―A Raisin in the Sun‖ By Lorraine Hansberry An introduction to the play
Plot Summary Walter and Ruth Younger and their son Travis live with Walter‘s mother, Lena, and sister Beneatha, in a small, poverty-stricken apartment in South Chicago. Lena receives an insurance check for ten thousand dollars, enough money to finally pull the family out of the slums, which Walter desperately wants. The play covers a small amount of time in which the family all desire to spend the money in different ways: Walter to open a liquor store with friends and ―make their fortune,‖ Beneatha to go to medical school, and Lena and Ruth to buy a new house. As the family decides how to spend the money, each family member struggles in the white-dominant society to find peace and pride within themselves and their loved ones. ―A Raisin in the Sun‖ was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, and is said to have changed American theater forever.
The play‘s title comes from Langston Hughes‘ poem, ―Harlem‖ 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?
Organization of the PlayBecause A Raisin in the Sun is a play, it is organized intothree untitled acts with accompanying scenes. Act I – covers two consecutive mornings in the Younger apartment. Act II – Picks up on the same day and then skips to a few weeks later, where the rest of act two and three finish in the short time period. Hansberry claims the action to be set sometime between World War II and present (1958) meaning the story could fit in a variety of times and contexts. The structure of a play, being mostly dialogue and stage directions, requires prior understanding of how to read and interpret the text as it greatly differs from prose writing.
Central QuestionThe play and its characters revolve around a centralquestion: What is the American Dream? TheAmerican Dream can loftily be defined as a rags toriches idea and is often associated with immigrantswho come to America in search of a better life. ―ARaisin the Sun‖ takes a different look at the peoplewho live in American cities and struggle to accomplishtheir dreams of being successful. The personal conflictsof the Younger family affect their idea of the AmericanDream and how it can be accomplished. Hansberry‘sportrayal of how an African American family strives tofulfill this dream poses many more conflicts than aretypically perceived, forcing readers to redefine theAmerican Dream for people like the Younger family.
What defines us?There are many things each character relies on to form his or heridentity. Walter - defined by money and social status, both class and the expectations he has of being a father and husband. Beneatha – defined by being an educated woman Ruth and Lena – defined by being a mother Each character it is also defined by their being black. Issues such as race, money, family, gender, and societal norms/expectations help shape each of these characters and how they act in response to the situations they are put in. A Raisin in the Sun forces the reader (you!) to think about how he or she defines themselves and if they rely on any of these mediums to form their own identity.
SettingThe entire action of the play takes place in the Southsideof Chicago, sometime between WWII and the present(1958): namely the 1950‘s. During this era, Chicago wasstrictly divided by race and segregation. The 1950‘s areoften considered a prosperous time for the United States;a time where blacks were content with their inferiorstatus, and women were happy to stay at home and behousewives. This, of course, caused great tension in bothblacks and women and ultimately led to the great CivilRights and Feminist movements in the 1960‘s. ―A Raisin inthe Sun‖ predates both of these movements, butprovides great insight into life during this time period andhow it erupted into the 60‘s.
Point-of-ViewBecause ―A Raisin in the Sun‖ is a play, it is readdifferently than a novel and is meant to beperformed before an audience. It is writtenfrom a third-person objective point-of-view withthe ‗narrator‘ giving stage directions to what thecharacters are doing. Hansberry is oftenconsidered the narrator herself because she isthe one who chooses exactly what scenes todescribe. Point-of-view does not play a majorrole in this piece because of the nature of theplay, but we do see equal amounts ofperspective from all the characters.
Tone & Irony The tone of ―A Raisin in the Sun‖ alternates between somber and ironic. The Youngers live a hard life, and to many modern day readers it can be a depressing play to read. The somber tone is seen throughout the play, but Hansberry throws sarcasm and some tongue-and-cheek into the family‘s conversations, particularly Walter and Beneatha‘s sibling quarrels. Irony also plays a role in the overall tone of the play. The most ironic scene is when Mr. Lindner explains that his neighbors work hard to achieve their dreams and have a right to see them through—as if the Youngers don‘t. There is also some irony in the sequence of events that follow Mr. Lindner‘s departure (don‘t want to reveal it now!).
SymbolismIt is rare to discuss ―A Raisin in the Sun‖ withoutmentioning Langston Hughes‘ poem ―Harlem,‖which is often printed before the opening act.Hughes was a prominent African American poetduring the 1920‘s Harlem Renaissance. In hispoem he asks if a dream deferred dries up ―like araisin in the sun‖ or if it explodes. In the play,some characters are seen as drying up, while atthe same time Walter is about to explode if hisdreams are deferred any longer.