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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the personification of the furniture in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun develop the setting?

The furniture is described as "tired." Even the inanimate objects in the room have given in to weariness—though Hansberry mentions they were originally picked with "care and love and even hope," and the couch was "once loved." The play's overarching theme of deferred and unrealized hope carries into the setting. The objects are worn out and fed up—like the characters. The carpet has "fought back" against the residents' efforts to disguise worn patches. Furnishings are weary after years of being "polished, washed, sat on ... scrubbed." The setting shows that great effort doesn't always yield great results. In Act 1, Scene 2 Mama and Beneatha will clean the furnishings again, but they won't be able to get rid of the cockroaches.

How does A Raisin in the Sun's first line ("The Younger living room would be a comfortable and well-ordered room if it were not ...") set mood for the play?

The line suggests that the Youngers would have potential for greater things if the world had not worn them down. They can achieve; for example, Beneatha is in college. They do in fact strive to be "comfortable" (wealthy) and "well-ordered" (disciplined and good at what they do). Walter dreams of owning his own business; Mama and Ruth work to make the best of what they have. With little money and few opportunities, however, the Youngers have become a pile of "contradictions"—a defeated people who nevertheless hope for better things, a close family whose members don't understand each other. The line also demonstrates the author's tone, which is critical and psychologically insightful.

In A Raisin In the Sun's first scene how does Travis show that he is trying to be a man?

Travis shows he's eager for more financial responsibility and wants to be on the same economic footing as his classmates. As a child he still must ask his parents for money. When Ruth won't give him 50 cents for school, he suggests he earn it on his own by carrying groceries. Defying his wife, Walter gives his son money to bolster his—and Walter's own—pride and manhood, although the family can't really afford it. Travis is also reluctant to hug his mother, even though he recognizes the ritual's importance to her, because he is beginning to feel too old for such affection.

In Act 1, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun how does Ruth's statement "Eat your eggs" and Walter's reply to it demonstrate their contrasting goals?

Ruth's goal is to care for her family and do her best with what they have. She emphasizes her family's physical well-being in the moment—for instance, by wanting Travis to get more sleep despite Walter's friends staying up late in the apartment and by nagging at Walter to eat his eggs. Walter emphasizes emotional well-being and planning. He believes he and his friends are talking about important things that Ruth doesn't care to understand—things that will benefit the family in the long term. He's frustrated by what he sees as Ruth's limited vision and ignorance of his real needs. Food doesn't sustain him; he's "choking to death."

What does Beneatha's physical description in A Raisin in the Sun reveal about her character?

Hansberry describes Beneatha's face as "intellectual"; her appearance reflects her scholarly interests. She is less pretty than Ruth but her face has a "handsomeness," a term most often used to describe men. This hints that Beneatha is the character most likely to flout traditional gender roles; she wants to become a doctor instead of a nurse. She also confidently makes her own decisions, which is much different from traditional gender roles of the time. Her hair is "thick" and "stands wildly." She hasn't yet straightened it into submission; Beneatha's second-act decision to wear her hair naturally represents her rejection of assimilation and white culture.

In Act 1 of A Raisin in the Sun how do Ruth and Beneatha's attitude toward Mama's money contrast with Walter's, and what do these attitudes reveal about each character?

Ruth and Beneatha both believe Mama should control her money. Beneatha says Mama can do something frivolous if she likes; she doesn't even have to spend the funds. Beneatha hopes to be allowed that same agency over her own life. It is noteworthy that, while she will not ask her mother to pay for medical school, Beneatha is not too independent to accept the money if offered. Ruth, after mentioning the money "self-righteously" to Mama, suggests Mama take a vacation. Ruth is proud of her own sense of responsibility, but she knows Mama needs relaxation and rest. Walter believes money needs to be invested in a way that will make it grow; he doesn't see the point of a vacation or for his sister to pursue such lofty educational goals. He feels a connection to his father as the only son and, therefore, more ownership of his father's funds. He believes the traditional idea that money should be passed down from man to man.

How does Beneatha's reference to Walter as a "prophet" in Act 1, Scene 1 foreshadow Walter's later actions in A Raisin in the Sun?

Beneatha refers to the prophets "who would lead us out of the wilderness ... into the swamps!" or from one bad situation to a worse one. Besides signifying Beneatha's distaste for organized religion and its worship of authority figures, the line paints Walter as the prophet who leads his family into unknown territory. Like a prophet Walter frequently sees visions of the future and the past that the other characters can't see. When he refers to his future as a "looming blank space" to Mama in Act 1, Scene 2 he expresses a desire to know what the future holds. When he gives his funds to an untrustworthy man he unwittingly leads his followers—his family—into the swamps, so he knows it's his responsibility to make things right.

What parallels does Hansberry draw between Mama and African women in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun?

Africa is associated with hope, nobility, and royalty throughout the play. It is also associated with mythical archetypes, such as the queenly matriarch. Mama is one of the play's most noble characters, the one who sticks by principle. Mama is also interested in honoring the past, both her husband and her faith—tying into her deeper ancestry. She carries the family's burdens gracefully, like a Southwest African woman who walks with "a basket or a vessel upon her head." Like the African women she is compared to, "the women of the Hereros of Southwest Africa," Mama demonstrates noble bearing throughout the play, no matter what kind of struggle she is working through.

How do the contrasting ways that Ruth and Mama treat Travis reveal generational ideas about children and self-sufficiency in A Raisin in the Sun?

Mama makes Travis's bed, gives him money, and encourages Ruth to feed him more. She's also less inclined to think Travis deserves discipline. Her grandmotherly affection combines with her desire to nurture and shelter Travis from the world's troubles—though this changes in the last act when Mama pulls Travis into the discussion with Lindner. Ruth wants her son to understand the trouble the family is in and to start taking responsibility for how late he stays out at night. She knows hard work and self-sufficiency will ensure Travis's future; his fortune won't be gifted to him by his family. Ruth's generation expects more than Mama's—Ruth may be more inclined to view Travis as a future entrepreneur, like his father.

How does food represent care and hospitality in A Raisin in the Sun?

Preparing and serving food is the one concrete action Ruth and Mama can do when they don't know how to meet their family's deeper needs. They also use food as a way to bring guests into their circle of caring. Ruth feeds Travis and offers to feed Walter when she doesn't know how else to help them; she can't give Travis his 50 cents or Walter his investment dreams. Walter remarks on her tendency to offer him food and drink when he really wants connection. Ruth and Mama give food and drink to guests to distract them from awkward conversations or to fulfill their own roles as the women of the house. In addition Mama invites Asagai over for home-cooked meals as a way of making him part of the family; she looks "at him as she would Walter." Food also represents housewarming, making a house into a home. Mama plans to cook a big meal once the Youngers get to the new house.

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