A Raisin in the Sun

“infobox Book “
name A Raisin in the Sun
image caption Random House cover
author Lorraine Hansberry
country America
language English language
genre(s) Social issues
publisher Random House
release date 1959
media type Paperback
pages 162

A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that debuted on Broadway in 1959. The story is based upon a family’s own experiences growing up in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first play with a black director (Lloyd Richards) on Broadway.

Character Summaries

Walter Younger

The play’s protagonist. Walter is downtrodden by his life and his job as a chauffeur. He wants to start a liquor business with friends in the hope of getting a better life.

Ruth Younger

Walter’s wife. Ruth finds out she is pregnant at the start of the play and reveals she has put down a payment for an abortion. She is pragmatic and strong.

Lena “Mama” Younger

Walter’s mother. She is religious and deeply loves her family. Her dream in life is to own a house so they can all live together in a nice space as a family.

Beneatha “Bennie” Younger

Travis’ sister. She is studying to be a doctor, and is the most educated out of the family. She has strong views about her African heritage, which sometimes put her in conflict with Mama.

Travis Younger

The son of Ruth and Walter.

Joseph Asagai

Beneatha’s friend, who eventually proposes marriage to her. He is proud of his Nigerian heritage and hopes to go to Africa with Beneatha to effect change.

George Murchison

Beneatha’s boyfriend of sorts. He is rich and doesn’t think highly of her family. She isn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with him because of this.

Karl Lindner

From the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. He is a white man, and he wants to prevent the Youngers from moving into his neighborhood.

Willy Harris

Walter’s friend and business partner who ends up stealing all of his money.


A friend of Walter’s

Act Summaries

Act One, Scene One

The Younger family lives in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago. They have only a few rooms and relatively shabby furniture

Ruth gets up and wakes Travis and Walter. Ruth and Walter talk about a check (the money of which is the insurance payment from the death of Walter’s father), and make a few jokes, having a conversation while Travis is in the bathroom.

Walter, who is reading the paper, says that another bomb has gone off – Ruth pays little attention to this, though. Travis asks for some money for school but Ruth says there is none to give, however Travis ends up getting money from Walter (which is actually his car fare for work, so he has to borrow money from Ruth later) despite annoying Ruth with his nagging. After getting what he wants, Travis goes off to school.

Ruth and Walter keep talking. Walter tells Ruth he wants to buy a liquor store with some friends, and he will use the check money to do it.

Beneatha, who has woken up during this time, gets into an argument with Walter. He thinks that her studying medicine is not a good thing for a woman to do, and doesn’t want to pay the cost of tuition with the money from the check. Beneatha replies that Mama is the one who can decide what happens with the money because it technically belongs to her.

Walter leaves for work. He is a chauffer.

Mama then enters and begins tending a plant of hers on the windowsill. She begins a conversation with Ruth, saying that she feels sorry for Travis because she isn’t sure if Ruth can care for him properly. Ruth says that Mama should give some of the money from the check to Walter. She says that he is unhappy and  lacking in confidence, and some money would restore this because it means he can pursue his goal of opening the liquor shop.

Mama is unhappy at the idea of Walter opening a liquor ship, however. She wants to use the money to move to a nicer house – a dream she shared with her deceased husband.

The conversation then turns to Beneatha, who Mama and Ruth joke quits everything she starts. They also talk about Beneatha’s date, George Murchison (who she doesn’t rate all that highly). The two older women don’t see what’s not to like about George, however – he’s rich, so that should be enough. Beneatha says that George’s family won’t approve of her so their relationship is pointless.

Beneatha gets so annoyed she takes the Lord’s name in vain, and Mama is angry by this. They then talk about God, who Beneatha says isn’t helping them. Mama can’t believe this, however. Beneatha takes back her statement and heads off to school. Mama resumes the care of her tiny little plant. Ruth faints.

Act One, Scene Two

The next day is a Saturday, and the Youngers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the insurance check. They clean the apartment in preparation, having to even get rid of things such as cockroaches. Walter’s friend Willy Harris calls him. They discuss their plans for the liquor store – Walter will bring the money as soon as the insurance check arrives.

The phone rings again, and this time it is for Beneatha, and she invites the person on the other end, Joseph Asagai, over to the apartment. He is an African intellectual who she goes to school with. Beneatha is worried that her family doesn’t know much about their African culture. She believes that they need political help, Mama believes the help they need is religious.

Ruth returns from the doctor, having discovered that she is two months pregnant. She is worried about the pregnancy, and feels sick. Beneatha is also worried, but Mama is excited at the prospect of a girl. It also seems that Ruth has visited a different doctor – a female.

Joseph arrives and he and Beneatha hang out. He brings her some traditional Nigerian gifts and comments that her appearance looks too “American”. It is obvious that he has feelings for her, but she isn’t interested in men, she is interested in her independence. Joseph thinks this is foolish.

Beneatha then introduces Joseph to Mama, who tells the man all of Beneatha’s views about Africa and African people. Joseph calls Beneatha “Alaiyo”, a word from his tribal language.

Walter returns and wants to talk about the liquor store, but Ruth only wants to talk about the new baby. She is upset and shuts herself away in the bedroom when he won’t listen. Mama and Walter then have a conversation, where he says that he is ashamed of his life and his job, and the fact that things won’t ever get any better. Mama tells him about Ruth’s pregnancy and her worries that Ruth might be wanting an abortion. Walter doesn’t believe her, but Ruth confirms that she has already made a down payment for one.

Act Two, Scene One

Later that day, Beneatha dresses herself in the clothes that Joseph Asagai gave her, and dances around and sings a tribal song. Ruth dismisses her behaviour as silly, but Walter, who is drunk, joins in with what she is doing, believing it to be a fun game.

George arrives later, picking up Beneatha for a date. To everyone’s shock, she has cut off her straightened hair. All she has left is her natural hair. George and Beneatha then discuss their African heritage, and how important it is. They then go to the theatre.

Before they leave, however, Walter tries to talk to George about his plans for the liquor store. George doesn’t want to talk, though, as he thinks Walter inferior, and this makes Walter angry. He then insults what George is wearing.

Ruth and Walter then have an argument about Walter going out all the time and spending their money and keeping bad company. They do try to reconcile, however.

After all of this, Mama returns. She has put down a payment for a house, which thrills Ruth but upsets Walter. The joy turns to worry, however, when it turns out that the area that Mama purchased the house is an all-white neighbourhood. It was the only place she could afford, and she wants a house so her dream can be realised and they can all stay together. Walter tells Mama that in pursuing her dream, she has crushed his.

Act Two, Scene Two

A few weeks later, the Youngers are getting ready to move. Beneatha and George are home from a date, but all Beneatha wants is to talk about the suffering of African-Americans. George isn’t so interested, however – that’s not what he’s looking for in a wife.

Mama and Beneatha then talk about George. Beneatha does not want to pursue a relationship anymore, and Mama supports her.

The neighbour, Mrs. Johnson, comes to visit. She tells them about a black family living in a white neighbourhood who have been pushed out of it, and she tells them that this is what will happen to the Youngers when they move too. She tells them that they are acting proud, and Mama retaliates, causing Mrs. Johnson to leave.

The phone then rings. It is Walter’s boss. Walter hasn’t been to work int here days, and Walter says that he has been wasting his days and nights and that he is very depressed. He hates his job. Mama feels guilty that he is so unhappy, so she gives him the last of the insurance money. Some of it is to go to Beneatha’s tuition and the rest is for Walter.

This gives Walter a lot more confidence and energy, and he suddenly has prosperous dreams for the future.

Act Two, Scene Three

Moving day finally comes, and everyone is excited to see the new house. Everyone seems happier, and Ruth and Walter are connecting much better.

Karl Lindner then arrives. He is a white man, and a representeive from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. It turns out that the neighbourhood does not want a black family moving there – they see it as a threat. Lindner tells them that the Association will give the Younger family money to not move to Clybourne Park.

The Youngers are enraged in response, but remain calm in the face of Lindner. They say they won’t accept the offer, and demand Lindner leave.

Mama returns and they tell her about what has happened. She is worried, but glad they didn’t accept his offer. They then gift her some gardening tools, and she is happy because she never really gets any gifts. Everyone resumes celebrations.

Bobo, a friend of Walter’s, arrives. He says that Willy Harris has stolen the money that Walter put in to the liquor store – all of the money that Mama gave him. Walter didn’t save any of it for Beneatha’s tuition.

Mama is furious, beating Walter. She can’t believe what he has done when her husband had to work so hard to get that money. Beneatha is able to split up the fight, and Mama prays.

Act Three

The play ends with the family still sad on their moving day. Joseph arrives, having come to help Beneatha pack. Beneatha confides in him that she isn’t sure she wants to be a doctor anymore. She isn’t inspired to help African Americans, she just feels miserable. To her, human misery is never-ending, and there’s no point fighting.

Joseph is able to inspire her again by chiding her for being so upset about the money, and telling her about his own dreams to go to Africa and help. This inspires her idealism again, and Joseph asks her to return to Africa with him.

Mama says that they won’t move anymore, and Ruth is upset. Walter enters, fresh from a phone conversation from Lindner. He says he is going to accept the offer, but everyone else says that they don’t want to be barred from living somewhere just because they are black. Walter seems to have lost all hope.

Lindner arrives with the movers, and Walter initially seems like he will sign the papers. At the last minute he changes his mind, though. They are going to move, and they don’t care what anyone else thinks. Happily, the rest of the family continue preparing to move. Mama and Ruth are both proud of Walter for finally having the confidence to stand up for himself.  The family leave the apartment for their new home.