Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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Act I, Scene 1: Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. Why does Ruth scramble Walter’s eggs, even though he says does not want them scrambled? What does this indicate about their relationship and about whether or not they try to listen to one another?

2. Why does Ruth tell Travis to get his mind off the money that is coming the next day? What does this indicate about Travis?

3. Why does Walter give his son more money than he needs for school? How does this leave Walter, in terms of money he himself needs in order to get to work? What does this indicate about Walter’s personality?

4. What rift is indicated between Ruth and Walter when she says to him, “You mean graft?”, when he talks of how he plans to get his liquor store license approved? How does this relate to the state of their marriage?

5. What do you think the significance of Beneatha’s name might be? What words does her name sound like? What might the author be conveying about Beneatha and her effect on other people by giving her this name?

6. If you were to draw a conclusion about why Walter is so concerned with how much money Beneatha’s schooling will cost. Aside from his wanting money for the liquor store, what might it be? Why might he be so resentful of his sister wanting to continue her education so far as to go to medical school?

7. Why do Ruth and Walter refer to themselves as “colored,” rather than “black”?

8. What personal struggle of the deceased Mr. Walter Younger’s is indicated in the following dialogue:

Ruth: Ain’t nothin’ can tear at you like losin’ your baby.

Mama: I guess that’s how come that man finally worked himself to death like he done. Like he was fighting his own war with this here world that took his baby from him.

9. Why do Mama and Ruth burst out laughing when Beneatha says “Me!” in response to their question about what it is that she wants to express with all her hobbies? What does this indicate about the times the play takes place in?

10. Why does Beneatha refer to her mother as a tyrant? What is a tyrant? Do you agree or disagree that this term describes Mrs. Younger? Why or why not?

1. The level of miscommunication that exists between husband and wife is suggested in Ruth’s scrambling Walter’s eggs after he says “not scrambled.” It will be seen throughout the play that a lack of communication occurs many times between Walter and Ruth.

2. We can see that Travis has some of the undesirable attributes of his father. While he wants to be a man like his father, which is to be expected, nevertheless he has some of the very materialistic values of his father.

3. Walter gives Travis more money than he needs for school that day partially to counter what his wife did in denying they could spare it (reflecting again the miscommunication between husband and wife), and partially out of pride, in that he doesn’t want his son to feel they can’t afford it. It can be seen that this leaves Walter without the money to get to work, so he has to ask Ruth for it. This indicates that in Walter’s personality there is a denial of the reality of their situation, as well as overreliance on money as a way of gaining respect, especially in terms of his concern that his son not think the money is beyond their means. These aspects of Walter’s personality will be seen over and over again in the play.

4. This brief exchange between Walter and Ruth shows their diverse values and orientations towards the world. He wants to expedite the obtaining of his liquor license by paying a few extra hundred dollars to the licensing people, but she calls that “graft” (an illegal bribe). This demonstrates how Walter has a Machiavellian approach (where the ends justify the means) to fulfilling his dreams, while his wife longs for a normal, respectable life.

5. “Beneatha” sounds like “beneath her,” reflecting the good as well as the problematic in her personality. On the one hand, Beneatha has very high ideals, leaving most people’s ways of thinking “beneath” her. On the other hand, these ideals can tend to make other people feel uncomfortable in her presence, as when her brother says to her on page 37:

Walter: I don’t want nothing but for you to stop acting holy ‘round here. Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you—why can’t you do something for the family?

6. Many people cannot continue their education to the extent that Beneatha has already been able to (she is in college). Most people also do not have her aspirations (to go to medical school and become a doctor). Since education is so highly valued in our society, it might be very difficult for Walter to deal with his sister’s goals in life, especially if his own have been cut short. In the context of the constant arguing going on in this family, as well, it might be much easier for Walter to attack his sister’s ambitions than to admit to himself or others where he has not been able to follow through on his own.

7. At the time in history when this play was written (the late 1950s), most black people called themselves “colored” or “Negro” because that is what the society referred to them as. Of course, the term “black” is the one preferred in most Black communities presently, but that occurred after progress had been made in the area of civil rights, much of which took place after the 1950s.

8. On page 45, the struggle the elder Mr. Younger had with the world is expressed. At the time he had been alive, there was no Civil Rights Movement, no highly organized working together of great numbers of people, from all corners of society, to combat the outrageous injustices tyrannizing black people. He would, then, have considered his struggle to survive and ensure the well-being of his family a personal struggle. It is tragic that so many people lived lives of “quiet desperation” (T.S. Eliot) before the Civil Rights Movement came along and people saw that what they had considered aspects of personal struggle were really matters of political reality.

9. When the play was written, there was no Women’s Movement, and it was not considered normal for a woman to have aspirations outside of marrying. This was very different from today, when very few families are so-called “nuclear families,” with a father, mother, and children in the household with prescribed roles (such as father goes to work, mother stays home and takes care of the children). When A Raisin in the Sun was written, it would have been considered laughable that a woman wanted to actualize herself apart from the traditional family structure.

10. There are many correct answers to this question because there are many correct interpretations to the relationship between Mrs. Younger and Beneatha. A tyrant is someone who rules other people’s lives, without regard to their feelings. Many people might feel that Mrs. Younger is a tyrant because she does seek limits and ground rules in terms of her grown children’s lives. Other people might feel that she is not a tyrant, because what she wants to do is direct her family in the direction set forth through her struggles with her husband years ago. Whatever answer you give, support your decision with references to dialogue and events in the play.

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Act I, Scene 2: Questions and Answers