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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Act 1, Scene 2 of A Raisin in the Sun why does Mama repeat Beneatha's concerns about Africa to Asagai?

Like Ruth Mama wants to prove herself "civilized" in front of a guest. She still thinks Beneatha's concerns about the effects of European rule and missionary efforts in Africa are more amusing than pressing, but she also wants to support her daughter. She wants to impress Beneatha and Asagai, too—Mama needs to keep her authority in the home, her domain, so she says what she thinks will lead Asagai to see her as a more sophisticated person than she really is. This speech is the first indication that Mama is making sincere, if awkward, strides toward understanding her children. This also shows a bit of flexibility on Mama's part, which is not always evident throughout the play.

Why is it significant that both Ruth and Mama suppress screams in A Raisin in the Sun—Ruth in Act 1, Scene 2 and Mama in Act 3?

At the moment that Mama first suspects Ruth is considering an abortion, Ruth stands with "her fists clenched on her thighs and is fighting hard to suppress a scream." In the very last paragraph of stage directions of Act 3 just before Mama exits, "a great heaving thing rises in her and she puts her fist to her mouth." Both women are overwhelmed—Ruth with fear and anxiety, Mama with joy and apprehension. Hansberry shows how deferred dreams can produce deep emotion and lead to the suppression of that emotion, especially in women, who are trained to care for others before themselves. Mama says, "Women gets right depressed sometimes when they get her way." Once a woman finally gets what she wants, what's next? What new problems might arise? Ruth fears the impact of a new baby on the family and the consequences of terminating the pregnancy. Mama fears there will be trouble in the Youngers' future when they move, but she sees the possibilities as well. In addition the apartment was her first home with Big Walter, and she's leaving part of her past behind.

In Act 1, Scene 2 of A Raisin in the Sun why does Asagai consider Beneatha's straightened hair "mutilated"?

Beneatha says she straightens her hair because her natural hair is "hard to manage." However, she's aware that natural hair, like Asagai's, is an aspect of black identity that she's altering on purpose. Asagai gently mocks her preoccupation with "identity," but he's serious about her hair. African identity is more than academic to him and he can't afford to accommodate in any way, even though at that point Beneatha would probably appreciate it if he did.

How does Willy Harris function as the secondary antagonist, or opponent, in A Raisin in the Sun?

Willy Harris is never onstage, but he influences the actions of Walter (the protagonist) and the fate of the entire family. Though Beneatha senses he's not trustworthy, Willy Harris inspires Walter's faith. Walter, like Willy, is willing to accept a few ethical compromises to achieve his goal (paying someone off to get the liquor license) until he's on the receiving end of such an unethical decision himself. Willy's theft of the money directly sabotages Walter's goals in a way that Lindner, the primary antagonist, does not. Willy's actions make Beneatha lose faith that people will help one another. She draws on her newly acquired cynicism about African Americans to speculate that Africans will turn out to be untrustworthy if they achieve independence. She now believes that, to achieve the "new Independence," Africans will steal from each other to rise to the top.

How do both Walter and Ruth reveal their business naïveté in the first scene of A Raisin in the Sun?

Walter trusts that his fellow investors will be honest, ignoring Ruth's observation that businessmen often use illegal means such as graft. Ruth doesn't believe Walter that, in the business world, aspiring owners need to pay somebody off. Her opinion is presented as a naïve view of the way the world works. Walter's decision to give Willy money for the liquor license up front shows his naïveté about Willy's character but also his hope. He's willing to do whatever it takes to be a successful businessman, and he's proud of the knowledge he feels he already has. Even though Ruth is naïve about some aspects of doing business, her common sense and her apprehensions about Walter's involvement and investment turn out to be accurate in the end.

Which characters from A Raisin in the Sun best represent Booker T. Washington's view that African Americans should "accommodate" to a white world?

George Murchison and Mrs. Johnson both believe Washington's philosophy that black people should assimilate to the dominant white culture, and they demonstrate this belief to the Youngers. Mrs. Johnson believes that once African Americans, like Beneatha and even Mama, get a little education, they lose their humility and forget their place. She even implies, through bringing up incidents of racially motivated violence, that they are asking for trouble by moving to Clybourne Park. George Murchison is willing to succeed within white power structures instead of challenging them. He takes pride in his wealth and doesn't understand Walter's eagerness to achieve status and lasting change for African Americans.

Which characters in A Raisin in the Sun best represent W.E.B. DuBois's view that African Americans should "agitate" and make change through disruption?

Beneatha, Walter, and Asagai all support DuBois's view to different degrees. Beneatha is on what Walter jokingly calls the "Committee on Unending Agitation"—she identifies the dominant culture in America as "oppressive" and, during Act 2, decides to fight assimilation in her appearance by wearing her hair naturally. Walter believes he can outshine many white executives in business and looks to African warriors as examples of manhood and strength. He does, however, struggle with his desire to succeed in a predominantly white world. When Beneatha and Walter reject Lindner's buyout offer, they show they won't compromise to keep peace. Asagai is against assimilation, which he says is popular among African Americans. He believes in working for change, even if circumstances seem bleak or if mistakes are made.

In A Raisin in the Sun how does Mama use domestic tasks to cope with deeper troubles?

Mama is practical and responds to trouble by looking for small, concrete ways to make things better. When Walter loses the remaining settlement money, Mama focuses on ways they can brighten up the apartment with a new bureau and the curtains meant for the house. She believes brighter surroundings will "cheer us all up so that we forget trouble ever come." In the past she selected the apartment's furnishings with love and care, though they weren't going into the house she and Big Walter dreamed of. She also works diligently to keep the house clean and her plant maintained, using the work to give her a sense of purpose even though her life hasn't given her the garden she dreamed of.

How do the characters in A Raisin in the Sun refer to the recent past of slavery, and what effect do these references have?

The hat Travis gives Mama makes the other Youngers think of chopping cotton, and Beneatha references "Scarlett O'Hara"—a fictional Southern belle who is a caricature of the old South. Their laughs turn deep pain into dark comedy. When Walter considers taking Lindner's money, he recognizes that he's letting a white man keep him from owning property. Mocking himself for this decision Walter lapses into a "slow-witted movie stereotype" of the eager-to-please slave speaking in dialect to his master. As Mama says when she refers to the previous "five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers," the Youngers always kept their dignity and pride even when they didn't have their freedom. Mama's words remind Walter of what his family has overcome and influence his final decision to keep the house.

How does the child Mama lost long ago affect her attitudes and decisions in A Raisin in the Sun?

Mama is determined not to lose another child when Ruth becomes pregnant. She will also do anything for her children—buy a house for Travis to grow up in even though it will be dangerous to live in a white neighborhood and give money to Walter although she may not agree with how he might invest it. Her appreciation of the bond of family helps her forgive and love Walter in the final act. She's seen her husband through the pain of losing a child and knows the importance of loving someone "when he's at his lowest." She feels the loss contributed to Big Walter's death, as well.

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