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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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Act 2, Scene 2

Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 2 of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun.

A Raisin in the Sun | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary



It's Friday night, a few weeks after Mama purchased the house, and the apartment is full of packing crates. Beneatha and George come in from a date. While Beneatha wants to talk George tries to kiss her and says he wants a "simple" girl, "not a poet." He again ridicules her intellectual nature. When George leaves Beneatha tells Mama he's a fool, and Mama gives Beneatha the affirmation she needs by telling her not to waste time with him.

Mrs. Johnson, the Youngers' neighbor, visits the family. An enthusiastic, talkative woman, Mrs. Johnson expresses excitement about the Youngers' move and Ruth's pregnancy. She mentions a story in the news in which a black family's home was bombed and laments the state of racism in Chicago. Mrs. Johnson strongly implies that the Youngers are putting themselves in danger by moving to Clybourne Park. When Beneatha greets her coldly, Mrs. Johnson derides the education and pride of the Youngers.

Ruth receives a phone call from Walter's employer and learns that Walter hasn't been to work in three days. He may lose his job. Walter admits that he's been driving from the southern suburbs up to Wisconsin and then going to a bar when he returns. Realizing that Walter is depressed and feeling responsible for hurting him, Mama gives him the $6,500 remaining from the settlement check. She tells him to put $3,000 into a savings account for Beneatha and spend the rest as he chooses.

A joyful and surprised Walter talks to Travis, asking what he wants to be when he grows up. Travis says he wants to be a bus driver, and Walter tells him to dream bigger. Walter proclaims that he'll soon work in an office and describes his future wealth. He says Travis will be able to go to a good college and become whatever he wants to be.


This scene shows parents giving everything to their children—a manifestation of Mama and Big Walter's idea that God gave the black man children to make his dreams seem worthwhile. Mama has finally found a concrete way to advocate for her children. Walter has something tangible to give to Travis.

What goals are worthwhile? What goals will make a difference? Beneatha and George tackle these questions in their first scene. Beneatha proves the meaning of Alaiyo—"One for Whom Bread ... Is Not Enough"—to be true as she reveals she wants something deeper from her education than just a degree. For George the piece of paper is enough; it'll get him the job and tick off all the boxes of a successful life, and he doesn't know why anyone would want more. His satisfaction is like Mama's contentment with a life lived in freedom but without Mama's compassion. And Mama, who now sees the importance of hope and ideas to her children, takes Beneatha's word for it when she says George is not enough for her.

The scene where Mrs. Johnson appears was cut from the play's original production and its early editions. The character's overblown enthusiasm and tone-deaf proclamations seem like a caricature. But she does provide a foil for Mama, whose stoic acceptance of life's trials seems rare and courageous. In comparison to Mrs. Johnson's exaggerated praise for God, Mama's faith seems deeper, purer. The audience realizes that though Mama may not understand her family, she'll take their side against the world.

Through Mrs. Johnson the audience also senses how the black community on the South Side will react to the Youngers' move. She's supportive, concerned, derisive, envious, and upset all at once. Outwardly she says their desire to move to better housing is "wonderful"—though not something she would ever do. She doesn't bother to disguise insults to Walter's ambition and Beneatha's education, and even Mama's remembrance of her husband. There is no pretense in her.

Her disdain towards "proud ... colored folks" references well-known tensions in the African American community, exemplified by Booker T. Washington (whom she quotes) and W.E.B. DuBois. Mrs. Johnson represents attitudes that Beneatha, sarcastically but with truth behind the statement, says the black community must overcome.

Mama's look at her own hands, as she describes how men were made for more than service jobs, indicates that Mama, always focused on others, may be wanting more for herself too. When she learns that Walter has been neglecting his own service job, she doesn't berate him. Instead she asks where he's been. The conversation with Mrs. Johnson fuels Mama's decision to give Walter the money. Her neighbor's attitudes have crystallized the belief that her son "wasn't meant to wait on nobody."

Walter does the work of passing his aspirations on to his son later in the scene, whose ambition is to be a driver like his father. Walter is both hurt and flattered by how much Travis wants to be like him. Again the main characters question which goals are worthwhile. Is it enough to want something badly, or does a goal need to place you in a certain social class to be worthy?

The "deep blues" that fill the room coincide with the depths of Walter's depression. His monologue references music and its effect on the psyche. He can stop worrying only when he's listening to the saxophone player at The Green Hat.

His drive shows a microcosm of Chicago-area industries: The steel mills Walter may one day hope to manage, the Wisconsin farms and agriculture that represent the manual labor he wants to avoid, and the crowds filling the South Side with their various hopes, struggles, and aspirations. Mama's comment about "the harvest of our days" is an agriculture reference—she remembers a time before industry took over, when desires were less complicated. Mama's metaphors deal most often with the nature that she loves.

Ruth is beginning to give up on Walter, though she doesn't want to once he mentions he's going to drink again. Walter is a man with many sides: the agreeable chauffeur, the smart business owner, the gregarious alcoholic, the family man. When Ruth sometimes tells Travis she wants him to be like his father and sometimes tells him she doesn't, she recognizes that only one side of Walter can win out.

Mama realizes the most important gift she can give Walter isn't money, it's authority and agency—freedom. Giving Walter a way out of his service job is also the best way she can honor Big Walter, who wanted more than manual labor but never got a way out himself. Walter may be aware of the risk of the investment—he's certainly wary of Mama's trust, which seems to him both sudden and undeserved—but his desires take over. He wants his biggest worries to be "secretaries getting things wrong"; he wants to greet white neighbors as a peer. And he wants even more for Travis.

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