Full Summary of A Raisin in the Sun
Act I, scene i Summary
It is morning at the Youngers’ apartment. Their small dwelling on the South Side of Chicago has two bedrooms—one for Mama and Beneatha, and one for Ruth and Walter Lee. Travis sleeps on the couch in the living room. The only window is in their small kitchen, and they share a bathroom in the hall with their neighbors. The stage directions indicate that the furniture, though apparently once chosen with care, is now very worn and faded. Ruth gets up first and after some noticeable difficulty, rouses Travis and Walter as she makes breakfast. While Travis gets ready in the communal bathroom, Ruth and Walter talk in the kitchen. They do not seem happy, yet they engage in some light humor. They keep mentioning a check. Walter scans the front page of the newspaper and reads that another bomb was set off, and Ruth responds with indifference. Travis asks them for money—he is supposed to bring fifty cents to school—and Ruth says that they do not have it. His persistent nagging quickly irritates her. Walter, however, gives Travis an entire dollar while staring at Ruth. Travis then leaves for school, and Walter tells Ruth that he wants to use the check to invest in a liquor store with a few of his friends.Walter and Ruth continue to argue about their unhappy lives, a dialogue that Ruth cuts short by telling her husband, “Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.” Beneatha gets up next and after discovering that the bathroom is occupied by someone from another family, engages in a verbal joust with Walter. He thinks that she should be doing something more womanly than studying medicine, especially since her tuition will cut into the check, which is the insurance payment for their father’s death. Beneatha argues that the money belongs to Mama and that Mama has the right to decide how it is spent. Walter then leaves for his job as a chauffeur—he has to ask Ruth for money to get to work because the money he gave Travis was his car fare. Mama enters and goes directly to a small plant that she keeps just outside the kitchen window. She expresses sympathy for her grandson, Travis, while she questions Ruth’s ability to care for him properly. She asks Ruth what she would do with the money, which amounts to $10,000. For once, Ruth seems to be on Walter’s side. She thinks that if Mama gives him some of the money he might regain his happiness and confidence, which are two things Ruth feels she can no longer provide for Walter. Mama, though, feels morally repulsed by the idea of getting into the liquor business. Instead, she wants to move to a house with a lawn on which Travis can play. Owning a house had always been a dream she had shared with her husband, and now that he is gone she nurtures this dream even more powerfully. Mama and Ruth begin to tease Beneatha about the many activities that she tries and quits, including her latest attempt to learn how to play the guitar. Beneatha claims that she is trying to “express” herself, an idea at which Ruth and Mama have a laugh. They discuss the man that Beneatha has been dating, George Murchison. Beneatha gets angry as they praise George because she thinks that he is “shallow.” Mama and Ruth do not understand. her ambivalence toward George, arguing that she should like him simply because he is rich. Beneatha contends that, for that very reason, any further relationship is pointless, as George’s family wouldn’t approve of her anyway. Beneatha makes the mistake of using the Lord’s name in vain in front of Mama, which sparks another conversation about the extent of God’s providence. Beneatha argues that God does not seem to help her or the family. Mama, outraged at such apronouncement, asserts that she is head of the household and that there will be no such thoughts expressed in her home. Beneatha recants and leaves for school, and Mama goes to the window to tend her plant. Ruth and Mama talk about Walter and Beneatha, and Ruth suddenly faints.
Act I, scene ii Summary
Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. (See Important Quotations Explained) The next day, Saturday, the Youngers are cleaning their apartment and waiting for the insurance check to arrive. Walter receives a phone call from his friend Willy Harris, who is coordinating the potential liquor store venture. It appears that their plan is moving smoothly. The insurance check is all Walter needs to pursue the venture. He promises to bring the money to Willy when he receives it. Meanwhile, Beneatha is spraying the apartment with insecticide in an attempt to rid it of cockroaches. Beneatha and Travis start fighting, and Beneatha threatens him with the spray gun. The phone rings, and Beneatha answers. She invites the person on the phone over to the still-dirty apartment, much to Mama’s chagrin. After hanging up, Beneatha explains to Mama that the man she has spoken.to on the phone is Joseph Asagai, an African intellectual whom Beneatha has met at school. She and Mama discuss Beneatha’s worries about her family’s ignorance about Africa and African people. Mama believes that Africans need religious salvation from “heathenism,” while Beneatha believes that they are in greater need of political and civil salvation from French and British colonialism. Ruth returns from seeing a doctor, who has told her that she is two months pregnant. She reveals this information to Mama and Beneatha. Ruth and Beneatha are worried and uncertain, while Mama simply expresses her hope that the baby will be a girl. Ruth calls the doctor “she,” which arouses Mama’s suspicion because their family doctor is a man. Ruth feels ill and anxious about her pregnancy. Mama tries to help her relax. Asagai visits Beneatha, and they spend some time together by themselves. He brings her some Nigerian clothing and music as gifts. As Beneatha tries on one of the robes, Asagai asks about her straightened hair. He implies that her hairstyle is too American and unnatural, and he wonders how it got that way. Beneatha says that her hair was once like his, but that she finds it too “raw” that way. He teases her a bit about being very serious about finding her identity, particularly her African identity, through him. Asagai obviously cares for Beneatha very much, and he wonders why Beneatha does not have the same feeling for him. She explains that she is looking for more than storybook love. She wants to become an independent and liberated woman. Asagai scorns her wish, much to Beneatha’s disappointment. Mama comes into the room, and Beneatha introduces her to Asagai. Mama then recites Beneatha’s views on Africa and African people as best she can. When Asagai says goodbye, he calls Beneatha by a nickname, “Alaiyo.” He explains that it is a word from his African tribal language, roughly translated to mean “One for Whom Bread—Food—Is Not Enough.” He leaves, having charmed both women. Finally, the check arrives. Walter returns home and wants to talk about his liquor store plans. Ruth wants to discuss her pregnancy with him and becomes upset when he will not listen. She shuts herself into their bedroom. Mama sits down with Walter who is upset by—and ashamed of—his poverty, his job as a chauffeur, and his lack of upward mobility. Finally, Mama tells him that Ruth is pregnant and that she fears that Ruth is considering having an abortion. Walter does not believe that Ruth would do such a thing until Ruth comes out of the bedroom to confirm that she has made a down payment on the service.
Act II, scene i
Summary Later on the same Saturday, Beneatha emerges from her room cloaked in the Nigerian clothes that Asagai has brought her. She dances around the apartment, claiming to be performing a tribal dance while shouting “OCOMOGOSIAY” and singing. Ruth finds Beneatha’s pageantry silly and questions her about it. Meanwhile, Walter returns home drunk. He sees Beneatha all dressed up and acts out some made-up tribal rituals with her, at one point standing on a table and pronouncing himself “Flaming Spear.” Ruth looks on wearily. George Murchison arrives to pick up Beneatha. Beneatha removes her headdress to reveal that she has cut off most of her hair, leaving only an unstraightened afro. Everyone is shocked, amazed, and slightly disappointed with Beneatha, prompting a fierce discussion between Beneatha and George about the importance of their African heritage. Beneatha goes to change for the theater, and Walter talks to George about business plans. George does not seem interested. Walter then becomes belligerent as he makes fun of George’s white shoes. Embarrassed, Ruth explains that the white shoes are part of the “college style. ” George obviously looks down on Walter—calling him “Prometheus”—and Walter gets even angrier at him. George and Beneatha finally leave, and Ruth and Walter then begin to fight about Walter going out, spending money, and interacting with people like Willy Harris. They do begin to make up, though, by acknowledging that a great distance has grown between them. Mama comes home and announces that she has put a down payment on a house with some of the insurance money. Ruth is elated to hear this news because she too dreams of moving out of their current apartment and into a more respectable home. Meanwhile, Walter is noticeably upset because he wants to put all the money into the liquor store venture. They all become worried when they hear that the house is in Clybourne Park, an entirely white neighborhood. Mama asks for their understanding—it was the only house that they could afford. She feels she needs to buy the house to hold the family together. Ruth regains her pleasure and rejoices, but Walter feels betrayed, his dream swept under the table. Walter makes Mama feel guilty, saying that she has crushed his dream. He goes quickly to his bedroom, and Mama remains sitting and worrying.
Act II, scene ii Summary
Your daddy’s gonna make a . . . business transaction that’s going to change our lives. . . . You just name it, son . . . and I hand you the world! On a Friday night a few weeks later, Beneatha and George return from a date. The Youngers’ apartment is full of moving boxes. George wants to kiss Beneatha, but she does not want to kiss. Rather, she wants to engage George in a conversation about the plight of African Americans. It seems that George wants to marry a “nice . . . simple . . . sophisticated girl.” Mama comes in as Beneatha kicks him out. Mama asks if she had a good time with George, and Beneatha tells her that George is a “fool.” Mama replies, “I guess you better not waste your time with no fools.” Beneatha appreciates her mother’s support. Mrs. Johnson—the Youngers’ neighbor—visits. Mama and Ruth offer her food and drink, and she gladly accepts. She has come to visit to tell them about a black family who has been bombed out of their home in a white neighborhood. She is generally insensitive and unable to speak in a civil manner. She predicts that the Youngers will also be scared out of the all-white neighborhood once they move in and insults much of the family by calling them a “proud acting bunch of colored folks.” She then quotes Booker T. Washington, a famous African-American thinker and assimilationist
This play tells the story of a lower-class black family’s struggle to gain middle-class acceptance. When the play opens, Mama, the sixty-year-old mother of the family, is waiting for a $10,000 insurance check from the death of her husband, and the drama will focus primarily on how the $10,000 should be spent.
The son, Walter Lee Younger, is so desperate to be a better provider for his growing family that he wants to invest the entire sum in a liquor store with two of his friends. The mother objects mainly for ethical reasons; she is vehemently opposed to the idea of selling liquor. Minor conflicts erupt over their disagreements.
When Mama decides to use part of the money as a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood, her conflict with Walter escalates and causes her deep anguish. In an attempt to make things right between herself and her son, Mama entrusts Walter Lee with the rest of the money. He immediately invests it secretly in his liquor store scheme, believing that he will perhaps quadruple his initial investment.
One of Walter Lee’s prospective business partners, however, runs off with the money, a loss which tests the spiritual and psychological mettle of each family member. After much wavering and vacillating, the Youngers decide to continue with their plans to move — in spite of their financial reversals and in spite of their having been warned by a weak representative of the white neighborhood that blacks are not welcome.
A Raisin in the Sun Character List
Walter Lee Younger
A 35-year-old chauffeur who has a young son, Travis, with his wife, Ruth. The family lives in small apartment with Walter’s mother and sister in the South Side of Chicago. Hansberry describes Walter as a lean, intense man with nervous movements and erratic speaking patterns. Played by Sidney Poitier in the original Broadway production.
Lena Younger (Mama)
The 60-something matriarch of the family. She has recently lost her husband Walter Sr., and will be the recipient of a $10,000 life insurance check. Played by Claudia McNeil in the original Broadway production.
Walter’s 20-year-old sister, a college student who invades the Younger household with her modern ideas and philosophies on race, class, and religion. She is a handsome intellectual who has worked hard to refine her speech. Played by Diana Sands in the original Broadway production.
Walter’s wife and Travis’ mother. In her early thirties, Ruth is exceptionally pretty, but is aging before her time because of her impoverished surroundings. During her 11 years of marriage, she often bore the responsibility of keeping the household running, in addition to working as a domestic servant. Played by Ruby Dee in the original Broadway production.
Walter and Ruth’s 10-year-old son.
A Nigerian college student pursuing Beneatha.
Beneatha’s boyfriend and fellow classmate, who hails from a wealthy black family.
The Youngers’ nosy neighbor, who points out the dangers of moving into Clybourne Park
A white, middle-aged representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Society.
A fellow investor in the liquor business, along with Willy and Walter.
A partner in the liquor business scheme who eventually runs off with Walter and Bob’s investment money.
Major Three Themes From A Raisin In The Sun
The The of Dream
Dreams possess great importance in A Raisin in the Sun, with the play’s name coming from a 1951 Langston Hughes poem titled Montage of a Dream Deferred. In the poem, part of which serves as the play’s epigraph (a quotation at the beginning of a book that elaborates on its major themes) the poet asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” pondering whether it shrivels up “like a raisin in the sun” or explodes. Hughes’ open question forms the basis of Hansberry’s work, with the intertwined and conflicting ambitions of the Youngers driving the play’s plot. Each character clings to distinct dreams, which have long been deferred due to socioeconomic limitations placed on the family by racism. The persistence of these dreams lends the play a pervasive sense of hope, despite the conclusion’s foreshadowing of coming struggles for the family in Clybourne Park.
Mama and her late husband Big Walter’s dream of owning a home forms the crux of the play. Clinging to a dream deferred for nearly 35 years, Mama recalls Big Walter’s statement that it seems “like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams,” linking the postponement of her dream to racial inequality. Ironically, it is Big Walter’s death, with its resulting $10,000 insurance payment, that makes the realization of Mama’s dream possible by the end of the play. Like Mama, Ruth clings to the dream of a home, which generates conflict with her husband, Walter Lee, who dreams of becoming a self-sufficient business owner. Similarly, Walter’s dream of owning a liquor store (one of the few business ventures open to an African-American man in mid-century Chicago) stands in stark contrast to his sister Beneatha’sdream of becoming a doctor. However, by the play’s end Walter’s lost investment places both his and Beneatha’s dreams in jeopardy, casting a shadow over the play’s semi-hopeful conclusion, which centers on Mama’s actualized dream. With the insurance money gone, Walter’s and Beneatha’s dreams for the future appear in danger of further postponement, recalling broader struggles with social forces beyond the characters’ control.
The Theme Of Dignity And Pride
A central virtue in the Younger household, dignity exerts a unifying force throughout the play. Mama expresses pride in her family’s background and tries to instill in her children a sense of respect for their ancestors, who were Southern slaves and sharecroppers. Although some characters, such as Mrs. Johnson, criticize the family as “one proud-acting bunch of colored folks,” the family holds fast to its ancestral dignity, an inheritance it considers to be greater than gold. At the play’s climax, the Youngers’ sense of pride gives them the strength to reject Karl Lindner’s dehumanizing offer to buy back their new home because, as Mama says, “Ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.” Despite the family’s dire financial situation following Walter Lee’s misguided investment, the Youngers resolutely refuse to forfeit their dignity in pursuit of economic gain.
Walter’s loss and eventual recovery of his pride constitute a major plotline of the play. His personal crisis of pride, brought on by his inability to support his family in his dead-end job as a chauffeur, culminates with his decision regarding Karl Lindner’s offer to purchase the Youngers’ new house. Upon first meeting Lindner, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha resoundingly reject his offer, demonstrating their collective familial pride. However, after squandering the family’s insurance payment, Walter decides to accept Lindner’s offer, showing his horrified family how he will act out the stereotype of a groveling black man while signing the contract with Lindner. It is only after Mama insists that Travis witness his father’s demeaning transaction with Lindner that Walter rediscovers his self-worth while standing behind “the sixth generation [of] our family in this country.” In a quietly triumphant moment, Walter reclaims his personal pride, asserts his family’s historical right to be treated fairly in their country, and refortifies his family’s dignity.
The Theme of Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation
In 1959 much of the United States, including Chicago, remained de facto segregated, meaning that racial segregation persisted in education, employment, and housing even though the Supreme Court had overturned segregation that was established by law as unconstitutional. Set in de facto segregated Chicago, Hansberry’s play draws on stories from the author’s own life, such as her family’s experience with housing discrimination in 1930s Chicago. After moving to a house in an all-white neighborhood, Hansberry’s family endured legal battles and physical threats not unlike the “bombs” that Walter, Ruth, and Mrs. Johnson reference in the play. Despite the suggestion by Karl Lindner that “race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into” Clybourne Park’s offer to buy back the Youngers’ home, he hints at the very real dangers that accompany the family’s decision to relocate to a white neighborhood.
Certain characters in the play, such as George Murchison, address persistent racial discrimination by directing their efforts toward assimilation, whereby one integrates into the mainstream of society. Beneatha, declaring that she “hate[s] assimilationist Negroes,” condemns George as “ashamed of his heritage” when he initially scoffs at her close-cut, “natural” hair. George retorts that the “heritage” in which Beneatha takes such pride is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!” With this argument, Hansberry gives voice to the varied opinions of African-American thinkers, such as Booker T. Washington (who argued in favor of gradual assimilation of African Americans) and Marcus Garvey (who championed pride in African heritage and called for African Americans to return to Africa).
In the same vein as Garvey, Hansberry explores the idea of Africa as a home for African Americans, a view most clearly articulated by Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian student. Following the loss of Walter’s investment Asagai suggests that a disheartened Beneatha “come home with me . . . to Africa.” Asagai’s suggestion that Beneatha move to Nigeria with him to explore her African roots reflected the surge in African studies that gained momentum in the late 1950s. While Beneatha shows genuine interest in her African heritage, she does not answer Asagai’s proposal within the context of the play, hinting that she may not go so far as to think of Africa as her “home.”
The Theme of Money
Money provides a constant source of conflict and preoccupation in the Younger household. Within moments of the play’s opening, Walter Lee asks Ruth, “Check coming today?” in reference to the insurance payment that his mother, Lena, is due to receive as a result of her husband’s death. The members of the Younger family view money in different ways, with Mama, Beneatha, and Ruth imagining money as a means to an end and Walter thinking of it as an end in itself. Mama sees the insurance payment as a way to fulfill her dream of owning a house, which symbolizes her deep-seated yearning for “freedom” from racial persecution. Similarly, Beneatha dreams of the money as a way to fund her medical schooling, which embodies her desire to overcome racism and sexism.
On the other hand, Walter fantasizes about the way in which money would increase his social standing and allow him to acquire the material markers of class. Without room for advancement in his low-paying job as a chauffeur, Walter is continually frustrated by his inability to fulfill the masculine role of financial provider for his family, a failing that sends his self-esteem into a nosedive. Yet despite his temptation to accept Karl Lindner’s sizeable bribe at the end of the play, Walter has an abrupt change of heart and ultimately rejects the offer, stating, “We have decided to move into our home because my father—my father—he earned it for us brick by brick.” Reclaiming his pride, Walter finds the strength to refuse Lindner’s enticing but degrading offer, instead choosing to move to the house purchased with money “made out of my father’s flesh.”