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A Raisin in the Sun | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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According to the stage directions in Act 2, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter "sees what we [the audience] cannot." What does he see?

Walter frequently sees into an imagined past and the future—he is a "prophet" as Beneatha derisively calls him. He sees leadership in his future and as his heritage. The play allows a parallel reality onto the stage, that of ancient Africa and tribal warriors, but it doesn't stage this scene explicitly. The Nigerian music evokes the scene in Walter's imagination and in Beneatha's—unique to them, and not an experience they can share with others. The scene also shows that Africa exists as a myth and a promise in the Youngers' minds.

Why does George call Walter "Prometheus" in A Raisin in the Sun, and what does the allusion reveal about Walter's character?

In Greek mythology Prometheus was the fire-bringer and protector of humanity who was punished by Zeus for his actions. He was immortal and larger than life, similar to Walter's description of himself as "a giant—surrounded by ants." Prometheus's retrieval of fire reminds George of Walter's desire to reach out and grab the "stars gleaming." Though Walter doesn't know who Prometheus is he recognizes George's mocking tone clearly. Walter may want more power, but George doesn't think he can obtain it. George perhaps also believes that white society would punish Walter if he did succeed, just as Prometheus was punished. The misunderstanding highlights Walter's lack of formal education and his complete confidence that he can stand as an equal among those with more experience and training.

What do Hansberry's references to "Chaka" (a Zulu warrior chief) and to Walter's "unexpected majesty" reveal about Walter's character in A Raisin in the Sun?

To the Youngers Africa has an inspirational quality. By seeing himself as a descendant of Chaka, Walter can obtain the majesty he continually seeks. The allusion also depicts the pride and strength the Youngers feel in their African ancestry and foreshadows Walter's final decision in the play where he proclaims that the Youngers will move into the house their father earned. Walter is a proud descendant of his father, as Travis is his descendant. Lineage is a point of pride, particularly for the men in the play. Asagai mentions his Yoruba tribal ancestry, and Walter wants to honor his father.

How does George's vision of Africa compare or contrast with Asagai's vision of Africa in A Raisin in the Sun?

George doesn't think much of African achievements. He refers to Africa as "raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts." Fully assimilated into American culture, George buys into the myth of Africa as backward compared to the West. As a good student George can name the African civilizations that Beneatha presumably praises to him, but the meaning of what he's learned has not sunk in. As a native of Nigeria Asagai alone among the characters sees Africa as a complex continent, rather than an idea. He sees nations with flawed leaders and confused citizens, like America. While Asagai is aware of the illiteracy and disease in Africa, he believes renewal is possible through looking to the future of medicine and to the heritage of the past.

What does Big Walter, the deceased father, represent in A Raisin in the Sun?

Big Walter represents the family's lineage and their working-class history in America. He also represents a past they're trying to escape even as they honor him. He worked so hard at low-wage jobs that he became physically ill. The family, benefiting from his death through the settlement check, has a complex relationship to their new funds. In a way Big Walter has given them the gift of new lives and a way out of his fate—though the manner of the gift is not one any of them would have chosen. He has made the ultimate sacrifice for his family. In Beneatha's life Big Walter represents patriarchy and the rule of men. Asagai tells her the goals in her household stem from "the death of a man," and she should take ownership of her future rather than leave it up to her father.

How does Mrs. Johnson act as a contrast for the main characters in A Raisin in the Sun?

Mrs. Johnson is a contrast to the Youngers because she is a character who has made different life choices and adopted different ideas than they have. Her contentment contrasts with the Youngers' dissatisfaction. Her brashness contrasts with Mama's dignity since Mama doesn't allow racial slurs to be spoken in the home. Mrs. Johnson shows Mama and Ruth's resistance to Booker T. Washington's idea that "education has spoiled many a good plow hand." Hansberry includes the quotation to show that Mama hasn't accepted the idea of "accommodation." Mama wants more than manual labor, not just for her children but also for herself. Ruth finds Mrs. Johnson ignorant and, as a result, begins to take responsibility for her own goals. When Mrs. Johnson says there is nothing wrong with being a chauffeur, she provides a contrast to Walter's point of view. Walter tries to convince his son that he shouldn't aspire to a service job just because his father has one.

What is the significance of music to Walter in A Raisin in the Sun?

Music, particularly the blues and the saxophone, provide Walter with relief and a close connection to his community. When he listens to the musicians at the Green Hat, he can temporarily let go of his worries: "don't nothing matter worth a damn." While he can find solace in the company of musicians when he's sad, Mama wants him to be able to find the same solace at home. The Nigerian folk song Beneatha plays allows Walter to join in the call and response (a form of African and African American narrative in which the listeners answer the speaker in some way) as the warrior and the giant he believes himself to be. This allows him to relax and unwind while imagining, possibly, being able to reach his goals.

Why does Walter emphasize education to Travis in Act 2, Scene 2 of A Raisin in the Sun?

Education means possibility and success. Even though Walter mocked George Murchison's reliance on education as a symbol of status, he wants that same status for his son. Walter knows that being a father means enabling your children's dreams as well as your own. Walter didn't have an opportunity for education. Through his dreams of upward mobility for Travis he can see an improving future for black Americans. Walter's own dream involves being an executive in an office and having a middle-class home with domestic help, but Travis can do even better. Although Walter derides his sister's goals, he's also inspired by them; if his sister, a woman, can get a degree, so can his son.

Which characters express the most hope in Act 1 of A Raisin in the Sun, and which characters express the most hope in the final act?

Walter expresses the most hope in the first act. Though he's desperate and unhappy, he's optimistic about what the liquor store will mean for the family. No one else shares his enthusiasm. As Ruth points out he's not bringing up new ideas, just reiterating his old ones. Even so Walter is invigorated and ready to leave reality for the future. Ruth expresses the most hope by the final act. She encourages Mama to move into the house despite their fortune's turn for the worse. The formerly tired Ruth is now driven to action—perhaps galvanized by her new child. Her singing of the "No Ways Tired" song reflects this transformation.

What purpose do the comic interludes serve in A Raisin in the Sun?

Comic relief occurs when a funny episode or element lightens the emotional tension of the play. The play's rapid shifts in tone, from comic to tragic and back again, mimic the real life of a family whose members know each other well. The Youngers make fun of each other to show their affection and joke after stressful events to cope with grim reality. The humor rarely mocks the characters themselves but rather the impossible situations they're put in—living hopefully in a seemingly hopeless situation. Light interludes also break tension for the audience between serious acts, making the play elicit a variety of emotions and thus provide a richer experience.

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