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A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University explains the symbols in Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun.

A Raisin in the Sun | Symbols


The symbols in the play reinforce themes of heritage, racial pride, and the growth of a people.


Music reveals character, portrays heritage, and provides comfort. Three particular types of music are referred to in the play: the blues, Nigerian folk songs, and spirituals.

The saxophone blues, frequently played on the radio in the Younger apartment as they clean and go about their lives, show the broader African American culture of Chicago's South Side. Blues represent solace, community, and unity in trouble.

The Nigerian folk songs Asagai brings Beneatha celebrate Nigerian communal gatherings and rituals. Along with Beneatha's robes the music shows the diversity and richness of African culture. It also provides a chorus and theme that temporarily unites Beneatha and Walter.

Spirituals, religious songs sung by the African American community in slavery and passed down through generations, comfort both Mama and Ruth. The family joins in on a spiritual in the second act, showing their common heritage despite their differences.


Money is a pervasive symbol for dreams and generational conflict. It underpins the Youngers' life first due to its lack then due to its abundance. The Youngers all feel differently about money, and they use it as both a tool and a weapon. For example, by putting a deposit on a house in a white neighborhood, Mama uses money as a tool to try to keep her family together. Inadvertently, however, that money becomes a weapon to keep Walter under her control. When Walter invests the money with the untrustworthy Willy, he intends the investment to be a tool toward becoming a businessman. But by taking the money earmarked for Beneatha as well as his own, he turns the investment into a weapon that imperils his sister's future.

Mama's Plant and Sunlight

Mama is devoted to her plant, which symbolizes her nurturing of life in a small space. The weak and ancient plant struggles to survive throughout the play and travels to the new house with the Youngers. It shows, like the characters, resilience and strength.

Because the Younger apartment doesn't get much sunlight it's not an environment suitable for growth. The family, like the plant, is constricted. The sunlight in the new house represents a better environment, not just physically but emotionally and financially.

Beneatha's Hair

Beneatha begins to wear her hair naturally, without straightening it, as she's exploring her identity in the middle of the play. Her hair symbolizes her pride as a black woman and her changing racial identity.

Cooking and Food

The Youngers offer hospitality through food and drink, both to other family members and to guests. Food is dismissed as a pedestrian concern by Walter, but it's the way Mama and Ruth show their support for and allegiance to family. Mama's desire to invite Asagai over for a home-cooked meal reveals the way she makes a shabby apartment into a home—by providing nourishment.

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