A Raisin in the Sun: Notes

A Raisin in the Sun: Notes

A Raisin in the Sun: Notes

A Raisin in the Sun: Notes


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background.


  • Life and Background of the Author
  • Introduction to the Play
  • A Brief Synopsis
  • List of Characters
  • Critical Commentaries
  • Character Analyses
  • Critical Essays
  • Essay Topics and Review Questions
  • Selected Bibliography

    This play tells the story of a lower-class black family's struggle to gain middle-class acceptance. When the play opens, Mama, the sixty-year-old mother of the family, is waiting for a $10,000 insurance check from the death of her husband, and the drama will focus primarily on how the $10,000 should be spent.

    The son, Walter Lee Younger, is so desperate to be a better provider for his growing family that he wants to invest the entire sum in a liquor store with two of his friends. The mother objects mainly for ethical reasons; she is vehemently opposed to the idea of selling liquor. Minor conflicts erupt over their disagreements.

    When Mama decides to use part of the money as a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood, her conflict with Walter escalates and causes her deep anguish. In an attempt to make things right between herself and her son, Mama entrusts Walter Lee with the rest of the money. He immediately invests it secretly in his liquor store scheme, believing that he will perhaps quadruple his initial investment.

    One of Walter Lee’s prospective business partners, however, runs off with the money, a loss which tests the spiritual and psychological mettle of each family member. After much wavering and vacillating, the Youngers decide to continue with their plans to move-in spite of their financial reversals and in spite of their having been warned by a weak representative of the white neighborhood that blacks are not welcome.

  • Excerpt

    Hansberry’s recognition of the close relationship between art and propaganda is the reason she chose the environment of the powerless as a backdrop for her work about American culture. Her objective was to be a spokesperson for those who, prior to Raisin, had no voice. The thought that anyone outside of the black community would care about the struggles of a black family in Southside Chicago, prior to the opening of Raisin, was all but preposterous. Not only did Hansberry choose as the voice of her theme a black family (and a poor black family, at that), but she also threaded information about Africa throughout the fabric of her play, mainly through her most stable character, Asagai, Beneatha’s suitor from Nigeria.

    Through Asagai (and sometimes through Beneatha), the audience gains valuable insight into African history, politics, art, and philosophy. Even the character of George Murchison glorifies, by default, the ancient African civilizations when he derisively mentions “the African past,” “the Great West African Heritage,” “the great Ashanti empires,” “the great Songhay civilizations,” “the great sculpture of Benin,” and “poetry in the Bantu.” Although George is being facetious, still he uses adjectives that praise and laud the accomplishments of a continent with which many theatergoers, at the time of the opening of Raisin, were extremely unfamiliar.

    To structure her drama, Hansberry utilizes the traditional classic European dramatic forms: Raisin is divided into three conventional acts with their distinct scenes. Yet, Hansberry employs techniques of the absurdist drama-particularly in the scene in which a drunken Walter Lee walks in on Beneatha’s African dancing and is able to immediately summon a memory which psychically connects him with an African past that his character, in reality, would not have known. Walter Lee is able to sing and dance and chant as though he had studied African culture.

    Hansberry’s skillful use of this momentary absurdity makes Walter’s performance seem absolutely plausible to her audience. Note also in this work that Hansberry refers to an ancient Greek mythological titan, Prometheus, then makes a reference to an icon of the American entertainment world, Pearl Bailey, and then a reference to Jomo Kenyatta, a major African scholar and politician, yet there is no loss of continuity because the audience is able to immediately perceive the connection.

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