Study Guide

A Raisin in the Sun Race

By Lorraine Hansberry

Race

Act One, Scene Two
Walter Younger

WALTER
Mama – sometimes when I’m downtown and I pass them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ‘bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me – (1.2.226)

Walter is jealous of businessmen who can afford a high standard of living. He is tortured by the fact that men of the same age as him have more of a chance in the world because of their race.

Joseph Asagai

ASAGAI
…You came up to me and you said… "Mr. Asagai – I want very much to talk with you. About Africa. You see, Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity!" (He laughs) (1.2.98)

Asagai playfully teases Beneatha about her green but earnest wish to learn more about African culture. A few years after the play was produced many blacks in America became very interested in exploring their African roots. In a way, the character of Beneatha can be seen as a precursor to this movement in African-American culture.

Act Two, Scene One
Lena Younger (Mama)

MAMA
Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could (2.i)

Hansberry offers an example of institutionalized racism through Lena's search for housing in Chicago. Racist laws made leaving the slums much more difficult for African Americans.

George Murchison

GEORGE (Nastily)
Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!
BENEATHA
GRASS HUTS!…See there…you are standing there in your splendid ignorance talking about people who were the first to smelt iron on the face of the earth! (2.1.52-3)

Hansberry contrasts George's views on African identity with Beneatha's. This shows that there are lots of different perspectives on this issue within the black community. By giving us these sorts of complex perspectives Hansberry makes the play truly universal.

Walter Younger

BENEATHA
[Assimilationist] means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture! (2.1.51)

Beneatha's passion for progressive politics acts as a foil for Walter's willingness to give in to the threats of dominant culture. She is totally disgusted when Walter temporarily agrees to accept the bribe from Mr. Lindner to not move into the white neighborhood.

WALTER
Why? You want to know why? ‘Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies! (2.1.114)

Here, Walter takes out his frustration on his own race, claiming that his fellow African Americans are to blame for their own misfortunes. Once again, Hansberry shows us the complex perspectives that exist within the black community.

Act Two, Scene Three
Karl Lindner

LINDNER
…most of the trouble exists because people just don’t sit down and talk to each other…That we don’t try hard enough in this world to understand the other fellow’s problem. The other guy’s point of view. (2.3.59)

Karl shows how hypocritical and racist his logic is. He sets up the actual proposal by suggesting that the Youngers consider the Park Association's point of view, not the other way around.

LINDNER (Turning a little to her and then returning the main force to WALTER)
Well – it’s what you might call a sort of welcoming committee, I guess. I mean they, we – I’m the chairman of the committee – go around and see the new people who move into the neighborhood and sort of give them the lowdown on the way we do things out in Clybourne Park.
BENEATHA (With appreciation of the two meanings, which escape RUTH and WALTER)
Un-huh. (2.3.47-48)

Notice that Lindner says that he's here to tell the Youngers "the way we do things out in Clybourne Park." This hints at the fact that he thinks of himself and his white neighbors as separate from the Youngers. Beneatha picks up on this, detecting impending racism before Walter and Ruth do.

LINDNER
.... I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our N**** families are happier when they live in their own communities. (2.3.65)

Karl Lindner tries to convince the Youngers that segregation is in their best interest. He's not so sure they'll buy this argument. So, Lindner tries to make it seem like none of this was necessarily his idea, and that he's just the messenger there for the greater good of all involved. Unsurprisingly, the Youngers don't buy it.

LINDNER (Almost sadly regarding WALTER)
You just can’t force people to change their hearts, son. (2.3.83)

Karl Lindner thinks it's impossible to change the minds of the white people – yet he's asking the Youngers to change their minds by abandoning their dreams. We think it's interesting that the playwright lets us know in the stage directions that he says this line "almost sadly." Could this mean that somewhere inside him he really can see past the walls of racism? Does he recognize how wrong what he's asking of them is?

LINDNER (Looking around at the hostile faces and reaching and assembling his hat and briefcase)
Well – I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened. (2.3.80)

Mr. Lindner and his neighbors see the Youngers' presence in the Clybourne Park neighborhood as a threat to their way of life. When he notes that certain "people can get awful worked up," he's calling attention to the fact that these sorts of situations can sometimes lead to violence. Is Lindner just recognizing a known fact? Or does Lindner mean this to be a subtle threat?

Beneatha Younger

BENEATHA
What they think we going to do – eat ‘em?
RUTH
No, honey, marry ‘em. (2.3.102-3)

Ruth suggests that segregation is a result of a fear of "miscegenation" (a.k.a. interracial marriage). Some people in the white majority were very concerned about interracial marriage. They saw it as a threat to their culture.

Act Three
Walter Younger

WALTER
…Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the "tooken." (He laughs) I’ve figured it out finally…People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get "tooken." And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ‘round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ‘bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking. (3.1.89)

Embittered by Willy's backstabbing, Walter decides he can trust no one, white or black. In a moment of false lucidity, Walter decides that integrity is overrated.

WALTER
…There ain’t no causes – there ain’t nothing but taking in this world, and he who takes most is smartest – and it don’t make a damn bit of difference how. (3.1.94)

In an unjust world, the unjust succeed. After humiliating himself and disappointing his family, Walter changes his moral stance to adapt to those around him.

Joseph Asagai

ASAGAI
Nigeria. Home. (Coming to her with genuine romantic flippancy) I will show you our mountains and our stars; and give you cool drinks from gourds and teach you the old songs and the ways of our people – and, in time, we will pretend that – (Very softly) – you have only been away for a day. Say that you’ll come (He swings her around and takes her in his arms in a kiss which proceeds in passion) (3.155)

Asagai wants Beneatha to return to the place he considers home for all black people. He says that eventually it will be like she was always there. What do you think about this? How easy would it be for Beneatha, an American born and raised, to integrate into Nigerian society?