A Raisin in the Sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living on the 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 matriarch 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. 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, brighter dwelling will help them all. This house is in Clybourne Park, an entirely white neighborhood. When the Youngers’ future neighbors find out that the Youngers are moving in, 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 ($6,500) 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 her suitor, George Murchison, whom she believes to be shallow and blind to the problems of race. Subsequently, 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 (Beneatha does not make her choice before the end of the play). 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 optimistic and 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
Analysis of Major Characters
In A Raisin in the Sun.
As Mama’s only son, Ruth’s defiant husband, Travis’s caring father, and Beneatha’s belligerent brother, Walter serves as both protagonist and antagonist of the play. The plot revolves around him and the actions that he takes, and his character evolves the most during the course of the play. Most of his actions and mistakes hurt the family greatly, but his belated rise to manhood makes him a sort of hero in the last scene.
Mama is Walter and Beneatha’s sensitive mother and the head of the Younger household. She demands that members of her family respect themselves and take pride in their dreams. Mama requires that the apartment in which they live always be neat and polished. She stands up for her beliefs and provides perspective from an older generation. She believes in striving to succeed while maintaining her moral boundaries; she rejects Beneatha’s progressive and seemingly un-Christian sentiments about God, and Ruth’s consideration of an abortion disappoints her. Similarly, when Walter comes to her with his idea to invest in the liquor store venture, she condemns the idea and explains that she will not participate in such un-Christian business. Money is only a means to an end for Mama; dreams are more important to her than material wealth, and her dream is to own a house with a garden and yard in which Travis can play.
Beneatha is an attractive college student who provides a young, independent, feminist perspective, and her desire to become a doctor demonstrates her great ambition. Throughout the play, she searches for her identity. She dates two very different men: Joseph Asagai and George Murchison. She is at her happiest with Asagai, her Nigerian boyfriend, who has nicknamed her “Alaiyo,” which means “One for Whom Bread—Food—Is Not Enough.” She is at her most depressed and angry with George, her pompous, affluent African-American boyfriend. She identifies much more with Asagai’s interest in rediscovering his African roots than with George’s interest in assimilating into white culture.
One of Beneatha’s fellow students and one of her suitors, Asagai is from Nigeria, and throughout the play he provides an international perspective. Proud of his African heritage, he hopes to return to Nigeria to help bring about positive change and modern advancements. He tries to teach Beneatha about her heritage as well. He stands in obvious contrast to Beneatha’s other suitor, George Murchison,
List of all character and their roles
Walter Lee Younger -
The protagonist of the play. Walter is a dreamer. He wants to be rich and devisesplans 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 matriarch of the family, Mama is religious, moral, and maternal. 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 Youngers’ 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 pessimistic pragmatism helpsher 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 Youngers 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 Youngers’ apartment from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. He offers the Youngers a deal to reconsider moving into his (all-white) neighborhood.
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 Youngers’ neighbor. Mrs. Johnson takes advantage of the Youngers’ hospitality and warns them about moving into a predominately white neighborhood.
Themes of A RAISIN IN THE SUN
7] RACIAL AFFIRMATION
8] RIGHT OF CHOICE
10] DREAMS HOPE AND PLAN
Full Summary of ARaisin in the Sun
Act I, scene i Summary
It is morning at the Youngers’ apartment. Their small dwelling 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. The stage directions indicate that the furniture, though apparently once chosen with care, is now very worn and faded. Ruth gets up first and after some noticeable difficulty, rouses Travis and Walter as she
makes breakfast. While Travis gets ready in the communal bathroom, Ruth and Walter talk in the kitchen. They do not seem happy, yet they engage in some light 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 indifference. Travis asks them for money—he is supposed to bring fifty cents to school—and Ruth says that they do not have it. His persistent 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, a dialogue that Ruth cuts short by telling her husband, “Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.” Beneatha gets up next and after discovering that the bathroom is occupied by someone from another family, engages in a verbal joust with Walter. He thinks that she should be doing something more womanly than studying medicine,
especially since her tuition will cut into the check, which is the insurance payment for their father’s death. Beneatha argues that the money belongs to Mama and that Mama has the right to decide how it is spent. Walter then
leaves for his job as a chauffeur—he has to ask Ruth for money to get to work because the money he gave Travis was his car fare. Mama enters and goes directly to a small plant that she keeps just outside the kitchen window. She expresses sympathy for her grandson, Travis, while she questions Ruth’s ability to care for him properly. She asks Ruth what she would do with the money, which amounts to $10,000. For once, Ruth seems to be on Walter’s side. She thinks that if Mama gives him some of the money he might regain
his happiness and confidence, which are two things Ruth feels she can no longer provide for Walter. Mama, though, feels morally repulsed by the idea of getting into the liquor business. Instead, she wants to move to a house with a
lawn on which Travis can play. Owning a house had always been a dream she had shared with her husband, and now that he is gone she nurtures this dream even more powerfully. Mama and Ruth begin to tease Beneatha about the many activities that she
tries and quits, including her latest attempt to learn how to play the guitar. Beneatha claims that she is trying to “express” herself, an idea at which Ruth and Mama have a laugh. They discuss the man that Beneatha has been dating, George Murchison. Beneatha gets angry as they praise George because she thinks that he is “shallow.” Mama and Ruth do not understand. her ambivalence toward George, arguing that she should like him simply because he is rich. Beneatha contends that, for that very reason, any further relationship is pointless, as George’s family wouldn’t approve of her anyway. Beneatha makes the mistake of using the Lord’s name in vain in front of Mama, which sparks another conversation about the extent of God’s providence. Beneatha argues that God does not seem to help her or the family. Mama, outraged at such apronouncement, asserts that she is head of the household and that there will be no such thoughts expressed in her home. Beneatha recants and leaves for school, and Mama goes to the window to tend her plant. Ruth and Mama talk about Walter and Beneatha, and Ruth suddenly faints.
Act I, scene ii Summary
Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. (See Important Quotations Explained)
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 venture. It appears that their plan is moving smoothly. The insurance check is all Walter needs to
pursue the venture. He promises to bring the money to Willy when he receives it. Meanwhile, Beneatha is spraying the apartment with insecticide in an attempt to rid it 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, much to Mama’s chagrin. 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. Mama believes that Africans need religious salvation from “heathenism,” while Beneatha believes that they are in greater need of political and civil salvation from French and British colonialism.
Ruth returns from seeing a doctor, who has told her that she is two months pregnant. She reveals this information to Mama and Beneatha. Ruth and Beneatha are worried and uncertain, while Mama simply expresses her hope that the baby will be a girl. Ruth calls the doctor “she,” which arouses Mama’s suspicion because their family doctor is a man. Ruth feels ill and anxious about her pregnancy. Mama tries to help her relax.
Asagai visits Beneatha, and they spend some time together by themselves. He brings her some Nigerian clothing and music as gifts. As Beneatha tries on one of the robes, Asagai asks about her straightened hair. He implies that her hairstyle is too American and unnatural, and he wonders how it got that way.
Beneatha says that her hair was once like his, but that she finds it too “raw” that way. He teases her a bit about being very serious about finding her identity, particularly her African identity, through him. Asagai obviously cares
for Beneatha very much, and he wonders why Beneatha does not have the same feeling for him. She explains that she is looking for more than storybook love. She wants to become an independent and liberated woman. Asagai scorns her wish, much to Beneatha’s disappointment. Mama comes into the room, and Beneatha introduces her to Asagai. Mama then recites Beneatha’s views on Africa and African people as best she can. When Asagai says goodbye, he calls Beneatha by a nickname, “Alaiyo.” He explains that it is a word from his African tribal language, roughly translated to mean “One for Whom Bread—Food—Is Not Enough.” He leaves, having charmed both women. Finally, the check arrives. 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. She shuts herself into their bedroom. Mama sits down with Walter who is upset by—and ashamed of—his poverty, his job as a chauffeur, and his lack of upward mobility. Finally, Mama tells him that Ruth is pregnant and that she fears that Ruth is considering having an abortion. Walter does not believe that Ruth would do such a thing until Ruth comes out of the bedroom to confirm that
she has made a down payment on the service.
Act II, scene i
Later on the same Saturday, Beneatha emerges from her room cloaked 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. Ruth finds Beneatha’s pageantry silly and questions her about it. Meanwhile, Walter returns home drunk. He sees Beneatha all dressed up and acts out some made-up tribal rituals with her, at one point standing on a table and pronouncing himself “Flaming Spear.” Ruth
looks on wearily. George Murchison arrives to pick up Beneatha. Beneatha removes her headdress to reveal that she has cut off most of her hair, leaving only an unstraightened afro. Everyone is shocked, amazed, and slightly disappointed with Beneatha, prompting a fierce discussion between Beneatha and George about the importance of their African heritage. Beneatha goes to change for the theater, and Walter talks to George about business plans. George does not seem interested. Walter then becomes belligerent as he makes fun of George’s white shoes. Embarrassed, Ruth explains that the white shoes are part of the “college style. ” George obviously looks down on Walter—calling
him “Prometheus”—and Walter gets even angrier at him. George and Beneatha finally leave, and Ruth and Walter then begin to fight about Walter going out, spending money, and interacting with people like Willy Harris. They
do begin to make up, though, by acknowledging that a great distance has
grown between them. Mama comes home and announces that she has put a down payment on a house with some of the insurance money. Ruth is elated to hear this news
because she too dreams of moving out of their current apartment and into a more respectable home. Meanwhile, Walter is noticeably upset because he wants to put all the money into the liquor store venture. 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.
Act II, scene ii Summary
Your daddy’s gonna make a . . . business transaction that’s going to change our lives. . . . You just name it, son . . . and I hand you the world!
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. Rather, she wants to engage George in a conversation about the plight of African Americans. It seems that George wants to marry a “nice . . . simple . . . sophisticated girl.” Mama comes in as Beneatha kicks him out. Mama asks if she had a good time with George, and Beneatha tells her that George is a “fool.” Mama replies, “I guess you better not waste your time with no fools.” Beneatha appreciates her mother’s support. 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. She is generally insensitive and unable to speak in a civil manner. She predicts that the Youngers will also be scared out of the all-white neighborhood once they move in and insults much of the family by calling them a “proud acting bunch of colored folks.” She then quotes Booker T. Washington, a famous African-American thinker and assimilationist.