A Raisin in the Sun Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Further Study and a Free Quiz on A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.
A Raisin in the Sun was first produced in 1959 and anticipates many of the issues which were to divide American culture during the decade of the 1960s. Lorraine Hansberry, the playwright, was an unknown dramatist who achieved unprecedented success when her play became a Broadway sensation. Not only were successful women playwrights rare at the time, but successful young black women playwrights were virtually unheard of. Within its context, the success of A Raisin in the Sun is particularly stunning.
In part because there were few black playwrights as well as few black men'and women who could attend Broadway productions the play was hindered by a lack of financial support during its initial production. Producers hesitated to risk financial involvement in such an unprecedented event, for had the play been less well-written or well-acted, it could have suffered an incredible failure. Eventually, however, the play did find financial backing, and after staging initial performances in New Haven, Connecticut, it reached Broadway.
Compounding the racial challenges the play posed was its length of nearly three hours as it was originally written. Because audiences are not accustomed to plays of such length, especially by a newcomer, a couple of significant scenes were cut from the original production. (These scenes are sometimes included in later renditions.) These scenes include Walter's bedtime conversation with Travis and the family's interaction with Mrs. Johnson. In addition, the scene in which Beneatha appears with a "natural" haircut was eliminated in the original version primarily because Diana Sands, the actress, was not attractive enough with this haircut to reinforce the point of the scene. This scene would become more crucial as cultural ideas shifted.
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Sample Analytical Paper Topics
These are topics on which you can write a substantial analytical paper. They are designed to test your understanding of major themes and details from the play as a whole. Following the topics are outlines you can use as a starting point for writing an analytical paper.
In thinking of the Langston Hughes poem from which the title of this play was taken, the key concept of dreams deferred comes to mind. Choose three characters in the play and state what their dreams are, including symbolism related to their dreams.
I. Thesis Statement: Mrs. Younger, Walter Lee, and Beneatha have cherished dreams. These dreams reveal a great deal about the nature of the characters’ longings which unjust societal expectations cannot destroy.
II. Mrs. Lena Younger’s dreams
A.Maintaining her family with dignity
1. Preserving the memory of the elder Mr. Younger
2. Enjoying a stable and secure family life
B. Having her own garden to tend to
1. The garden as representing aspirations held dear
2. The persistence of that which is valuable in the long run sprouting forth into the world also symbolized by this central metaphor
III. Walter Lee’s dreams
A. Material success
1. Prosperity for himself and his family, to be able to provide for them well
2. Not to be one of the “tooken” in life
B. Liquor business
1. Oblivion through alcohol, a defeatist dream, headed toward despair
2. An inversion of the “American Dream”
IV. Beneatha’s dreams
A. Medical school
1. Dedication to humanity’s ills symbolized
2. Hatred, prejudice, and violence cast as the world’s ailments
B. True love in marriage
1. Choosing not to marry rather than marry someone she does not feel understood by
2. Rejecting a conventional marriage based on wealth
V. Conclusion: The dreams of the Younger family show the power of positive aspirations in the face of overwhelming odds.
The references to Mr. Walter Younger, Sr. in the play make his presence felt to us, even though he is deceased when the play begins. Thinking of the personalities and character development of his grown children, what do you think Mr. Younger would have been proud of or would have disapproved of, if he had lived?
I. Thesis Statement: The elder Mr. Younger shared values and a vision with Mrs. Younger which would have been reflected in his pride or disappointment in his grown children.
II. Shared life with Mrs. Lena Younger
A. Desire for stable family life
B. Grief over lost baby
C. Commitment to providing for his family in the face of the world’s hostility to their survival
III. Walter Lee
A. Pride in fine family Walter heads
B. Pride in Walter’s steady employment
C. Disappointment and disapproval of Walter’s drinking
D. Disapproval of Walter’s liquor store schemes
(The entire section is 1274 words.)