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A Raisin In The Sun English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4307 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Who is Lorraine Vivian Hansberry? Lorraine was born In Chicago on May 19, 1930 She based most of her novels on her life, she was 28 years old when she wrote her first play A Raisin in the Sun which won The Drama Critics Award for best play of the year and made Hansberry the first black, youngest person, and fifth woman to win that prize. She was the youngest of four children Carl, Jr., Perry, and Mammie. Her parents were well educated successful black citizens who publicly fought discrimination against black people. Her father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, Sr., was from Gloucester, Mississippi, he moved to Chicago after attending Alcorn College, and became known as the “kitchenette king” after subdividing large homes that were vacated by whites who were moving to the suburbs he then sold these small apartments or kitchenettes to African American migrants from the South. Hansberry’s mother, Nannie Perry, a schoolteacher and, later, ward committeewoman, was from Tennessee. At the time of Lorraine’s birth, she had become an influential society matron who hosted major cultural and literary figures such as Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and Joe Louis. Lorraine and her siblings enjoyed privileges unknown to their schoolmates; the parents filled their children with racial pride and civic responsibility. They founded the Hansberry Foundation; an organization designed to inform African Americans of their civil rights, they also encouraged their children to challenge the segregation policies of local restaurants and stores. (Cliffnotes, James, Rosetta).

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When Hansberry was a child she and her family lived in a black neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside. During this time segregation enforced the separation of whites and blacks which was still legal and spreaded throughout the South, Northern States. This was including Hansberry’s own Hometown Illinois. Carl and Nannie Hansberry challenged defensive real estate agreements by moving into an all-white neighborhood. Hansberry’s family became one of the first to move into an all white neighborhood but, a mob of whites gathered in front of the house and threw a brick through the front window, narrowly missing eight-year-old Lorraine this forced the family to move out. Her father won a narrow victory over restrictive agreements from the Supreme Court, but the decision failed to set examples on their issue.

Hansberry still attended Betsy Ross Elementary and Englewood High School even though her family stayed in a all white neighborhood it didn’t change her right to get a education with all the other white kids because of her skin color she still had to attend a segregated public school for blacks .Lorraine Hansberry became interested in theater in high school, and pursued this interest in college.

Her family’s move into a restricted white neighborhood in 1937 helped her battle with injustice; this filled her with a sense of social activism. Their struggle would become the subject of her first major play. Departing from the family tradition of attending black colleges, Hansberry enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a predominantly white university, to study journalism, but became equally attracted to the visual arts while she was there.

She also attended the University of Wisconsin and the Art Institute of Chicago and studied in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 1948 to 1950. She became more politically active after moving to New York City and writing for freedom magazine. While participating in a demonstration at New York University, she met Robert Barron Nemiroff, the son of progressive Russian Jewish immigrants, and after a short intimate relationship, she married him on June 20, 1953. After having earned his master’s degree four months earlier at New York University, he had begun writing a book on Theodore Dreiser, The young couple moved to Greenwich Village and Hansberry began to write massively about the people and lifestyles that she observed around her. She was already an experienced writer and editor, having published articles, essays, and poetry in Freedom, New Challenge Magazine and other political magazines.(Shmoop, A raisin in the Sun).

After leaving Freedom in 1953 to concentrate on her writing, Hansberry worked various odd jobs including tagger in the garment industry, typist, program director at Camp Unity (an interracial summer camp), recreation leader for the physically disabled, and teacher at the Marxist-oriented Jefferson School for Social Science. When her husband co-wrote ” Cindy Oh Cindy” (1956), a ballad that became an instant hit, the profits freed Hansberry to devote her full energies to a play about a struggling, working-class black family, like the families who rented her father’s properties on Chicago’s South Side A Raisin In the Sun . A Raisin In the Sun reflects the frustrations of a black family whose dreams of economic progress have been let down in 1961, it was produced as a film with most of the original cast and won a special award at the Cannes Film Festival. During this period, Hansberry was much in demand as a public speaker. She expressed her belief that art is social and that black writers must address all issues of humankind. As the civil rights movement climaxed, she helped to organize fund-raising activities in support of organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), called for the abolition of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and declared that President John E. Kennedy had endangered world peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.(Answers.com, A raisin in the Sun).

During the last four years of her life, Hansberry worked hard on several plays. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window was produced on Broadway in 1964, but critics were less open to this play that challenged the Greenwich Village intellectuals. During its short run, Hansberry battled pancreatic cancer, diagnosed in 1963. She died on 12 January 1965, the same night that her play closed.(Grade Saver, Sherrod, Cheryl.Berkow, Jordan).

Lorraine Hansberry left behind several plays some are listed below: (Answers.com, A raisin in the Sun).

Nonfiction the Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality, Simon & Schuster, 1964.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, introduction by James Baldwin, Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Plays A Raisin in the Sun, opened in New Haven and Philadelphia, moved to Chicago, then produced on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, March 11, 1959; published by New American Library, 1961.

Les Blancs, single scene staged at Actors Studio Workshop, New York, 1963; two-act play produced at Long acre Theater, New York City, 1970.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window produced on Broadway, 1964; published by Random House, 1965.

Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” New American Library, 1966.

To Be Young, Gifted and Black, adapted for the stage by Robert Nemiroff, first produced at the Cherry Lane Theater, January 2, 1969; acting edition published by Samuel French, 1971.

Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry, edited by Robert Nemiroff, introduction by Julius Lester, Random House, 1972, reprinted, New American Library, 1983.

Lorraine Hansberry: The Collected Last Plays (Les Blancs, The Drinking Gourd, What Use Are Flowers?), edited by Robert Nemiroff, New American Library, 1983.

Other (Answers.com, A raisin in the Sun).

A Raisin in the Sun: The Unfilmed Original Screenplay, edited by Robert Nemiroff, Plume, 1992.

All the Dark and Beautiful Warriors, an unfinished novel.

Author of about two dozen articles for Freedom, 1951-55, and over 25 essays for other publications, including the Village Voice, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Freedom ways, Mademoiselle, Ebony, Playbill, Show, Theatre Arts, Black Scholar, Monthly Review, and Annals of Psychotherapy.

Books (Answers.com, A raisin in the Sun).

Abramson, Doris E., Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre, 1925-1959, Columbia University Press, 1969, pp. 165-266.

Black Literature Criticism, Gale, 1992.

Carter, Steven R., Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Cheney, Anne, Lorraine Hansberry, Twayne, 1984.

Davis, Arthur P., From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900-1960, Howard University Press, pp. 203-07.

Hansberry, Lorraine, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, introduction by James Baldwin, Penguin Books, 1969.

Hansberry, Lorraine, A Raisin in the Sun: The Unfilmed Original Screenplay, edited by Robert Nemiroff, foreword by Jewell Handy Gresham-Nemiroff, commentary by Spike Lee, Penguin Books USA, 1992.

Periodicals (Answers.com, A raisin in the Sun).

Black American Literature Forum, spring 1983, pp. 8-13.

Commentary, June 1959, pp. 527-30.

Freedom ways (special issue), 19:4, 1979.

New Yorker, May 9, 1959.

New York Times, January 13, 1965; October 5, 1983, p. C24.

New York Times Review of Books, March 31, 1991, p. 25.

Theatre Journal, December 1986, pp. 441-52.

Time, January 22, 1965.

Village Voice, August 12, 1959, pp. 7-8.

Washington Post, November 17, 1986, p. D1.

Hansberry wrote that she always felt the tendency to record her experiences her sense of history and the confusing role of women in history are also shown in her work. She was named “most promising playwright.” Raisin in the Sun ran for 530 performances from 1959 to 1965; A Raisin in the Sun was a play that Lorraine based on her life while living n Chicago during segregation.(Sparknotes,A raisin in the Sun). It talked about the life of a family called the Younger’s some other characters


Walter Lee Younger – The central character of the play. Walter is a dreamer. He wants to be rich and devises plans to acquire wealth with his friends, particularly Willy Harris. When the play opens, he wants to invest his father’s insurance money in a new liquor store venture. He spends the rest of the play endlessly preoccupied with discovering a quick solution to his family’s various problems.

Beneatha Younger (“Bennie”) – Mama’s daughter and Walter’s sister. Beneatha is an intellectual. Twenty years old, she attends college and is better educated than the rest of the Younger family. Some of her personal beliefs and views have distanced her from conservative Mama. She dreams of being a doctor and struggles to determine her identity as a well-educated black woman.

Lena Younger (“Mama”) – Walter and Beneatha’s mother. The head of the family, Mama is religious, moral, and caring. She wants to use her husband’s insurance money as a down payment on a house with a backyard to fulfill her dream for her family to move up in the world.

Ruth Younger – Walter’s wife and Travis’s mother. Ruth takes care of the Younger’s’ small apartment. Her marriage to Walter has problems, but she hopes to rekindle their love. She is about thirty, but her weariness makes her seem older. Constantly fighting poverty and domestic troubles, she continues to be an emotionally strong woman. Her almost unenthusiastic sarcasm helps her to survive.

Travis Younger – Walter and Ruth’s sheltered young son. Travis earns some money by carrying grocery bags and likes to play outside with other neighborhood children, but he has no bedroom and sleeps on the living-room sofa.

Joseph Asagai – A Nigerian student in love with Beneatha. Asagai, as he is often called, is very proud of his African heritage, and Beneatha hopes to learn about her African heritage from him. He eventually proposes marriage to Beneatha and hopes she will return to Nigeria with him.

George Murchison – A wealthy, African-American man who courts Beneatha. The Younger’s approve of George, but Beneatha dislikes his willingness to submit to white culture and forget his African heritage. He challenges the thoughts and feelings of other black people through his arrogance and flair for intellectual competition.

Mr. Karl Lindner – The only white character in the play. Mr. Lindner arrives at the Younger’s’ apartment from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. He offers the Younger’s a deal to reconsider moving into his (all-white) neighborhood.

Bobo – One of Walter’s partners in the liquor store plan. Bobo appears to be as mentally slow as his name indicates.

Willy Harris – A friend of Walter and coordinator of the liquor store plan. Willy never appears onstage, which helps keep the focus of the story on the dynamics of the Younger family.

Mrs. Johnson – The Younger’s’ neighbor. Mrs. Johnson takes advantage of the Younger’s’ hospitality and warns them about moving into an all white neighborhood.

A Raisin In the Sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. When the play opens, the Youngers are about to receive an insurance check for $10,000. This money comes from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Each of the adult members of the family has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with this money. The head of the family, Mama, wants to buy a house to fulfill a dream she shared with her husband. Mama’s son, Walter Lee, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever. Walter’s wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis. Finally, Beneatha, Walter’s sister and Mama’s daughter, wants to use the money for her medical school tuition. She also wishes that her family members were not so interested in joining the white world. Beneatha instead tries to find her identity by looking back to the past and to Africa.

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As the play progresses, the Youngers clash over their competing dreams. Ruth discovers that she is pregnant but fears that if she has the child, she will put more financial pressure on her family members. When Walter says nothing to Ruth’s admission that she is considering abortion, Mama puts a down payment on a house for the whole family. She believes that a bigger, house will benefit them all. The Youngers’ future neighbors find out that they are moving to an all white neighborhood, and they send Mr. Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, to offer the Youngers money in return for staying away. The Youngers refuse the deal, even after Walter loses the rest of the money to his friend Willy Harris, who persuades Walter to invest in the liquor store and then runs off with his cash.

In the meantime, Beneatha rejects George Murchison, who she believes to be shallow and blind to the problems of race. She receives a marriage proposal from her Nigerian boyfriend, Joseph Asagai, who wants Beneatha to get a medical degree and move to Africa with him. The Youngers eventually move out of the apartment, fulfilling the family’s long-held dream. Their future seems uncertain and slightly dangerous, but they are determined to live a better life. They believe that they can succeed if they stick together as a family and resolve to defer their dreams no longer.

During Act 1 Scene 1 of the play which is entitled Friday Morning it is morning at the Youngers’ apartment. Their small home 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. Ruth is the first one in the house to wake up so she starts to cook breakfast and this awakes Walter and Travis while Travis is getting ready Walter and Ruth talk in the kitchen they do not seem happy as they engage in some slight 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 anger. Travis asks them for money he is supposed to bring fifty cents to school and Ruth says that they do not have it. His constant 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.(Bookrags, A raisin in the Sun).

Act 1 Scene 2 The Following Morning 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 investment. It appears that their plan is moving smoothly. The insurance check is all Walter needs to pursue his liquor store. He promises to bring the money to Willy when he receives it. Meanwhile, Beneatha is spraying the apartment with insecticide in an attempt to get rid 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, without concerning Mama. 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. Ruth returns from seeing a doctor, who has told her that she is two months pregnant. She reveals this information to Mama and Beneatha. 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.(Cummings study guide, A raisin in the Sun).

Act 2 Scene 1 Later that same day Later on the same Saturday, Beneatha comes out from her room dressed 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. Mama comes home and announces that she has put a down payment on a house with some of the insurance money. Ruth is happy to hear this news because she too dreams of moving out of their current apartment and into a more spacious home. Meanwhile, Walter is noticeably upset because he wants to put all the money into the liquor store. 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.(enotes, Marie Rose Naiper Kowski).

Act 2 Scene 2 Friday Night a few weeks later 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. She wants to engage George in a conversation about the life of African-Americans. It seems that George wants to marry a “nice, simple, sophisticated girl.” Mama comes in as Beneatha kicks him out 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. Walter’s boss calls, telling Ruth that Walter has not been to work in three days. Walter explains that he has been wandering all day (often way into the country) and drinking all night (at a bar with a jazz duo that he loves). He says that he feels depressed, and useless as the man of the family(Sparknotes,A raisin in the Sun).

Act 2 Scene 3 Saturday moving day, one week later On Saturday, a week later, it is moving day. Ruth shows Beneatha the curtains she has bought for the new house and tells her that the first thing she is going to do in their new house is take a long bath in their very own bathroom. Ruth comments on the changed mood around the household, noting that she and Walter even went out to the movies and held hands the previous evening. Walter comes in and dances with Ruth. Beneatha teases them about acting in a stereotypical fashion but does not really mean any harm. A middle-aged white man named Karl Lindner appears at the door. He is a representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, and he tells the Youngers that problems arise when different kinds of people do not sit down and talk to each other. The Youngers agree, until he reveals that he and the neighborhood coalition believe that the Youngers’ presence in Clybourne Park would destroy the community there. When Mama comes home, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha tell her about Mr. Lindner’s visit. It shocks and worries her, but she supports their decision to refuse the buyout offer. Then, as she is making sure that her plant is well packed for the trip, the rest of the family surprises her with gifts of gardening tools and a huge gardening hat. Mama has never received presents other than at Christmas, and she is touched by her family’s generosity. Just as the whole family begins to celebrate, Bobo, one of Walter’s friends, arrives. After some stumbling, he announces that Willy Harris has run off with all of the money that Walter invested in the liquor store deal. It turns out that Walter had invested not only his $3,500 but also the $3,000 intended for Beneatha’s education. Mama is angry and begins to beat Walter in the face. Beneatha breaks them up. Weakness overcomes Mama, and she thinks about the hard labor her husband endured in order to earn the money for them. She prays heavily for strength.(123 help me, A raisin in the Sun).

Act 3 An hour later One hour later on moving day, everyone is still unhappy. Walter sits alone and thinks. Asagai comes to help them pack and finds Beneatha questioning her choice of becoming a doctor. She no longer believes that she can help people. Mama enters and announces that they are not going to move. Ruth protests. Walter returns, having called Mr. Lindner and invited him back to the apartment he intends to take his offer of money in exchange for not moving to Clybourne Park. Everyone objects to this plan, arguing that they have too much pride to accept not being able to live somewhere because of their race. Walter, very agitated, puts on an act, imitating the stereotype of a black male servant. When he finally exits, Mama declares that he has died inside. Beneatha decides that he is no longer her brother, but Mama reminds her to love him, especially when he feels hopeless.(Pink Monkey, Sauder,Dianne).

The movers and Mr. Lindner arrive. Mama tells Walter to deal with Mr. Lindner, who is laying out contracts for Walter to sign. Walter starts hesitantly, but soon we see that he has changed his mind about taking Mr. Lindner’s money. His speech builds in power. He tells Mr. Lindner that the Youngers are proud and hardworking and intend to move into their new house. Mr. Lindner appeals to Mama, who defers to Walter’s statement. Ultimately, Mr. Lindner leaves with his papers unsigned. Everyone finishes packing up as the movers come to take the furniture. Mama tells Ruth that she thinks Walter has finally become a man by standing up to Mr. Lindner. Ruth agrees and is noticeably proud of her husband. Mama, who is the last to leave, looks for a moment at the empty apartment. Then she leaves, bringing her plant with her.(Cliffnotes, James Rosetta).

While reading a raisin in the sun I came to a conclusion that it is essentially about dreams, as the main characters struggle to deal with the depressive circumstances that rule their lives. The title of the play refers to a line that Langston Hughes famously said in a poem he wrote about dreams that were forgotten or put off. He wonders whether those dreams shrivel up “like A raisin in the Sun.” Every member of the Younger family has a separate, individual dream Beneatha wants to become a doctor, for example, and Walter wants to have money so that he can afford things for his family. The Youngers struggle to attain these dreams throughout the play, and much of their happiness and depression is directly related to their achievement of, or failure to attain, these dreams. As the play progressed The Youngers eventually move out of the apartment, fulfilling the family’s long-held dream. Their future seems uncertain and slightly dangerous, but they are determined to live a better life. They believe that they can succeed if they stick together as a family. By the end of the play, they learn that the dream of a house is the most important dream because it unites the family, And so did I.


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