A Raisin in the Sun Themes
The main themes in A Raisin in the Sun include dreams, race and racism, and the different types of wealth.
- Dreams: The characters in the play are driven by their individual dreams of success but are often prevented from realizing them.
- Race and racism: The Youngers refuse to give in to their future neighbors’ racism when they decide to keep their new house in the all-white Clybourne Park.
- The different types of wealth: Wealth means different things to different characters in the play, including money, education, and homeownership.
Last Updated November 3, 2022.
Dreams are a driving force behind the actions of almost every character in A Raisin in the Sun. Walter wants to improve the material wealth of his family by starting a business, simultaneously elevating himself out of the service industry and into the realm of ownership. Beneatha wants to become a doctor, representing her aspiration to become a respected and independent professional as well as her desire to “fix up the sick” in her community. Lena, meanwhile, aspires to support her family in a different way: homeownership. Lena is a source of strength and support within her family, and she views owning a home in a good neighborhood as a way to invest in the future stability and success of her loved ones. While their individual dreams take different shapes, each of the Youngers seems to want what is best for their family, and they each work to become providers in different ways.
However, for all that dreams provide a source of aspiration, they can also be the cause of conflict and disappointment. The so-called American dream is based on the idea that anyone willing to work hard has the opportunity to find success and prosperity in the United States. However, the Youngers are often held back from achieving their dreams by factors outside of their control—most notably their race, although gender and social class also present barriers. Ultimately, everyone has dreams that inspire them, but racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression unfairly limit the opportunities available to marginalized people.
Race and Racism
Race and its socioeconomic implications heavily influence how the Youngers navigate life in Chicago in the mid-twentieth century. As a Black family, the Youngers have all faced challenges linked to their race. Lena and her deceased husband, Walter Sr., were descended from “slaves and sharecroppers,” and they spent their lives performing physical labor. The $10,000 insurance check issued after Walter Sr.’s passing is described as being “made out of [his] flesh.” Lena asserts that she and Walter Sr. worked hard throughout their lives in order to provide a better future for their children, and she hopes that buying a home in Clybourne Park will help provide them with future stability and greater opportunities for socioeconomic prosperity. However, Karl Lindner, a representative from the all-white neighborhood, makes it clear that the current residents are uncomfortable with the idea of desegregating their neighborhood. Walter’s eventual decision to reject Lindner’s offer to buy out the Youngers represents a reclamation of Black dignity and an assertion that no one should be barred from existing somewhere because of their race.
The Different Types of Wealth
Money is a continuous source of debate between the characters in the play, each of whom seems to have a different vision of what it means to be truly wealthy. Walter begins the play valuing money for its ability to elevate him out of his working-class conditions. He resents his job as a chauffeur and aspires to own his own business in order to become a wealthy and respected man. However, Ruth, Lena, and Beneatha all have different visions of wealth. Beneatha values education and its ability to grant her independence and expand her intellectual horizons. Ruth and Lena, meanwhile, value homeownership for its ability to provide the family with tangible stability and comfort.
However, for all the ways that their dreams and values differ, each member of the Younger family seems to seek the same basic things: a sense of ownership, financial independence, and a better life for their loved ones. The insurance check represents a form of material wealth that can be...
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leveraged into long-lasting prosperity, earned through years of hard labor on the part of Walter Sr. Its loss is a devastating blow to the family. However, by the end of the play, Walter seems to have gained new perspective, allowing him to realize that what he lacks in material wealth, he can make up for in familial love and self-respect.
Dignity and Self-Worth
One of the central lessons of the play is the value of dignity. Walter is deeply unhappy in his job as a chauffeur, and he resents the “stars gleaming” just out of his reach. He has externalized his sense of self-worth, staking his hopes for the future on becoming a business owner and elevating himself out of the service class. However, after he loses all of the money Lena gives him from the insurance check, he is forced to reevaluate his life and priorities. His decision to move into the house in Clybourne Park and reject Karl Lindner’s offer represents his newfound sense of self-worth. He has realized that material wealth is worth less than his family’s dignity, and he firmly asserts their right to exist anywhere they please.
Beneatha’s romantic entanglements also represent the importance of self-worth. George Murchison, a wealthy and fully assimilated Black man, rejects his African heritage as “a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts.” He instead views material wealth and social climbing as the path toward greater dignity for Black people. Joseph Asagai, meanwhile, teaches Beneatha about Nigerian culture and encourages her to embrace her natural hair rather than continuing to straighten it. For George, Black pride is obtained through assimilation and proximity to white culture. By contrast, Asagai espouses the inherent value of Blackness, rejecting the notion that white people get to determine what—and who—has worth.