A Raisin in the Sun: An Overview Essay

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is an easy reading that lets you jump into it; with colorful characters and deep story that can relate to anyone who has a dream to achieve more. One thing I loved about this play is that it’s supposed to be set sometime after WWII, however the struggles and issues that are addressed in this play are still very apparent in today’s society. I wouldn’t say Hansberry’s play was before her time, but that her ideas were timeless. The story revolves around the Youngers’ an African American family, which consists of five people and one on the way.

They live in the south side of Chicago in a small two-bedroom apartment, which has a bathroom in the hall that they share with another family. The Youngers are really feeling the pain of poverty and are struck by a “sickness” caused by money, or better yet, lack there of. In the first Act, Beneatha jokes with her Nigerian boyfriend Asagai: “…we’ve all got acute ghetto-it is. ” (Act I. Scene 2. 60) Although Beneatha jests about this, the characters most affected by this “sickness” are the people that have to provide the funds to keep the family alive: Mama (Lena), Ruth, and Walter Lee.

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Living in poverty can take its toll on a human being; it can kill his spirit if he lets it. Due to the family’s limited financial income, each character has his or her own dream of how they could better their lives. This dream has become more tangible because a check for $10,000 is coming in the mail. The money is being sent from an insurance company because Big Walter, Mama’s husband and the father of Beneatha and Walter Lee, has passed away. The check has been issued to Mama but her children hope to receive some of the endowment.

Beneatha is the most educated family member and believes that Mama will aid her in her quest to become a doctor. She is used to Mama supporting her financially in all her endeavors. Beneatha’s dream is the most realistic because she is already in college; taking the steps to make it happen. Walter Lee’s dream is to be able to make money off of investments, like a businessman. With the insurance check coming, he feels he is one step closer to his dream. He wants to invest in a liquor store, a business that Mama, as a Christian, disapproves.

Walter Lee’s wife, Ruth, also thinks her husbands idea for the investment is foolish and hopes Mama will use the money to get out of their cramped “rat trap” apartment as she calls it. Mama’s dream is the most altruistic of all. She wants to pay for Beneatha’s college and buy a house like she and her husband had originally planned to. Mama wants the house to have a big yard for Travis, Walter Lee and Ruth’s ten-year-old son, to play and for her to garden in. When the insurance check arrives Mama denies Walter’s request to invest in the liquor store.

Walter pleads with his mother to reconsider his idea but she does not budge on her decision. Mama tries to talk to her son about life, and how far their family has come but Walter is still angered and tries to dismiss himself. Mama, fed up with Walter’s selfish attitude, reveals that Ruth is pregnant and is considering having an abortion. Walter says that Ruth wouldn’t do such a thing but Mama replies: “When the world gets ugly enough-a woman will do anything for her family. The part that’s already living”(Act I. Scene2. 5) This quote struck me as an unfortunate reality, because every person has had to make a sacrifice at some point in his or her life. Perhaps not to this extreme but I believe any reader could definitely relate to this situation. Ruth confirms that she intends to have the abortion and states that she has already put a five-dollar down payment on the procedure. Mama desperately begs Walter to talk his wife out of this, she says: “I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we aint going to give up nary another one.

I’m waiting” (Act I. Scene 2. 75) Mama is referring to Claude, a baby she lost years ago. From this quote it is presumed that poverty was the reason why the baby died. Walter’s is silent which infuriates Mama and she says: “You are a disgrace to your fathers memory” (Act I. Scene 2. 75) In Act II, Mama announces that she has purchased a house in Clybourne Park, an all white neighborhood. Mama did this for many reasons, one being to stop Ruth from going through with the abortion. This news makes Ruth and Travis ecstatic.

Walter however, is disappointed and feels his mother has crushed his dream. A few weeks have passed and Walter has become distant. A phone call from his employer has revealed that he has not been going to work. Upset by her son’s behavior, Mama realizes that though she has been the head of the family, and has never given Walter his rightful position as the man of the house. With this realization, Mama makes a desicion, one that I believe in her heart she knows she shouldn’t be making. Mama gives Walter $6,500 the remainder of the insurance money.

She tells him to put $3000 into the bank for Beneatha’s college and to use the rest to take care of his family. Walter ignores his mother’s directions and makes an investment with all of the money, including Beneatha’s share for school. The investment was made with someone who was supposed to be a friend: Willy Harris. Willy runs off with Walter’s money including his friend Bobo’s money. This devastates the family, Beneatha says to her Nigerian boyfriend Asagai, that her brother’s actions have stolen her future. Asagai reminds her that it was never her money because she did not earn it.

Asagai says “Then isn’t there something wrong in a house- in a world—where all dreams, good or bad must depend on the death of a man? ” (Act III. Scene 1. 135) I believe Asagai’s words comforts Beneatha as she realizes she is intelligent and can earn her way to success. My assessment of Walter Lee is that he is immature and impulsive. He has big dreams for his family and has their best interest at heart but his choices are blurred by his character traits. Walter contacts Mr. Linder, from Clybourne Park to settle for the money originally offered to the Youngers’ to stay out of the neighborhood.

However, Walter changes his mind at the last minute after looking at his family’s faces. Walter finally steps up to the plate as the man of the house and proclaims to Mr. Linder that his family has worked hard to get where they are now, and that they are not looking to start trouble but are going to move in the house. Walter pleases everyone with this action and I feel they have learned that the value of family is priceless. All quotes and pages cited from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun First Vintage Books Edition, December 1994


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