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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does alcohol connect to ambition, community, unhappiness, and strife in A Raisin in the Sun?

Walter and Bobo's desire to invest in a liquor store represents ambition and a need to be involved with the community by proving their worth as entrepreneurs. Ruth notes the connection to community by pointing out how such an enterprise fills a community need, saying that "people going to always be drinking themselves some liquor." She also knows that alcohol is a way to cope with unhappiness—one she's seen her husband use many times when he is frustrated by his thwarted ambitions. When Walter becomes angry and depressed that his mother "butchered up [his] dream," he takes refuge in the bar called the Green Hat. There he can drink, let the music speak to him, and participate in the community even if only as a passive observer. This shows that despite his anger, he longs for connection to others. His drunkenness provides an escape route from his misery and brings him temporary "peace." Yet at the same time his use of alcohol causes strife with Mama, who feels he should find his peace inside the home. Thus in A Raisin in the Sun alcohol is a complex force that produces mixed consequences.

What is the symbolism of the name Beneatha in A Raisin in the Sun, and how does this symbolism compare to the Yoruba name Asagai gives her?

Beneatha's unique name includes the word beneath, implying a subordinate status, someone who is "beneath" others. As a working-class African American woman, Beneatha lacks status in Chicago despite her exceptional intelligence and curiosity. She lacks authority in the home due to her age. Beneatha doesn't accept this lack of status, though; she works to assert and improve herself. Her Yoruba name, Alaiyo, means "one for whom bread (food) is not enough"—someone striving for higher, better things. Asagai realizes, though Mama doesn't, that this name is more consistent with Beneatha's personality. Beneatha feels the need for more knowledge and education so that she can rise higher than those who oppress her would want.

What is the "deferred dream" of each of the main adult characters in A Raisin in the Sun, and how is each dream achieved (or not) by the play's end?

Mama and Ruth have each dreamed of a home to raise their children in. Their dream is realized by the play's end, although not in the same way for the two characters. It is too late for Mama's children to grow up in a sunlit, spacious environment, but it is not to late for her grandchildren. Beneatha's dream is to become a doctor to fix people. This dream seemingly dries up once the tuition money is gone, but Asagai opens the door for her to have a new dream: to go to Africa and be a doctor there. This appears to give her the stamina to pursue her dream despite the financial setback. Walter doesn't achieve his dream of business ownership, but he does fulfill his underlying goal—to earn his family's respect and take his father's place as the man of the house.

In Act 1, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun what is the significance of Ruth's line "Ain't nothin' can tear at you like losin' your baby"?

Mama has lost a child, and she doesn't want Ruth to go through the same pain by having an abortion—nor does Mama want to relive the pain herself. She buys the house partially to persuade Ruth to carry her child to term. Ruth wants to protect the "already living" members of her family. She doesn't want Travis to have fewer of their limited resources or Walter to be stretched thinner. She also doesn't want the new baby to be born into poverty or to lose the child to despair the way she's losing Walter. Once Ruth sees a future full of hope for her child, she changes her mind about terminating her pregnancy.

In A Raisin in the Sun what makes Karl Lindner the primary antagonist, the person who opposes the main characters?

Lindner is the antagonist because he represents the prejudice and threat of violence the Youngers face in Chicago. The home is a goal that unites the family, and Lindner is the first person to directly threaten that goal. He represents "The Man" to Walter, the white man he's had to be subservient to his entire life despite his passion and ambition. Lindner's goal to keep the Youngers out of the neighborhood and the Youngers' assertion of their dignity and pride drive much of the plot in the play's second half. They are directly at odds, and this conflict makes the audience consider their own notions of community and the ways people hide (and respond to) racism.

How does each main character express himself or herself in A Raisin in the Sun, and what points does Hansberry make about self-expression?

Beneatha's self-expression is the most artistic and seemingly superficial. As the audience gets to know her they realize expression through music, art, and hairstyles is crucial to Beneatha's motivation and survival. Mama expresses herself through gardening, tending to her plant with the kitchen implements she has and in the limited space and sunlight the apartment provides. Walter's self-expression comes through in the thoughtfulness of his business plan and his assertion to George Murchison that his ideas deserve to be heard. Ruth expresses herself through her living space (as does Mama) by keeping the apartment as clean as possible and selecting furnishings such as new curtains for the home. She also expresses herself by singing when she feels hope. Travis expresses himself by trying to show he's a young man, not a little boy, through actions such as wanting to earn his own money and buying his grandmother a gardening hat. Each family member needs a form of self-expression to thrive.

In A Raisin in the Sun how does the Younger family react toward "rich colored people," and how do their reactions reveal their individual characters?

Beneatha says "rich colored people" are more snobbish than rich white people—more protective of what they've earned, more conscious of what it took to get there, and more apt to create divisions between themselves and other African Americans. Beneatha holds rich African Americans in contempt, even though she knows the necessity of money (although perhaps not as keenly as Ruth and Walter do). Walter regards the wealthy George Murchison with both contempt and envy. Though Walter resents George for not sharing his bitterness, he is aware of the differences between them. The implication in the final act is that for the Youngers to move toward George's status, they should take the buyout Lindner offers—sacrificing their pride for a chance to live a comfortable lifestyle. Only Walter, still envious, considers this path.

How does Beneatha's faith in the achievements and "stubborn effort" of the human race change between the first scene of A Raisin in the Sun and the last?

In Act 1 Beneatha believes humans "[make] miracles"; she says this when she argues to her mother that faith in God is pointless. In making that statement she's thinking about her own desire to be a healer. She is confident that if she works hard enough she can become a doctor and put people back together. By Act 3 Beneatha no longer has that confidence, in herself or in others. She doesn't think people can be cured of the "misery" and "stupidity" that truly ails them. Because of Walter's poor judgment and Willy Harris's theft Beneatha has come to believe that "people are puny, small and selfish." Patching physical wounds is an irrelevant and temporary action, and humans' real problems lie much deeper. Both Asagai, with his speech about the necessity to work for improvement even if it turns out badly, and Mama, with her speech declaring that "there is always something left to love," try to pull her out of this new cynicism. At the very end when Beneatha tells her mother that Asagai has asked her to marry him and go to Africa, it seems that Beneatha might find a balance between idealistic hope and bitter despair.

Why do Beneatha and Walter feel Mama is a "tyrant" who exercises too much power in A Raisin in the Sun?

As the matriarch Mama oversees all that goes on in the apartment. She even listens in on phone calls. Walter is upset that Mama has power over the settlement money, which he thinks he can use more wisely. Beneatha, younger and less intimidated by authority figures, thinks Mama should allow a diversity of opinions in the home. Both Walter and Beneatha dislike Mama's religious convictions. Walter wants her to put her beliefs aside to finance the liquor store. His mother responds by deciding to buy a house without even consulting him, thus undermining his role as the man of the family. Beneatha thinks her mother's religion is influenced by Western, colonialist ideas (referring to Western countries that ruled over territories in Africa and the Americas). For example, Mama accepts the idea that she should send money to missionaries in Africa, which implies that the dominant white culture's religion is superior to traditional African beliefs. Beneatha no longer accepts that idea. When Beneatha attempts to express her atheism, her mother slaps her and insists that she repeat "In my mother's house, there is still God," thus using force to ensure conformity.

How does Mama's plant come to symbolize her children in A Raisin in the Sun?

The plant and the Younger children are all products of Mama's nurturing, and they suffer from similar issues. Mama's children aren't getting what they need to grow in the small apartment. Like the plant without sunshine her children, especially Walter, wilt without reinforcement. Unlike the plant her children's needs aren't straightforward or easy to understand. Mama tends to the plant when she's frustrated or angry, and she keeps it around even though it's old, raggedy, and not likely to grow very much—just as she loves her children when they're at their lowest points. Also like her children she will not leave the plant behind, returning to retrieve it at the very end of the play to ensure she can continue to care for it.

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