Places: A Raisin in the Sun

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

First produced: 1959, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Family

Time of work: 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Chicago’s Southside

*Chicago’s Raisin in the Sun, ASouthside. Primarily African American neighborhood of Chicago in which members of three generations of the Younger family struggle against poverty and racism. Recently widowed Lena Younger, her children Beneatha and Walter Lee, and Walter’s wife Ruth and son, Travis, occupy a three-room apartment with a bathroom down the hall that they share with other tenants. With its worn furniture and limited natural light, the apartment reflects the disappointment and growing despair of the family.

An expected insurance check has Walter Lee planning a business venture, but the scheme involves disreputable characters and the sale of liquor. Realizing that the cramped quarters of the apartment is detrimental to her family in much the same way that it is harmful to a houseplant that she is trying to nurture, Lena uses half the insurance money as a down payment on a three-bedroom house in Clybourne Park with a yard large enough for a garden.

Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park. White residential area of Chicago in which Lena makes a down payment on a house. Not considering the potential racial problems her family may face, she chooses the neighborhood because she wants “the nicest place for the least amount of money” for her family. After she makes the down payment, however, the Youngers are visited by a man representing Clybourne Park’s white residents, who offers to buy the house back at a price that will give them a profit. Walter Lee, who has squandered half the insurance payment in a bad investment, considers the offer but ultimately decides that his family has earned the right to live in a better neighborhood. As Lena leaves the family’s South Side apartment, she takes her plant, suggesting that it and her family will thrive in the sunlight of the new house. (When Lorraine Hansberry was a child, her father tried to move his family into a white neighborhood and had to win a court case to do so.)

BibliographyAbramson, Doris. Negro Playwrights in the American Theater: 1925-1959. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. The definitive work in African American drama. Treats the origin and development of the black drama–its structure, themes, innovations, and impact–from its nineteenth century beginnings through Hansberry.Bennett, Lerone, Jr., and Margaret G. Burroughs. “A Lorraine Hansberry Rap.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 226-233. A discussion between Bennett, a historian and editor of Ebony magazine, and Burroughs, an artist and teacher. The article focuses on Hansberry’s career, with much of the discussion devoted to an assessment of the themes and characters in A Raisin in the Sun and the reasons for its popularity with both black and white audiences.Cruse, Harold. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. New York: William Morrow, 1967. In the chapter on Hansberry, Cruse criticizes A Raisin in the Sun for what he sees as its soap opera qualities and for its failure to deal realistically with the problems of the black underclass.Hairston, Loyle. “Portrait of an Angry Young Writer.” Crisis 86 (April, 1969): 123-124. Examines the ways in which Hansberry’s activist philosophy and rebellious attitude influence her work, especially in terms of themes and character development.Harris, Trudier, ed. Reading Contemporary African American Drama: Fragments of History, Fragments of Self. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. Collection of essays on African American drama, including two on A Raisin in the Sun examining the play’s representation of knowledge and the relationship between Hansberry’s work and August Wilson’s later Fences (pr., pb. 1985).Isaacs, Harold R. The New World of Negro Americans. New York: John Day, 1963. In the section on Hansberry, the author discusses the origin and development of Hansberry’s ideas on pan-Africanism and the degree to which these ideas are reflected in A Raisin in the Sun. Kappel, Lawrence, ed. Readings on “A Raisin in the Sun.” San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Compilation of scholarly analyses of Hansberry’s drama and its cultural, literarary, and theatrical significance.Riley, Clayton. “Lorraine Hansberry: A Melody in a Different Key.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 205-212. Focuses on the universality of themes in Hansberry’s plays. It emphasizes the fact that because black experience strikes “a different key” in the American experience, this universality is frequently overlooked.Ward, Douglas Turner. “Lorraine Hansberry and the Passion of Walter Lee.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 223-225. An in-depth study of the character of the protagonist of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Lee Younger. Asserts that the character is much more complex than generally thought to be and that Hansberry’s skillful portrayal of him reveals these complexities.Wilkerson, Margaret B. “Lorraine Hansberry: The Complete Feminist.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 235-245. Looks at Hansberry’s plays as they reflect the feminist point of view, noting that as a descendant of early feminists such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, Hansberry centers her feminism in human dignity and thus includes both men and women in her concept of feminism.
Categories: Places