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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In A Raisin in the Sun what are "the two meanings" that Beneatha perceives in Lindner's phrase "the way we do things out in Clybourne Park"?

The phrase has two meanings, one innocent, one sinister. The more innocent meaning of the phrase is that the Clybourne Park community, like all communities, has rituals and routines that new members should know about. The more sinister meaning (and Lindner's real meaning) is that the community is homogeneous with no plans to change. It doesn't wish to accommodate members who are different from what the people of Clybourne Park are used to in any way, especially racially different. The Youngers are the ones who will have to adapt to whatever white residents want rather than exercising visions of their own. Lindner comes with strength in numbers ("we") as well as racial prejudice.

In A Raisin in the Sun why does Lindner call the Youngers a "nice family of folks"?

Lindner isn't presented as a malicious person even though he's the antagonist. Hansberry is making a point here: Lindner's outer kindness and inner racism are fairly typical among people who don't consider themselves racist. Lindner attempts to solicit the Youngers' sympathy so they'll be more inclined to do what he asks. He may actually believe they're good, hardworking people, but he's still enforcing the prejudice of his community. By encouraging dialogue and presenting his position as one of concern Lindner tries to mask his true intentions. He shows that racism in the 1940s and 1950s has put on a more civilized costume than in the past but intentions haven't changed.

Why do Walter, Beneatha, and Ruth use humor and sarcasm to relate their experience with Karl Lindner to Mama in A Raisin in the Sun?

They used humor and sarcasm because the reality is too painful to deal with. Humor is used as a weapon and a way of coping by the main characters—if they don't laugh at life's injustices perhaps they'll cry. Ruth's joke about "that's the way the crackers crumble" shows that she sees racism as inevitable. Since it's not going away she might as well handle it with amusement. They're also trying to protect Mama by presenting the situation in a way that doesn't terrify her since they all know the real risks of moving to Clybourne Park. By the third act the pain is so present that they're not joking anymore.

In the final scene of A Raisin in the Sun Asagai responds to Beneatha's questions by saying he "live[s] the answer." What does he mean?

Beneatha, as an American, has a certain privilege that Asagai does not. While Beneatha can ask "what good is struggle ... where are we all going and why are we bothering," Asagai can't afford to stop and wonder. He feels the urgency of bringing strong leadership to Africa and of living an examined life, and he knows he's going to struggle. His life hasn't been easy, and he doesn't expect it to be. But Asagai refuses to give up and he feels that by asking such questions at all Beneatha is giving up herself. He shows her the necessity of continuing to work, even when the "why" isn't always clear.

In A Raisin in the Sun what kind of leader does Asagai envision himself becoming, and how does his vision of leadership compare and contrast with Walter's vision?

Asagai's goal is to "hold on to the substance of truth"—to maintain his emotional integrity. He realizes that there are a number of different potential outcomes if he achieves leadership. He could abandon his morals or be killed or simply perpetuate outdated ideas. Walter holds a much more concrete, optimistic, and simplistic vision of leadership. He imagines the material objects that will surround him—he'll have a car, servants, secretaries "getting things wrong." He pictures all the trappings of a middle-class American life. Walter doesn't fear that he will make bad decisions, even though he does make a catastrophically bad decision in pursuit of his goal. He's not as concerned with maintaining integrity as Asagai is. Both men are extremely confident. Beneatha thinks Asagai will be confident even in death. When she says, "The martyr!" she's ridiculing the strength of his conviction but with respect.

What events in A Raisin in the Sun support Beneatha's belief that "there isn't any real progress"?

Though African Americans are free in the twentieth century violence against them continues. Bombings and the lynchings in the South that Mrs. Johnson refers to are regular occurrences. African Americans even perpetuate violence and other crimes against one another, as Willy Harris does with his theft. Lindner speaks cordially and respectfully, but he wants to prevent the Youngers from taking possession of what they've earned. Hansberry questions how much progress society has made and challenges the audience to do better. The Younger family members don't work as slaves, but they work low-wage jobs they don't enjoy. Every effort they make toward upward mobility is challenged. Despite these realities the Youngers work to make the best life possible for themselves.

Why does Walter tell Lindner that his father almost "beat a man to death" in Act 3 of A Raisin in the Sun?

Walter's reference to violence, although not a direct threat, hints to Lindner that Walter isn't going to just accept what the white community decides. This moves Walter from acting "like a small boy" with a "simple groping quality" in his speech to acting like a man and establishing his authority. Walter also wants to strengthen himself by remembering his father—a hardworking man who didn't tolerate disrespect and who physically defended himself. As Walter's tone shifts so does his mindset, and by the end of his dialogue with Lindner he's made a final decision that makes sense and completes his character's growth.

In Act 3 of A Raisin in the Sun why are the Youngers "deliberately trying to ignore the nobility" of Walter's final actions as they prepare to move?

The Younger women deal with any kind of disruption, good or bad, by taking action. They're filled with emotion after seeing this change in Walter, and they're also realizing that their own situation has changed in an instant. They need to fill the moving van and proceed to the next phase of their lives instead of slowing down, stopping, or getting bogged down in emotions. After Walter makes his decision the pace of the action picks up and the characters leave the stage fairly quickly. Because of this dramatic pacing Walter's coming into his manhood remains fresh in the audience's mind at the play's end. A prolonged portrayal of the move would detract from that powerful moment.

Why does Mama return to the apartment to retrieve her plant in Act 3 of A Raisin in the Sun?

Mama realizes what her plant means to her. It's a stand-in for the family, trapped in an apartment with little sunlight, limited in the ways it can grow. Though she will have access to a garden at the new house Mama can't forget that her plant still needs her as much as she needs something to tend to. The symbol also recalls nature in the way the title of the play does: living things, like plants and raisins, react to and are restricted by their physical environments. Mama has a profound relationship to nature, picking a house with sunlight and comparing Walter to "a rainbow after the rain."

What is the significance of Langston Hughes's metaphor of "a raisin in the sun" to A Raisin in the Sun?

In Hughes's poem "Harlem," named after the historic African American neighborhood, the raisin in the sun is a metaphor for "a dream deferred." Like the raisin, Hughes says, the dream might "dry up." Many of the main characters' dreams have dried up and lost their strength over the years. Mama, Ruth, and Walter all dreamed of home ownership and a middle-class lifestyle with even better prospects for their children. Beneatha dreams of living in an equal society, where effort and strength matter more than gender, race, and class. Like the dried-up raisin, their dreams have shriveled in the cramped apartment, a space that reflects the Youngers' low value to their society. Hansberry shows how human beings handle and grow beyond these restrictions—how their dreams define them.

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