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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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Act 3

Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3 of Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun.

A Raisin in the Sun | Act 3 | Summary



An hour has passed since the events of the last act. The family's sitting silently when Asagai comes to the door, cheerful and ready to help with packing. Beneatha tells him Walter gave away the money, jeopardizing the financial security the family needs to move. She talks about the accident she witnessed as a child that made her want to become a doctor. Asagai asks if she's stopped caring, and Beneatha admits she has.

When Asagai challenges her they argue about whether idealism and "independence" are worthy goals. Cynical and frustrated, Beneatha believes progress is impossible, comparing human attempts to marching around in a circle. Asagai argues that no one can see or know the future. He says that Beneatha is using her brother's failure as an excuse to give up. To offer perspective he discusses the dramatic changes he's seen in Africa. Though he hopes to become a great man, Asagai says he's aware that reaching for greatness may lead him to make mistakes, do terrible things, or even be killed, but it's worth it to try.

He suggests to Beneatha that she come to Africa with him and see what he loves about the continent. Beneatha is taken aback and says she needs time to think. Asagai agrees to wait and leaves with continued admiration for Beneatha and the "New World" she represents.

Walter begins to rummage through the luggage. Beneatha snaps at him, mocking the "stupidity" of his ambitions to be a successful businessman. Walter leaves the apartment unexpectedly. Mama, resigned and discouraged, tells Ruth and Beneatha to start unpacking. Ruth insists that they should still move, no matter what it takes. Mama says they should refurnish the apartment instead: "Sometimes you just got to know when to give up."

Walter returns and says he's made a call to "The Man"—Karl Lindner. Laughing with despair, Walter says he'll "put on a show," give up his pride, and take Lindner's offer to buy back the house. Ruth, Beneatha, and Mama are disgusted and disappointed. Beneatha disowns her brother. Mama, also upset with Walter, says Beneatha shouldn't give up on him. In fact she needs to love him the most when he's at his lowest.

Travis comes upstairs to say the movers have arrived. He's followed by Lindner, who says he is glad the Youngers are accepting his offer. Mama pointedly tells Travis to stay and see what Walter is about to do.

Slowly, Walter explains to Lindner that the Youngers are "plain people" who have worked in service jobs for generations. He adds that they're also proud people; his sister will be a doctor, he says, and his son is the sixth generation of their family in the country. Walter then announces that the Youngers are moving into the house their father earned. Mama is overjoyed. Confused, Lindner appeals to Mama, but she stands by Walter.

The family hurries to load the moving truck. Beneatha tells Mama that Asagai asked her to marry him and be a doctor in Africa. Walter and Beneatha bicker about her choice of suitor as they leave the apartment.

Mama tells Ruth that Walter came into his manhood that day. Ruth agrees. Mama stays for a moment in the apartment after everyone else has left. She looks around, leaves, and then returns for her plant to take it to the new home.


The last act of the play begins by setting the family members apart as they grapple individually with the newest development. Beneatha, Walter, and Mama take time for serious self-examination in a way they haven't before. Their conclusions aren't immediately hopeful. The last act explores a big question—Can people change for the better, or are they always the same? The stakes are high; like Mama, the main characters are losing what "command of the world" they had.

Hansberry sets the scene in a gray "sullen light of gloom." Light is a potent metaphor in the play. When the sun is shining growth happens; when the sun's obscured hope can be lost. Asagai's observation of "a household in preparation for a journey" is true—he believes in change, in progress. He sees that the Youngers are on the threshold. The scene clearly marks Asagai as a man who respects idealism, in contrast to George who keeps his goals dimly realistic.

Beneatha's belief that she is "nothing" now shows that in some ways she agrees with her brother that money is life. She craves an even greater authority than her brother does—the godlike ability to make the sick whole, to truly change them. Her desire to work in medicine is a metaphor for the various ways the characters want to rid the African American community of the effects of slavery and rid Africa of colonialism. Beneatha thinks medicine is futile to cure the true disease. Colonialism is too deeply rooted, and even independence won't lead to change. Now black people steal from each other just as white people have stolen from them. When she speaks of "crooks and thieves" she may be thinking of Willy Harris, an aspiring entrepreneur like her brother but one who's won by taking advantage of others.

Asagai indicates that the family's problems are deeper than just the money. The Youngers' dreams hinged on "the death of a man"—an event they didn't choose. Rather than taking control of her own future Beneatha relied on one man's money and another man's decisions. Asagai goads her into taking action. His monologue about Africa and the changes that make a continent "leap into the future" shows that he believes risk is always worth taking. Asagai aspires to leadership, like Walter. He knows if he works toward a leadership position in Africa there is a chance he will fail and possibly lose his life or his morals. Even if the short-term effects are "death and hatred," even if Asagai falls short of his own goals, doing something is better than doing nothing. He knows corrupt leaders will "always be there" and doesn't want Beneatha to waste time worrying about the damage they can do. He certainly isn't, though he's more keenly aware of corruption than even she is.

Beneatha doesn't see herself as a symbol of the "New World" in the admiring way that Asagai sees her. She sees Walter as a symbol of the new, white world that black Americans must assimilate into, losing their sense of self in the process. She turns on Walter the way Walter turned on George. Walter's goals of capitalist self-improvement and commerce seem even more pointless in the face of Asagai's goals of true transformation for his countrymen, goals that Beneatha seems to respect even if she doubts Asagai will succeed.

Mama ridicules her own goals. Like Walter she's disappointed in herself—everyone who doubted her was right. She recalls people telling her she "aims too high all the time ... see life a little more like it is." This is new information about Mama, who lectured Walter about his lack of contentment in an earlier act. But the audience realizes it's always been true. Mama aimed high when she bought the house. Now she's seeing the pain of having goals her peers say are unreachable. This may be the tragic twist that allows Mama to finally understand her children.

Ruth proves her loyalty to Mama by saying she still has faith in the Youngers to make it despite this setback. Ruth steps up before Walter does; she offers to sacrifice. She's taking the role of Walter, the hopeful family member pushing the rest toward desperately needed change. Ruth hasn't played this role in the family before—she's always been the practical one—and it's a telling transformation for her.

Walter, like Beneatha, descends into deep cynicism. He was the one who wanted to do business correctly, worried about "the right and the wrong," and he lost to a greedy "taker" because of it. Why should he keep dignity and pride in his family if victory only goes to those who sell out? It seems the crooks, the thieves, the racist white neighbors are the ones who succeed. Mama's assertion that the sharecroppers in her ancestry held onto their dignity and Walter's desire for his wife to "wear some pearls" (presumably bought with Lindner's buyout money) present contrasting versions of wealth and its relation to moral bankruptcy. Walter's assertion that "it's important to" Karl Lindner to give the family money implies that systemic racism plays a role in the white community. The white Clybourne Park residents need to feel as if they're "helping" black Chicagoans, even as they do the opposite.

It's when Walter thinks about the word man, when he assures Mama that he's going to feel fine, that the audience realizes he's not entirely convinced about his decision to take the buyout. Beneatha pointedly calls him an "individual," not a man, when she disowns him. His use of racist stereotypes takes the family's penchant for sarcastic humor, which before had been used with a light heart, to frightening new lengths. Mama and Beneatha see his true despair. Beneatha holds him in contempt since he's manifesting her own worst fears—that history will only repeat itself and nothing will improve. Mama, first and foremost a mother, sees Walter's anguished routine as evidence that his grief is deeper than she realized. As the member of the family who has seen the most hardship, Mama is the biggest believer in love without condition.

Walter rises to meet her expectations and earns the respect of his family due to the protagonist's internal struggle and the family's clear efforts toward reunification. Walter begins by intimidating Lindner with the story of his father—he wants to meet Lindner man to man, as equals. Since Walter begins the scene with Lindner in a humble and meek manner, his sudden defiance is surprising. In the short scene Walter mirrors his journey in the play—from weak to strong, from frightened to courageous. He finally gives Travis the status the boy longs for, too, by naming him as the representative of a generation. His assertion that they'll move into the house is a moment of redemption for the entire family.

Mama defers to Walter's authority, though the audience knows that in some ways she's the force behind it all. Walter complained in the play's first scene about lacking the support of a woman. Now he finds he's had a woman standing beside him all along—his mother. The play celebrates family relationships as the glue that keeps people going through hard times. Separately the Youngers are fallible human beings; together they're a strong unit. It's significant that they all stand together, including Travis, in the final scene. The audience has never before seen the Youngers all in the same room of the apartment at once.

Strengthened by her brother's resolve, Beneatha decides to take a risk and go to Africa. Family will often fall into the same patterns, too, as the audience sees when Walter and Beneatha return to their earlier argument about George Murchison. (Hansberry points out that despite all the transformation they've gone through, the siblings argue "precisely as in the first scene"—some things never change.)

The Youngers, and the audience, don't know what will face the family in Clybourne Park. Will their efforts to be good neighbors be enough to protect them from repercussions? Will they face physical violence, as Hansberry's family did? Is progress possible? Will they see it happen? Hansberry deliberately leaves these questions unanswered for the audience to contemplate. She also ends the play by giving Mama a moment alone to process all of her emotions—joy, pain, pride, nostalgia—so multifaceted that Hansberry can only express them as "a great heaving thing." In this moment the audience can appreciate the complexity of the play. It transcends labels of comedy and tragedy by combining elements of both, and by telling a tale of distinct individuals it explores universal human truths.

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