A Raisin in the Sun by lorraine hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun   Summary  

Plot Summary

The play opens as the Younger family anxiously awaits the arrival of a check. It is the life insurance check of $10,000, made payable to Lena (Mama) Younger, the matriarch of the family, because of the death of her husband. The entire family lives within the walls of a tiny apartment and the play takes place entirely in its worn out, lived-in living room. Travis, the young son of Ruth and Walter Lee, sleeps on the couch in the living room and is constantly awoken by noise from the adults. Walter Lee and Beneatha are Lena's children. Walter Lee is married to Ruth, and works as a chauffeur, while Beneatha, much younger and energetic, plans to study to become a doctor. Each member of the family wants to do something different with the money, and therefore, waits anxiously for his/her new lifeto start.


Walter Lee is working with low-life street men, Willy Harris and Bobo, to start a liquor store. He is obsessed with money and constantly feels as if the world is against him, especially his wife and mother. He storms out of the house, seeking the two men with whom he plans to do business and also to complain about his job. Mama meanswhile suspects Ruth to be pregnant.

Beneatha discusses her new, independent style in college. She is courted by two men: the first boy, George Murchison, is a wealthy Negro concerned with appearances and material, while the second, Joseph Asagai, is a native African that inspires her intellectually and spiritually. Asagai brings Bennie authentic Nigerian robes as a gift, and she puts them on, pretending to be an African princess. George arrives to take Bennie out to the theater and is appalled by her attire, forcing her to change. The Younger family is in favor of George because they believe his money will help her and themselves.

When the check finally does arrive, Lena has trouble dealing, for she realizes that the ten thousand dollars is a replacement for her husband. The family tells her to do what she desires with the money. Walter irrationally urges Mama to give him the money, gradually become irate and furious. Mama reprimands him, not understanding how he became so obsessed with money and so disinterested in his own family. She reveals information that Ruth is pregnant and may abort the fetus. When Ruth confirms these suspicions, Walter is silent, sending Mama into shock.

Mama tells the family that she put a down payment on a house in Clybourne Park with the insurance money, so that Travis will one day be able to grow up to become a man with property. Walter is upset and wonders why he can never be the one in charge of all actions. The entire family is concerned about the location because it is an all white neighborhood.

While Mama is gone, Karl Lindner, a white business man and representative of the Clybourne Park Welcoming Committee comes to the Younger household under the false auspices of brotherhood, and offers to pay them off so that they will not move into the house. They throw him out and later tell Mama.

Mama listens to Walter's pleas and decides to give him the rest of the money to manage. A portion of it will go to Beneatha's medical school fund, but he may keep the rest. Bobo comes to the house weeks later on moving day to inform Walter Lee that Willy Harris has absconded with their money. Walter Lee never deposited the money in the bank and has lost his father's check forever. The entire family is outraged and deeply hurt.

Later that same day, Asagai comes over to help the family pack, only to find a disheartened Beneatha. He asks her to marry him and return home to Africa to practice medicine. Walter decides to call Mr. Lindner over to accept money and 'play into the scam' that is supposedly already in place. Mama and Ruth cannot believe that Walter would sell his soul and his pride for money. The moving men arrive around the same time as Lindner. Walter Lee transforms into a mature man of pride and miraculously tells Lindner that his family cannot be bought. They plan to move into Clybourne Park and live as a happy family.

Ruth and Lena are proud of Walter and happily walk away from their old living room to a new life.

Major Characters

Ruth Younger: Ruth is Walter Lee's wife, a deeply emotional and old fashioned woman. Despite her true love for family and her husband, she has difficulty dealing with Walter's mistreatment of her. Ruth is pregnant and goes to a female gynecologist to put a down payment on having her unborn child aborted. Ruth is the family member most excited to move into a new home because she wants her son Travis to have a better life.


Travis Younger: Travis is Ruth and Walter Lee's only child and sleeps on the couch in the living room. He loves his grandmama deeply and buys her a large gardening hat as a moving gift. Although he often plays one parent against the other unknowingly, he has a close relationship with both Ruth and Walter.

Walter Lee Younger: Walter Lee is Lena's oldest child and only son. He is married to Ruth and works as a chauffeur for wealthy white people. He constantly feels as though the entire world is against him, especially the women in his life: his mother and his wife. He seems to care only for money and wants the insurance money to start a liquor store with Bobo and Willy Harris. Although Walter is obsessed with money and seems to ignore his family, he matures at the conclusion of the play, as he tells Lindner that his family cannot be bought.

Beneatha Younger: Beneatha (also known as Bennie) is Lena's youngest child and only daughter, who plans to become a doctor. She has two gentleman callers in her life: George Murchison, the wealthy Negro whom she dislikes intensely, and Joseph Asagai, the Nigerian intellectual who sweeps her off her feet. She constantly presents herself as a modern, black woman, with new freedoms and rights, and plans to find her roots both in America and in Africa.

Lena Younger (Mama): Lena (Mama) is the matriarch of the Younger family, controlling everyone's emotions and actions, and calling the shots on the future. The check belongs to her, since it is her husband who passed away. She cares nothing for money and only about her beloved family and life. She adores plants and carries her window plant with her to the new house. Although she scolds her children, she wants nothing more than for them to get along and raise happy, healthy families. She migrated north to Chicago from the South during the harsh lynching period for Negroes and cannot understand the modern ways in which people are heading. Everyone in the family looks to her for advice and love, which she openly gives with all her heart.

Minor Characters

Joseph Asagai: Asagai is Beneatha's African boyfriend. He is from Nigeria and wants to take Bennie back with him to practice medicine in Africa. He is very intelligent and stays close to his roots, causing Bennie to fall for him.

George Murchison: George Murchison is Beneatha's wealthy gentleman caller. He is true Negro wealth and has an ego to back it up. Although the Younger family appears to want Bennie to marry George for his money, Bennie despises his character and wants to be with Asagai.

Karl Lindner: Mr. Lindner is the white representative from the Clybourne Welcoming Committee. He comes to the Younger household feigning respect, and attempts to appear accepting, while secretly wanting the Negro family out of his community. He offers the Younger family money in exchange for their absence from his neighborhood.

Bobo : Bobo is one of Walter Lee's acquaintances. He is one of the men in on the deal for the liquor store and informs Walter Lee that Willy Harris has disappeared with both his and Walter's money.

Willy Harris: Willy Harris makes no physical appearance in the play, yet is mentioned several times as a no-good scoundrel. He is one of the men with whom Walter plans to open a liquor store, but disappears with both Walter and Bobo's money leaving no trace.

Moving men : The moving men come into the Younger household at the conclusion of the play and move their possessions out of the living room.


Younger living room: The play takes place entirely in the living room of the Younger household in Chicago's Southside. Hansberry describes it as having a personality of its own. It is small, but houses so many people and so much love. 'Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room' (Hansberry 3).


The Check: The check from the insurance company is the object of everyone's desire, in one way, shape or form. It is for ten thousand dollars and is from their father's life insurance. Walter Lee is obsessed with the money from it so that he can start a new business, Beneatha wants it for medical school tuition, and Ruth wants to help the entire family start fresh in a new house. To Mama, it represents her dead husband and she would rather not deal with the financial burdens which accompany it.

Chicago's Southside: The Younger family lives in Chicago's Southside, a poor, black neighborhood. They feel at home here, but are trying to leave it to move upwards in society.

Clybourne Park: Clybourne Park is the new white community to which the Younger family plans to move. The Clybourne Welcoming Committee, represented solely by Mr. Lindner, tries to pay the Youngers off so that they will not move into his private, elitist community.

Nigerian robes: Asagai, Beneatha's African boyfriend, brings her authentic Nigerian robes from home as a gift. When she puts the cloth on her body, she assumes the role of a Nigerian princess. They represent the true Negro roots of the Younger family in Africa.

Mama's plant: Mama perpetually tends to her small window plant and returns to it at the conclusion of the play. Because of her love for foliage, the family buys her gardening tools and a gardening hat as a moving gift. It is something genuine that Mama loves and that she can grow and tend to on her own.


Lorraine Hansberry took the title of her [first] play from a line by Langston Hughes: "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?" Her success was the winning of a dream that first came upon her in her young girlhood when she first read the poetry of Langston Hughes and others. Much of this poetry … was about Africa, and on this subject … curiously enough, Miss Hansberry also in a way completes a circle begun by Hughes. In a new and much more realistic setting, she too has had a vision of a romantic reunion between Negro American and black African. But her vision is shaped by new times, new outlooks. It is no longer a wispy literary yearning after a lost primitivism, nor does she beat it out on synthetic tomtoms. Nor is it any longer a matter of going back-to-Africa as the ultimate option of despair in America. In Lorraine Hansberry's time it has become a matter of choice between new freedoms now in the grasp of black men, both African and American. (pp. 329-30)

In A Raisin in the Sun, the new form of an old fact, the new shape of the African idea in the American Negro universe, made its first appearance, I believe, in any play or story of wide public notice. If it appeared only incidentally, as a secondary theme to a much more moving main story, this too was appropriate, since this was just about where the subject of Africa stood in the thinking of Negroes at the time the play was produced…. [Of those who saw it] few, it seemed, were quite ready to tune in on the new sounds and sights of Africa that also came into view in Miss Hansberry's play. They will no doubt reappear at higher and stronger levels, as time goes on, and will be counterposed to something more substantial than Miss Hansberry's idea of decadent bourgeois affluence in America. Still, she had opened the subject to a new and higher visibility than it had yet enjoyed…


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