Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun

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A Raisin in the Sun Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 46-page guide for “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Dreams and Dreams Deferred and Fatherhood and Black Masculinity.

Plot Summary

When Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun premiered in 1959, it was the first play by a black woman to open on Broadway, as well as the first play with a black director. The title comes from Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which asks, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

The play tells the story of the Youngers, a family who lives together in a small Chicago apartment. The patriarch of the family, Walter Younger Sr., has died, and his widow and children await a $10,000 insurance payout. They dream of the ways that the money can improve their lives. Beneatha, Walter’s daughter, wants to go to medical school. Walter Lee Jr. hopes to use the money to purchase a liquor store with two of his friends. Lena Younger, Walter Sr.’s widow (also known as Mama), puts a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood but allows Walter Jr. to manage the rest of the money as long as he saves a substantial amount for Beneatha’s tuition. When the family faces backlash from the so-called “Welcoming Committee” of their new neighborhood and Walter loses all of the remaining money, including Beneatha’s tuition, to a thieving investment partner, the Youngers are challenged to remain proud and strong in the face of racism and misfortune.

The play, which has become highly canonized, reflects a 1940 lawsuit in which young Hansberry’s family fought against housing discrimination that prevented them from moving into a white neighborhood. In her memoir, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, Hansberry remembers living in a “hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’” and facing angry white mobs that “spat at, cursed, and pummeled” them as they walked to and from school. The case occurred nearly thirty years before the Fair Housing Act, which forbade housing discrimination, was passed as part of the Civil Rights Act in 1968. At the end of the play, the Youngers prepare optimistically to hold their heads high as they move into a white neighborhood that has already expressed its displeasure with the idea of the family moving to Clybourne Park. A Raisin in the Sun addresses the fortitude and trauma of fighting for one’s dreams as an African American in mid-20th-century America. The work received the 1959 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play and has seen numerous international revivals and film adaptations.

Although the play does not depict what occurs after the Youngers leave their run-down Southside apartment, two playwrights have since taken up the story to imagine what happens next. In 2010, Bruce Norris, a white playwright, wrote Clybourne Park, which features the white family who sells the house to the Youngers. Kwame Kwei-Armah’s 2013 play Beneatha’s Place imagines Beneatha’s journey as she travels with Asagai to Nigeria and, instead of becoming a medical doctor, becomes an academic at a prominent university in California. Hansberry, who was the first black playwright and only the fifth woman to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, was also the youngest dramatist to achieve the honor. Although she published many other writings, A Raisin in the Sun was her only major play, and she died of pancreatic cancer five years after it premiered. Hansberry left a powerful legacy as a civil rights advocate and served as the inspiration for Nina Simone’s 1969 song “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.”

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Act I