Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Year of First Performance
Raisin in the Sun is a three-act drama
focusing on a black family subjected
to the emotional stresses of living in a cramped
apartment while confronting
bigotry and economic hardship. It received wide
acclaim, winning the New
York Drama Critics' Circle Award, after it was
staged at the Ethel Barrymore
Theatre on Broadway in 1959. Random House
published it in book form in
the same year. In 1961, a film version starring
Sidney Poitier as Walter
Younger won an award at the Cannes Film Festival
Revised in 2012
setting is a cramped
apartment in a tenement in the Southside of
Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century.
Walter's Inner Conflicts; Racial Prejudice
of the characters
are blacks except Mr. Lindner
Lee Younger: Thirty-five-year-old
chauffeur who longs to improve himself to reap the
same rewards that white
Younger (Mama): Stout,
God-fearing mother of Walter. She refuses to give
up in the face of adversity.
wife of Walter.
of Walter. An articulate, ambitious college
student, she hopes someday
to become a physician.
Travis: Son of Walter
and Ruth. He is an amiable little boy of 10 or
man who attempts to prevent the Youngers from
moving into his neighborhood.
well-spoken Nigerian who courts Beneatha.
Chicagoan who also courts Beneatha.
Bobo: Friend of
He and Walter plan to open a liquor store.
Willy: Walter and
Bobo's business partner. He runs off with Walter
and Bobo's money. (Willy
has no speaking part in the play.)
comes to the Youngers' apartment to move their
belongings to their new
The tone of the play is serious, objective, and
of the Title
of the play is
a line from Langston Hughes’s 1951 poem, “Harlem
(A Dream Deferred).” The
poem focuses on the frustration blacks experience
when they cannot fulfill
their dreams, presumably because of racial
discrimination. Following is
the complete text of the poem:
Harlem: (A Dream Deferred)
By Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Michael J. Cummings...©
is mid-twentieth century on a Friday morning in the
life of the Youngers, a
family of five blacks living in an apartment in
Chicago’s Southside. They
include Walter and his wife, Ruth; Walter’s mother,
Lena; his sister, Beneatha,
and his son, Travis. The apartment has three rooms: a
and kitchen, in which light enters through a single
window; a bedroom for
Walter and Ruth, and a bedroom for Lena and Beneatha.
Travis sleeps on
a sofa in the parlor. In the hallway is a bathroom the
Youngers share with
Younger, about thirty, rouses her son, Travis, for
school. He is a pleasant,
bright child of ten or eleven. Then she awakens Walter
work. While Travis is
in the bathroom, Walter, thirty-five, a chauffeur for
a white family, sits down
to breakfast but expresses displeasure at having to
eat scrambled eggs
again. A moment later, he complains that Travis is
monopolizing the bathroom
and will make him late for work. Ruth says, “It ain’t
his fault that he
can’t get to bed no earlier nights ’cause he got a
bunch of crazy good-for-nothing
clowns sitting up running their mouths in what is
supposed to be his bedroom
after ten o’clock at night—”
replies, “The things I want to talk about with my
friends just couldn’t
be important in your mind, could they?”
Travis returns from the bathroom, Walter dashes out to
claim it. Travis
sits down to breakfast, saying, “Mama, this is Friday.
Check coming tomorrow,
is referring to a $10,000 check his grandmother is to
receive from an insurance
policy taken out by her recently deceased husband.
When Ruth tells Travis
not to think of money, he says he needs fifty cents
for school. She says she
doesn’t have it. He then asks permission to deliver
groceries after school
to earn money. Upon returning from the bathroom,
Walter overhears the conversation
and gives the boy a whole dollar, telling him to use
the extra money to
take a taxi to school or buy fruit for himself. It is
obvious that he does
not want his son to grow up in hardship. He is bitter
that, at age thirty-five,
he remains a lowly chauffeur in a world that opens
doors of opportunity
to whites but closes them to blacks.
Travis leaves, Walter talks about going into a
partnership with two of
his friends to open a liquor store. To make the down
payment, he will need
a considerable sum, and he is counting on his mother
to provide it from
the insurance money. His sister Beneatha, wearing a
robe, enters the kitchen
area. By now, a family down the hall is using the
bathroom, and she, too,
must wait her turn. Beneatha is an idealistic,
ambitious 20-year-old attending
college to become a physician. Her enthusiasm for
education and modern
ideas tends to make her look down on traditional
values. When Walter notes
that “the check” is expected to arrive on Saturday,
she says she has no
claim on the money.
have never asked anyone around here to do anything for
me,” she asserts.
then accuses her of hypocrisy, saying that although
she does not request
anything, she always readily accepts it when it is
offered. Angrily, she
asks him whether he wants her to quit college or “just
don’t want nothing but for you to stop acting holy
’round here,” Walter
says. “Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for
you—why can’t you do something
for the family.”
tells him to keep her out of the argument, but he
reminds her that she
has been working as a cook “in somebody else’s kitchen
for the last three
years to help put clothes on her [Beneatha's] back.”
Beneatha, he says,
should settle for being a nurse or just get married.
Beneatha and Walter
argue further about the insurance money, and she
criticizes him for wanting
to use it to open a liquor store. He leaves for work,
saying no one understands
Younger—called “Mama” by her children—enters. She is a
woman in her early sixties. Although she has her
family’s best interests
at heart, she attempts to control them and foist her
on them. On the windowsill is a plant struggling to
survive, and she tends
it lovingly—almost as if it were a member of her
family. When she asks
Beneatha what she and Walter were arguing about,
Beneatha says it is not
important and then checks the bathroom. Finding it
free, she goes in.
guesses that the argument was over money, and Ruth
confirms the observation.
The older woman expresses displeasure with Walter’s
scheme to open a liquor
store, saying, “We just plain working folks.” Ruth
observes that Walter
is in a stew about getting ahead—that maybe he needs a
chance. But Mama
doesn’t like the idea of making money from
she notes that Ruth doesn’t look well, Ruth concedes
that she feels tired.
Then, moments later, she faints. It turns out that she
is pregnant. However,
worried that Walter will oppose her pregnancy because
of the financial
hardship of raising another child, she considers
having an abortion.
Walter comes home, the news of Ruth’s pregnancy indeed
upsets him, and
he does not object when he learns that she is
considering an abortion.
Instead, he turns to booze to ease his worries—as he
has been doing so
often to escape his troubles. Mama well knows that
abortion would be a
bad choice. Not only is it morally wrong; it is also
the wedge that could
permanently estrange Walter and Ruth.
in the weeks after her check for $10,000 arrives in
the mail, she decides
to spend the money on a house to give the family a
proper place to live.
Walter and Ruth won’t have to worry about rent. Travis
(and his future
sibling) will have a yard to play in. There will be
space, including a
bathroom, for everyone. Having their own house will
make the family members
Beneatha receives the attentions of two suitors—a
local man, George Murchison,
and a suave, cultured Nigerian college student, Joseph
though Murchison has a car and plenty of money,
Beneatha prefers Asagai—in
fact, she’s enthralled with him. And he seems quite
taken with her as well.
They have much in common: Both are intelligent and
articulate, and both
are proud of their African heritage.
Mama announces one day that she has bought a house in
Clybourne Park, a
white neighborhood, everyone is excited—except Walter.
His dream of opening
a liquor store has been shattered; he now sees only a
bleak future. Angry
and downcast, he again seeks solace in booze. For
three days, he doesn’t
even go to work. Instead, he divides his time between
and spending time at his favorite bar, the Green
Friday night, however, Mama tells him she has been
treating him unfairly.
To make amends, she says, she has decided to use only
$3,500 of the insurance
money—as a down payment on the house. She gives the
rest of it to Walter,
saying $3,000 is for Beneatha’s medical education and
$3,500 for a checking
account with Walter’s name on it. He is to decide how
it is to be spent,
down to the last penny.
telling you to be the head of this family from now on
like you supposed
to be,” she says.
is stunned—and greatly pleased.
trust me like that, Mama?
says she has never stopped trusting him. In the next
few days, Walter acts
like a new man. He and Ruth go out for an evening,
seeing a movie and holding
hands. There is no longer any talk of an
days later, a man named Karl Lindner comes to the
Youngers’ apartment while
the family members—all but Mama, who is out—are
packing for the move to
the new house. He introduces himself as chairman of
the welcoming committee
of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association.
Although Beneatha is suspicious
of him, Walter welcomes him and offers him a beer.
Lindner declines the
offer. Then, in a roundabout way, he gets to the point
of his visit: He
wants to buy back the house Mama bought because the
residents of Clybourne
Park believe “Negro families are happier when they
live in their own communities.”
He is prepared to buy the house at a financial gain to
refuse his offer, of course, and usher him out.
Nevertheless, he leaves
his card behind. When Mama comes home and they tell
her about Lindner,
they all have a good laugh, then resume packing. Mama,
of course, will
be taking her plant along with her in hopes that it
will thrive in the
yard of the new home. Mama will be
later, one of Walter’s friends, Bobo, stops by. He is
a partner in Walter's
scheme to open a liquor store.“You
right on time,” Walter says cheerily, slapping Bobo’s
is obviously expecting good news. But Bobo looks
worried. When he shifts
his eyes to the floor, Walter says, “There ain’t
nothing wrong, is there?”
then delivers devastating news: Their other partner in
plan, Willy, has run off with the money that Walter
and Bobo gave him to
start the business. Every cent is gone. The rest of
the Youngers, of course,
are not aware that Walter had decided to go through
with his plan to invest
in a liquor business. But they have not yet heard the
worst of the news.
After Bobo leaves, Walter confesses that he had
entrusted Willy with the
entire sum Mama gave him, including Beneatha’s money.
Mama then recalls
how hard her husband slaved to get ahead in the world,
“working like somebody’s
old horse.” But Walter, she says, has given it all
away in a single day.
hour later, Joseph Asagai calls on Beneatha. Now
bitter and full of cynicism,
she tells him what happened to the insurance money and
says she has given
up on her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. But
Asagai encourages her
to have faith and hope; she still has what it takes to
make her mark in
the world. He then asks Beneatha to go with him to
Nigeria and be his wife.
Beneatha, confused, says, “I must sit down and think.
I don’t know what
I feel about anything right this minute.” Asagai
leaves, asking her to
ponder his proposal.
comes into the parlor, finds Lindner’s business card,
and telephones him
to come over. Lindner had said he was willing to buy
back the Youngers’
house in Clybourne Park for more than the price Mama
agreed to pay for
it. The extra money from Lindner would be Walter’s way
of trying to make
up for his mistake. He tells Mama, “That white man is
going to walk in
that door able to write checks for more money than we
Mama will have none of it.
come from five generations of people who was slaves
ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ’em no
money that was a
way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.”
further discussion—tense and angry—Walter is made to
realize what is important
in life. After Lindner arrives, Walter refuses his
offer. All is well again.
Mama, proud of Walter, tells Ruth, “He finally come
into his manhood today,
didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain.”
and social problems her children, daughter-in-law, and
Mama continues to have faith in her family and its
future. Ever hopeful,
she even buys a house for the family in an all-white
neighborhood. In turn,
the family members learn to trust in themselves.
measured by the
quality of family life. Making money and having a
prestigious career are
important, but not as important as maintaining a happy
has been the
authority figure in the home, she yields her
position—and most of her insurance
money—to her son to solve a family crisis. Her
willingness to accommodate
the wishes of others is limited, of course: She will
not compromise her
racially prejudiced segment of society that held sway
in America for so
long—and continues to be a problem in the U.S. today.
When Lindner attempts
to buy back the Youngers’ new home, he exhibits the
kind of bigotry that
confined blacks to segregated schools and
neighborhoods and limited their
Can't Buy Happiness
believes money is
the answer to all of his problems. It will empower him
to compete against
whites while also instilling him with pride and
respectability and yielding
material benefits for himself and his family. So he
thinks. But he learns
the hard way that only one currency can buy happiness:
climax of a play or a narrative work such as a short
story or a novel can
be defined as (1) the turning point at which the
conflict begins to resolve
itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and
most exciting event
in a series of events. The climax of A Raisin in
the Sun occurs,
according to the first definition, when Bobo informs
Walter that Willy
has run off with their investment money, apparently
hope of opening a business. According to the second
definition, the climax
occurs at the same moment or, arguably, when Walter
informs Mr. Lindner
on the latter's second visit to the Younger home
that the family plans
to go ahead with its plans to move into their new
plant sits on the sill of the only window in the
apartment. It symbolizes
nurtures the plant just as she nurtures the family.
Window: This small
window, which provides the only natural light coming
into the apartment,
represents the Younger family's hope for a brighter
The plant struggles to survive with limited exposure
to sunlight just as
blacks of mid-19th Century America struggle to
survive with limited opportunities.
Tenacity and Pluck: The plant and Mama endure
in adverse circumstances.
the plant with her to the new home, where she
expects it—and her family—to
Cents, One Dollar: Young
Travis asks his mother for 50 cents for a school
activity. After his mother
says she does not have this meager sum, Walter gives
Travis a dollar, telling
him to spend the extra on himself. The 50 cents
represents the legitimate
needs money can buy; the dollar represents the desire
for material goods
beyond these needs. Money is both a blessing and a
curse, depending on
how people use it.
and Garden: These represent courage, hope, and
growth—courage, because the family is
willing to confront the prejudice they encounter in a
hope, because they believe the house may help provide
a better future for
them; growth, because—like the garden Mama plans for
the yard of the house—they
will be able to see their lives with new opportunities
to gain respectability
and achieve emotional, moral, and economic growth.
Questions and Essay Topics
character do you most
admire? Which character do you least admire?
Explain your answers.
jealous of Beneatha,
who plans to become a physician?
essay that identifies
the internal and external conflicts the Younger
right to attempt to
impose her moral values on Walter?
the most important lesson
Walter learns by the end of the play?
informative essay explaining
the unjust restrictions placed on black Americans
in mid-20th Century America.
extent have those restrictions
been eliminated since the 1950's?
profiling and affirmative
action are controversial issues confronting
America today? What are racial
profiling and affirmative actiony? Should America
permit racial profiling
under certain circumstances? Do you believe
affirmative action is necessary?
obstacles continue to block
black Americans from enjoying all that they are
entitled to as American