development.
Isaacs, Harold R. The New World of Negro Americans. New York: John Day, 1963. In the section on Hansberry, the author discusses the origin and development of Hansberry’s ideas on pan-Africanism and the degree to which these ideas are reflected in A Raisin in the Sun.
Keyssar, Helene. The Curtain and the Veil: Strategies in Black Drama. New York: Burt Franklin, 1981. A critical study of African American drama focusing on the ambivalence of black playwrights, with a full chapter devoted to A Raisin in the Sun.
Riley, Clayton. “Lorraine Hansberry: A Melody in a Different Key.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 205–212. Focuses on the universality of themes in Hansberry’s plays. It emphasizes the fact that because black experience strikes “a different key” in the American experience, this universality is frequently overlooked.
Scheader, Catherine. Lorraine Hansberry. Chicago: Campus, 1978. Part of a series subtitled “They Found a Way,” this biography written for young readers stresses events in the playwright’s life which show her determination to succeed. Many photographs embellish the work.
Schlueter, June, ed. Modern American Drama: The Female Canon. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1990. A collection of twenty-two essays on female American playwrights, with a full chapter devoted to Hansberry.
Ward, Douglas Turner. “Lorraine Hansberry and the Passion of Walter Lee.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 223–225. An in-depth study of the character of the protagonist of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Lee Younger. Asserts that the character is much more complex than generally thought to be and that Hansberry’s skillful portrayal of him reveals these complexities.
Wilkerson, Margaret B. “Lorraine Hansberry: The Complete Feminist.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 235–245. Looks at Hansberry’s plays as they reflect the feminist point of view, noting that as a descendant of early feminists such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, Hansberry centers her feminism in human dignity and thus includes both men and women in her concept of feminism.