Study Guide

A Raisin in the Sun Themes

By Lorraine Hansberry

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    In A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family is given an opportunity to actualize its various dreams, hopes, and plans when a $10,000 check comes in the mail. The play explores the complications inherent in turning dreams into reality. In particular, A Raisin in the Sun creates a situation where the Younger family is asked to put its dreams on hold in exchange for money, setting up the play’s central conflict.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. In "What’s Up with the Title?" and "What’s Up with the Epigraph?" we give our analysis of Hansberry’s use of the Langston Hughes poem. What’s your analysis? Why "a raisin in the sun"?
    2. Is there a possibility that any of the deferred dreams in A Raisin in the Sun will explode, as so eloquently described in the epigraph?
    3. What is Mama’s dream for the family? How is it different or similar to Walter’s dream for the family?

    Chew on This

    At its core, A Raisin in the Sun is a family drama about the importance of sharing a collective dream.

    In A Raisin in the Sun, dreams are kept alive for the benefit of the younger generation.

  • Race

    A Raisin in the Sun depicts ordinary Americans who happen to be black – and explores how the fact of their race inhibits them from accomplishing their dreams. In other words, A Raisin in the Sun demonstrates how race can complicate the American Dream. For the most part, however, race is a latent backdrop in the play; this enables Hansberry to craft a universally appealing tale and allows us to understand the precise influence of race in one family’s life.

    Questions About Race

    1. What is the role of race in A Raisin in the Sun? How would the story be different if the characters were not African American?
    2. What is the significance of the fact that Mama and Big Walter lived in a time when lynching was still a serious threat?
    3. Why does Walter blame his race for his misfortunes?
    4. What are the ways that Beneatha thinks about race? How are they different from how the rest of her family sees race?

    Chew on This

    Lorraine Hansberry contrasts Beneatha Younger with George Murchison to suggest that gender and class differences are as complex as racial differences.

  • Pride

    Pride is portrayed in an extremely positive light in A Raisin in the Sun. Since the play is depicting people who have little else to their name, pride is a means for them to hold on to their dignity and affirm their worth as human beings. When a neighborhood representative shows up and offers to buy out their house, the family doesn’t hesitate to kick him out. The novel frames this decision as pride versus money, and although money does win out for a little bit, the Younger family maintains its pride in the end.

    Questions About Pride

    1. What role does pride play in the Younger family? In which ways are the Youngers proud? Who wins the "Proudest Family Member" award? Is this a good thing?
    2. In A Raisin in the Sun, is pride something that is passed down from generation to generation? Or is pride an individual quality? Or both?
    3. Why is pride so important to the Younger family?

    Chew on This

    Throughout Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Walter yearns to find self-worth through a business endeavor but ultimately finds his self-worth in feeling proud of his family.

  • Family

    Family is portrayed in A Raisin in the Sun as an incredibly discrete unit that must project a certain image in the world. Within the family, relatives may quarrel, nag, and insult each other, but when guests come over, certain proprieties must be observed. A Raisin in the Sun explores these complex family dynamics. Furthermore, this theme intersects with Dreams, Hopes, and Plans as children in a family inspire dreams and keep them alive.

    Questions About Family

    1. How do the members of the Younger family show love for one another?
    2. Does Walter question that his family loves him? What more does he want from them?
    3. What’s the effect of having this story revolve around a family and not, for example, a group of friends?

    Chew on This

    In A Raisin in the Sun, familial unity is mistaken for familial obligation, causing Walter to resent his family for holding him back from his dreams.

    Although Walter yearns to attain the American Dream through capitalism, the characters in A Raisin in the Sun ultimately find hope for their future not in money, but in solidarity as a family.

  • Poverty

    Socio-economically, the Youngers are at the bottom of the ladder. This not-so-great position affects Walter Younger the most. While his wife and mother are reasonably accepting of their situation, and Beneatha is more concerned with socio-political issues, Walter has an obsession with money and views it as a transformative power. Due to his poverty, money has a particularly strong hold on Walter’s psyche.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. Imagine the $10,000 check never came. How would the lives of the Younger family progress? (Or not?)
    2. Why is principle more important than money to the Younger family?
    3. To what extent does the Younger family’s socio-economic situation influence the choices they make?

    Chew on This

    Their family’s financial situation is the only reason Ruth Younger is willing to terminate her pregnancy.

  • Suffering

    The Younger family is cooped up inside a small apartment in the slums, barely making ends meet with Walter, Ruth, and Lena all working menial jobs. Throughout their sufferings, they keep dreams and pride alive. Their suffering makes it much harder to turn down Karl Lindner’s offer to buy out their home. Suffering imbues the play via the set design and the actors’ portrayals of their characters – rather than being a blatant statement, suffering is treated as a fact of the Younger family’s life.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. Which character(s) feels that they suffer the most? Who complains the most?
    2. Would the family’s suffering be alleviated if they fulfilled their dreams? Or is their suffering the product of more systemic influences?
    3. To what extent does the Younger family suffer because of race?

    Chew on This

    Beneatha and Walter suffer for selfish reasons whereas Ruth and Lena suffer because the people they love are dissatisfied.

    The mother figures of Ruth and Lena suffer the most of the characters because they worry about the entire family’s pain, not just their own.

  • Dissatisfaction

    What will all the suffering and sacrifice going on, it’s not difficult to predict that the characters in A Raisin the Sun are, for the most part, dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction affects Walter Younger the most, however, because it prompts him to undertake foolhardy actions. The rest of his family, in contrast, has learned to deal with their dissatisfactions in a more controlled manner.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Who is most dissatisfied with their current situation? Why?

    Chew on This

    Beneatha is the most dissatisfied character in A Raisin in the Sun because she is trying to transgress the stereotypes of blacks and of women.

  • The Home

    A Raisin in the Sun takes places entirely in the Younger family’s cramped apartment. Although it’s technically their home, Mama dreams of shifting their home to a bigger house because she believes owning their own, larger space will create a better home.

    Questions About The Home

    1. What are the differences and similarities between "house" and "home" in A Raisin in the Sun?
    2. How is the concept of "the home" used in A Raisin in the Sun? To the characters in the play, what should home look like?

    Chew on This

    In A Raisin in the Sun, problems arise in the Younger household when solutions to problems are sought outside of the house.

  • Gender

    Notions of masculinity and femininity are woven throughout the play. Walter, in particular, feels his socio-economic situation much more strongly given that he’s supposed to be the "man" of the family. He uses manhood as an argument for why his wife should support him, why his mother should give him money, and why he needs a better career. The play also represents various women: the traditional Mama, the supportive Ruth, and the progressive Beneatha, who are alternately praised or demeaned for their adherence or disobedience to traditional feminine standards.

    Questions About Gender

    1. If Walter wasn’t a man, would he feel still feel so bad about his economic troubles?
    2. What’s the effect of having Walter be the only adult male in the Younger household? Would it change the dynamic of the play if Big Walter was still alive?
    3. How does Beneatha fight the expectations that both her race and gender place on her?
    4. Walter accuses his wife of failing to support him in his dreams. To what extent is he accurate? To what extent is that accusation grounded in gender?

    Chew on This

    Socially-enforced norms and expectations regarding masculinity cause Walter to feel inferior.

  • Choices

    Individuals in A Raisin in the Sun frequently assert their right to make choices without consulting other family members. Ruth decides to put a down payment on the abortion of unborn new child without telling anyone. Lena decides to spend $3500 on a house for her family in a white neighborhood, also without consulting anyone. Walter decides to invest in a liquor store over the objections of his family, and Beneatha faces a choice between marrying for financial stability or marrying for socio-political reasons. All of these choices ultimately follow a money-versus-principle paradigm, which culminates in the play’s final scene, where principle wins.

    Questions About Choices

    1. How are choices made in this family?
    2. Which do you consider to be the good choices in the play? Bad choices?
    3. What are the most important factors determining characters’ choices?

    Chew on This

    For the characters in A Raisin in the Sun, money is the most important factor in determining a decision.

    For the characters in A Raisin in the Sun, pride overrules money when making a decision.

  • Sacrifice

    In A Raisin in the Sun, incredible sacrifices are made for the benefit of the family. Some family members are more willing to shoulder sacrifice than others, however, which leads to conflict. Accepting sacrifice for the benefit of the family is a recurring theme throughout the play, culminating in its final scene.

    Questions About Sacrifice

    1. Who sacrifices the most in A Raisin in the Sun?
    2. Is sacrifice seen as a positive, admirable attribute? Why? By whom?
    3. What are people willing to sacrifice? What aren’t people willing to sacrifice?

    Chew on This

    Ruth and Lena are willing to sacrifice anything except their dignity.

    Beneatha does not sacrifice anything for her family, and in fact takes her family’s sacrifices for granted.