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  • Written by Lorraine Hansberry
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Written by Lorraine HansberryAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lorraine Hansberry
Introduction by Robert NemiroffAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Nemiroff

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On Sale: November 02, 2011
Pages: 160 | ISBN: 978-0-307-80744-1
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

"Never before, the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people's lives been seen on the stage," observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.

Indeed Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America--and changed American theater forever.  The play's title comes from a line in Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem," which warns that a dream deferred might "dry up/like a raisin in the sun."

"The events of every passing year add resonance to A Raisin in the Sun," said The New York Times.  "It is as if history is conspiring to make the play a classic."  This Modern Library edition presents the fully restored, uncut version of Hansberry's landmark work with an introduction by Robert Nemiroff.

Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

by Robert Nerniroff

This is the most complete edition of A Raisin in the Sun ever published. Like the American Playhouse production for television, it restores to the play two scenes unknown to the general public, and a number of other key scenes and passages staged for the first time in twenty-fifth anniversary revivals and, most notably, the Roundabout Theatre's Kennedy Center production on which the television picture is based.

"The events of every passing year add resonance to A Raisin in the Sun. It is as if history is conspiring to make the play a classic"; ". . . one of a handful of great American dramas ... A Raisin in the Sun belongs in the inner circle, along with Death of a Salesman, Long Day's Journey into Night, and The Glass Menagerie." So wrote The New York Times and the Washington Post respectively of Harold Scott's revelatory stagings for the Roundabout in which most of these elements, cut on Broadway, were restored. The unprecedented resurgence of the work (a dozen regional revivals at this writing, new publications and productions abroad, and now the television production that will be seen by millions) prompts the new edition.

Produced in 1959, the play presaged the revolution in black and women's consciousness-and the revolutionary ferment in Africa-that exploded in the years following the playwright's death in 1965 to ineradicably alter the social fabric and consciousness of the nation and the world. As so many have commented lately, it did so in a manner and to an extent that few could have foreseen, for not only the restored material, but much else that passed unnoticed in the play at the time, speaks to issues that are now inescapable: value systems of the black family; concepts of African American beauty and identity; class and generational conflicts; the relationships of husbands and wives, black men and women; the outspoken (if then yet unnamed) feminism of the daughter; and, in the penultimate scene between Beneatha and Asagai, the larger statement of the play and the ongoing struggle it portends.

Not one of the cuts, it should be emphasized, was made to dilute or censor the play or to "soften" its statement, for everyone in that herculean, now-legendary band that brought Raisin to Broadway-and most specifically the producer, Philip Rose, and director, Lloyd Richards-believed in the importance of that statement with a degree of commitment that would have countenanced nothing of the kind. How and why, then, did the cuts come about?

The scene in which Beneatha unveils her natural haircut is an interesting example. In 1959, when the play was presented, the rich variety of Afro styles introduced in the mid-sixties had not yet arrived: the very few black women who wore their hair unstraightened cut it very short. When the hair of Diana Sands (who created the role) was cropped in this fashion, however, a few days before the opening, it was not contoured to suit her: her particular facial structure required a fuller Afro, of the sort she in fact adopted in later years. Result? Rather than vitiate the playwright's point-the beauty of black hair-the scene was dropped.

Some cuts were similarly the result of happenstance or unpredictables of the kind that occur in any production: difficulties with a scene, the "processes" of actors, the dynamics of staging, etc. But most were related to the length of the play: running time. Time in the context of bringing to Broadway the first play by a black (young and unknown) woman, to be directed, moreover, by another unknown black "first," in a theater where black audiences virtually did not exist-and where, in the entire history of the American stage, there had never been a serious commercially successful black drama!

So unlikely did the prospects seem in that day, in fact, to all but Phil Rose and the company, that much as some expressed admiration for the play, Rose's eighteen-month effort to find a co-producer to help complete the financing was turned down by virtually every established name in the business. He was joined at the last by another newcomer, David Cogan, but even with the money in hand, not a single theater owner on the Great White Way would rent to the new production! So that when the play left New York for tryouts-with a six-hundred-dollar advance in New Haven and no theater to come back to-had the script and performance been any less ready, and the response of critics and audiences any less unreserved than they proved to be, A Raisin in the Sun would never have reached Broadway.

Under these circumstances the pressures were enormous (if unspoken and rarely even acknowledged in the excitement of the work) not to press fate unduly with unnecessary risks. And the most obvious of these was the running time. It is one thing to present a four-and-a-half-hour drama by Eugene O'Neill on Broadway-but a first play (even ignoring the special features of this one) in the neighborhood of even three??? By common consensus, the need to keep the show as tight and streamlined as possible was manifest. Some things-philosophical flights, nuances the general audience might not understand, shadings, embellishments, would have to be sacrificed.

At the time the cuts were made (there were also some very good ones that focused and strengthened the drama), it was assumed by all that they would in no way significantly affect or alter the statement of the play, for there is nothing in the omitted lines that is not implicit elsewhere in, and throughout, A Raisin in the Sun. But to think this was to reckon without two factors the future would bring into play. The first was the swiftness and depth of the revolution in consciousness that was coming and the consequent, perhaps inevitable, tendency of some people to assume, because the "world" had changed, that any "successful" work which preceded the change must embody the values they had outgrown. And the second was the nature of the American audience.



James Baldwin has written that "Americans suffer from an ignorance that is not only colossal, but sacred." He is referring to that apparently endless capacity we have nurtured through long years to deceive ourselves where race is concerned: the baggage of myth and preconception we carry with us that enables northerners, for example, to shield themselves from the extent and virulence of segregation in the North, so that each time an "incident" of violence so egregious that they cannot look past it occurs they are "shocked" anew, as if it had never happened before or as if the problem were largely passe. (In 1975, when the cast of Raisin, the musical, became involved in defense of a family whose home in Queens, New York City, had been fire-bombed, we learned of a 1972 City Commissioner of Human Rights Report, citing "eleven cases in the last eighteen months in which minority-owned homes had been set afire or vandalized, a church had been bombed, and a school bus had been attacked"-in New York City!)

But Baldwin is referring also to the human capacity, where a work of art is involved, to substitute, for what the writer has written, what in our hearts we wish to believe. As Hansberry put it in response to one reviewer's enthusiastic if particularly misguided praise of her play: ". . . it did not disturb the writer in the least that there is no such implication in the entire three acts. He did not need it in the play; he had it in his head."'

Such problems did not, needless to say, stop America from embracing A Raisin in the Sun. But it did interfere drastically, for a generation, with the way the play was interpreted and assessed-and, in hindsight, it made all the more regrettable the abridgment (though without it would we even know the play today?). In a remarkable rumination on Hansberry's death, Ossie Davis (who succeeded Sidney Poitier in the role of Walter Lee) put it this way:

The play deserved all this-the playwright deserved all this, and more. Beyond question! But I have a feeling that for all she got, Lorraine Hansberry never got all she deserved in regard to A Raisin in the Sun-that she got success, but that in her success she was cheated, both as a writer and as a Negro.

One of the biggest selling points about Raisin-filling the grapevine, riding the word-of-mouth, laying the foundation for its wide, wide acceptance-was how much the Younger family was just like any other American family. Some people were ecstatic to find that "it didn't really have to be about Negroes at all!" It was, rather, a walking, talking, living demonstration of our mythic conviction that, underneath, all of us Americans, color-ain't-got-nothing-to-do-with-it, are pretty much alike. People are just people, whoever they are; and all they want is a chance to be like other people. This uncritical assumption, sentimentally held by the audience, powerfully fixed in the character of the powerful mother with whom everybody could identify, immediately and completely, made any other questions about the Youngers, and what living in the slums of Southside Chicago had done to them, not only irrelevant and impertinent, but also disloyal ... because everybody who walked into the theater saw in Lena Younger ... his own great American Mama. And that was decisive.

In effect, as Davis went on to develop, white America "kidnapped" Mama, stole her away and used her fantasized image to avoid what was uniquely African-American in the play. And what it was saying.

Thus, in many reviews (and later academic studies), the Younger family-maintained by two female domestics and a chauffeur, son of a laborer dead of a lifetime of hard labor-was transformed into an acceptably "middle class" family. The decision to move became a desire to "integrate" (rather than, as Mama says simply, "to find the nicest house for the least amount of money for my family... Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out always seem to cost twice as much.").

In his "A Critical Reevaluation: A Raisin in the Sun's Enduring Passion," Amiri Baraka comments aptly: "We missed the essence of the work-that Hansberry had created a family on the cutting edge of the same class and ideological struggles as existed in the movement itself and among the people.... The Younger family is part of the black majority, and the concerns I once dismissed as 'middle class'-buying a home and moving into 'white folks' neighborhoods'-are actually reflective of the essence of black people's striving and the will to defeat segregation, discrimination, and national oppression. There is no such thing as a 'white folks' neighborhood' except to racists and to those submitting to racism.  

Mama herself-about whose "acceptance" of her "place" in the society there is not a word in the play, and who, in quest of her family's survival over the soul- and body-crushing conditions of the ghetto, is prepared to defy housing-pattern taboos, threats, bombs, and God knows what else-became the safely "conservative" matriarch, upholder of the social order and proof that if one only perseveres with faith, everything will come out right in the end and the-system-ain't-so-bad-after-all. (All this, presumably, because, true to character, she speaks and thinks in the language of her generation, shares their dream of a better life and, like millions of her counterparts, takes her Christianity to heart.) At the same time, necessarily, Big Walter Younger-the husband who reared this family with her and whose unseen presence and influence can be heard in every scene-vanished from analysis.

And perhaps most ironical of all to the playwright, who had herself as a child been almost killed in such a real-life story, the climax of the play became, pure and simple, a "happy ending"-despite the fact that it leaves the Younger s on the brink of what will surely be, in their new home, at best a nightmare of uncertainty. ("If he thinks that's a happy ending," said Hansberry in an interview, "I invite him to come live in one of the communities where the Youngers are going!") Which is not even to mention the fact that that little house in a blue-collar neighborhood-hardly suburbia, as some have imagined-is hardly the answer to the deeper needs and inequities of race and class and sex that Walter and Beneatha have articulated.


When Lorraine Hansberry read the reviews-delighted by the accolades, grateful for the recognition, but also deeply troubled-she decided in short order to put back many of the materials excised. She did that in the 1959 Random House edition, but faced with the actuality of a prize-winning play, she hesitated about some others which, for reasons now beside the point, had not in rehearsal come alive. She later felt, however, that the full last scene between Beneatha and Asagai (drastically cut on Broadway) and Walter's bedtime scene with Travis (eliminated entirely) should be restored at the first opportunity, and this was done in the 1966 New American Library edition. As anyone who has seen the recent productions will attest, they are among the most moving (and most applauded) moments in the play.

Because the visit of Mrs. Johnson adds the costs of another character to the cast and ten more minutes to the play, it has not been used in most revivals. But where it has been tried it has worked to solid-often hilarious-effect. It can be seen in the American Playhouse production, and is included here in any case, because it speaks to fundamental issues of the play, makes plain the reality that waits the Youngers at the curtain, and, above all, makes clear what, in the eyes of the author, Lena Younger-in her typicality within the black experience-does and does not represent.

Another scene-the Act 1, Scene Two moment in which Beneatha observes and Travis gleefully recounts his latest adventure in the street below-makes tangible and visceral one of the many facts of ghetto life that impel the Youngers' move. As captured on television and published here for the first time, it is its own sobering comment on just how "middle class" a family this is.

A word about the stage and interpretive directions. These are the author's original directions combined, where meaningful to the reader with the staging insights of two great directors and companies: Lloyd Richards' classic staging of that now-legendary cast that first created the roles; and Harold Scott's, whose searching explorations of the text in successive revivals over many years-culminating in the inspired production that broke box office records at the Kennedy Center and won ten awards for Scott and the company-have given the fuller text, in my view, its most definitive realization to date.

Finally, a note about the American Playhouse production. Unlike the drastically cut and largely one-dimensional 1961 movie version-which, affecting and pioneering though it may have been, reflected little of the greatness of the original stage performances-this new screen version is a luminous embodiment of the stage play as reconceived, but not altered, for the camera, and is exquisitely performed. That it is, is due inextricably to producer Chiz Schultz's and director Bill Duke's unswerving commitment to the text; Harold Scott's formative work with the stage company; Duke's own fresh insights and the cinematic brilliance of his reconception and direction for the screen; and the energizing infusion into this mix of Danny Glover's classic performance as Walter Lee to Esther Rolle's superlative Mama. As in the case of any production, I am apt to question a nuance here and there, and regrettably, because of a happenstance in production, the Walter-Travis scene has been omitted. But that scene will, I expect, be restored in the videocassette version of the picture, which should be available shortly. It is thus an excellent version for study.

What is for me personally, as a witness to and sometime participant in the foregoing events, most gratifying about the current revival is that today, some twenty-nine years after Lorraine Hansberry, thinking back with disbelief a few nights after the opening of Raisin, typed out these words-

... I had turned the last page out of the typewriter and pressed all the sheets neatly together in a pile, and gone and stretched out face down on the living room floor. I had finished a play; a play I had no reason to think or not think would ever be done; a play that I was sure no one would quite understand . . . .  

-her play is not only being done, but that more than she had ever thought possible-and more clearly than it ever has been before-it is being "understood."

Yet one last point that I must make because it has come up so many times of late. I have been asked if I am not surprised that the play still remains so contemporary, and isn't that a "sad" commentary on America? It is indeed a sad commentary, but the question also assumed something more: that it is the topicality of the play's immediate events-i.e., the persistence of white opposition to unrestricted housing and the ugly manifestations of racism in its myriad forms-that keeps it alive. But I don't believe that such alone is what explains its vitality at all. For though the specifics of social mores and societal patterns will always change, the decline of the "New England territory" and the institution of the traveling salesman does not, for example, "date" Death of a Salesman, any more than the fact that we now recognize love (as opposed to interfamilial politics) as a legitimate basis for marriage obviates Romeo and Juliet. If we ever reach a time when the racial madness that afflicts America is at last truly behind us-as obviously we must if we are to survive in a world composed four-fifths of peoples of color-then I believe A Raisin in the Sun will remain no less pertinent. For at the deepest level it is not a specific situation but the human condition, human aspiration, and human relationships-the persistence of dreams, of the bonds and conflicts between men and women, parents and children, old ways and new, and the endless struggle against human oppression, whatever the forms it may take, and for individual fulfillment, recognition, and liberation-that are at the heart of such plays. It is not surprising therefore that in each generation we recognize ourselves in them anew.

Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.
October 1988
Praise

Praise

“A beautiful, lovable play. It is affectionately human, funny and touching. . . . A work of theatrical magic in which the usual barrier between audience and stage disappears.”
John Chapman, New York News

“An honest, intelligible, and moving experience.”
Walter Kerr, New York Herald Tribune

“Miss Hansberry has etched her characters with understanding, and told her story with dramatic impact. She has a keen sense of humor, an ear for accurate speech and compassion for people.”
Robert Coleman, New York Mirror

“A Raisin in the Sun has vigor as well as veracity.”
Brooks Atkinson, New York Times

“It is honest drama, catching up real people. . . . It will make you proud of human beings.”
Frank Aston, New York World-Telegram & Sun

“A wonderfully emotional evening.”
John McClain, New York Journal American
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

The 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun was a watershed in theatrical history. At a time when there was perceived to be no black Broadway audience, no commercial viability for a serious black play, and no significant "crossover" white audience for a play about African Americans, the underdog Raisin achieved the impossible: an all-out commercial and critical success. Indeed, its theretofore unknown 29-year-old playwright won the Best Play of the Year Award from the New York Drama Critics, the first black author and only the fifth woman to do so.

In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry paints an impressive group portrait of the Youngers, a family composed of powerful individuals who are yet in many ways typical in their dreams and frustrations. There is Lena, or Mama, the widowed mother; her daughter Beneatha, a medical student; Beneatha's brother Walter, a struggling chauffeur; and Walter's wife, Ruth, and their young son. Crammed together in an airless apartment, the family dreams of better days. Walter longs unrealistically for riches and resents being under his mother's thumb, while the intelligent and idealistic Beneatha searches for her own identity and that of her race. The family situation is brought to a crisis when Lena receives the first real money they have ever had: $10,000, the insurance payment on her husband's life. The family finally has the means to buy a house of their own, but the dream proves difficult to achieve, as first Walter's rage over a lifetime of thwarted dreams, then the hostility of their new white neighbors, would seem to threaten the family's security and even their self-respect.

In retrospect, Lorraine Hansberry seems to have been astoundingly prescient in highlighting the very issues that would soon leap into prominence in the '60s and become central themes in the collective consciousness. Hansberry foresaw what in effect turned out to be a revolution in racial, sexual, and social thought: the reawakening of feminist thought after the conservative '50s that inspired many women to make an active place for themselves outside of the home; the surge of African American pride, the "black is beautiful" ideal that would become so important in the '60s; the increasingly confrontational scenes in the old battles over integration and equality of opportunity.

While A Raisin in the Sun is very much of its moment, it has also proven to be for all time; its relevance to modern life, its perpetual popularity, is attested to by the fact that it has continued over three and a half decades to be given important and innovative new productions. It has established itself as an American classic.

TEACHING IDEAS

The questions, exercises, and assignments that follow are designed to guide your students through A Raisin in the Sun and aid them in understanding the play both as a work of dramatic literature and as a provocative commentary on the central challenges of middle-class life, not only for African Americans but for families of every race. The questions are divided into sections that test reader comprehension, indicate fruitful topics for in-class discussion, and suggest directions in which students may go in their independent writing and research assignments. Students should be encouraged to keep journals while they read and to write down their questions and observations as they read the play, paying attention to all the points of view presented by the different characters; while many young people will identify with Beneatha, others may find powerful sympathy with Walter, Asagai, Ruth, or Mama. Though many changes have occurred since the play was written, many of the social problems depicted in the play are still a part of our world; students should therefore pay attention to contemporary news items, noting in their journals those that deal with issues and themes raised in A Raisin in the Sun.

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

Comprehension

1. Why does the author go to such lengths to describe the furnishings of the Younger family's apartment? What do these furnishings and the state they are in say about the family's lives?

2. What does the absence of light in the Youngers' apartment signify? Why does Ruth so desperately hope for light in the new house?

3. What is Walter trying to say when he refers to African Americans as "the world's most backward race of people" (p. 38)? Does he seriously believe this?

4. What can you deduce about the character of Walter and Beneatha's father, not only from the way his family talks about him but from the character of the family itself? What does his memory signify to each of the family members?

5. What sort of hairstyles were normally worn by African American women in the 1950s? Why does Asagai refer to such styles as "mutilation"? Just how bold is Beneatha's gesture in cutting her hair? What kind of a statement is she making to the outside world?

6. Who has Ruth actually gone to see instead of the doctor? Why does she consider taking this route?

7. What does Beneatha mean by the term "assimilationist"? Can you think of other words or phrases meaning the same thing? Why does she condemn blues music as being assimilationist?

8. Asagai tells Beneatha that "between a man and a woman there need be only one kind of feeling" (63). Can you explain what he means and why, for Beneatha, this feeling alone is not enough?

9. Mama tells Walter that something is eating him up, something that has to do with more than just money. What do you think this is?

10. Mama says to Walter, "You ain't satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home..., that you don't have to ride to work on the back of nobody's streetcar" (74). Is Walter's life indeed likely to have been better, from a material and political point of view, than his parents' was?

11. What African name has Asagai given Beneatha, and what does it mean? Why is Beneatha satisfied when Asagai translates it for her?

12. In Act II, Scene One, what emotion is Walter expressing when he shouts "Ethiopia stretch forth her hands again!" (77) and "The lion is waking" (78)? Who was Jomo Kenyatta?

13. What does the Youngers' new house signify to Ruth? To Mama? Why does Walter so strongly resist the idea of moving?

14. What does Asagai expect from a woman? What does George expect from a woman? Would either of them be satisfied with Beneatha? Could she be happy with either of them?

15. How does Mrs. Johnson's idea of God differ from Mama's?

16. What does Mrs. Johnson mean when she speaks of the "colored people that was bombed out their place" (100)? Who set off the bomb? Why does she mention this event to the Youngers?

17. Why does Mrs. Johnson say that the Youngers are proud? Does she mean it as a compliment? Are they, in fact, proud? How does pride help, or hinder, them in their progress through life?

18. Why does Mama say that Booker T. Washington is a fool? Do you agree with her?

19. Can you explain what Beneatha means when she says that "there are two things we, as a people, have got to overcome, one is the Ku Klux Klan—and the other is Mrs. Johnson" (104)?

20. What are Walter's fantasies after Mama gives him charge of the money? Why are they so obviously unrealistic, even destructive?

21. Does Walter's failed investment confirm Mama's belief that the Youngers are not businessmen but plain working folks?

22. What does Walter mean when he refers to his sister as a "New Negro" (112)? And why does she call him and Ruth "old-fashioned Negroes"?

23. How does Lindner use language to make his proposal to the Youngers sound almost like a reasonable one? Is it true that "a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have the neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way" (117)? Is a "right" actually a right when it infringes on the rights or ignores the humanity of others?

24. Why is Mama's little plant so important to her? What does she mean when she says "It expresses ME" (121)?

25. Why does Beneatha's belief in the importance of doctors and medicine change after Walter loses the family's money?

26. Why is Asagai able to identify himself so intensely with the future of his country, however it may go? Why is Beneatha, at least temporarily, unable to do so?

27. After he has been robbed, Walter says that life is divided "between the takers and the 'tooken'" (141). Do the final events of the play prove him wrong? If so, how?

28. What does it mean, to Walter, to be a "Man"?


In-depth discussion

1. Lorraine Hansberry prefaces her play with a poem by Langston Hughes. How does the play illustrate the theme of the poem? In what way is the concept of the "dream" central to the play? Which characters specifically discuss their dreams? What is Mama's dream in life? Ruth's? Walter's? Do dreams ever become destructive, a substitute for action? Or is it absolutely essential to keep a dream alive?

2. In the first scene, Travis experiences "anger" and "frustration" (29). Is it implied here that such feelings will inevitably be his lot in life, as an African American man? If so, does this implication change over the course of the play?

3. In the fifties, it was extremely ambitious for a young black woman to set out to become a doctor. What does it say about Beneatha that she is determined to pursue this career? What does it say about Mama's character that she is entirely supportive of her daughter's choice? Is it natural that Walter should be resentful? How do Beneatha's two boyfriends, Asagai and George, really feel about her ambitions?

4. George angers the Youngers with his cynical attitude and his mockery of Beneatha's veneration for "our Great West African Heritage." But is George presented as an entirely unsympathetic character? Is it possible to find anything sensible or realistic in his point of view?

5. Except for Asagai, none of the characters in the play has been to Africa. What do Africa and Africanness signify to each character?

6. What does Mama mean when she says "We ain't no business people, Ruth. We just plain working folks" (42)? Do you believe that she is correct, or is her attitude defeatist? Does Ruth, in her heart of hearts, believe her? What would Beneatha's response be to this statement?

7. Beneatha declares that she is searching for her "identity." In what does her search consist? Does she find it, at the end of the play?

8. What does Walter mean when he says money is "life" (74)? Considering what his life has been, is he justified in saying this? Is it simply lack of money that has deprived Walter of so many important things—his sense of manhood, of pride, his love of family? Why, in your opinion, is the Youngers' poverty so much harder on Walter than on the rest of the family?

9. "That is just what is wrong with the colored woman in this world," Walter says to Ruth; "Don't understand about building their men up and making 'em feel like they somebody." Do you feel that Ruth has not been sufficiently supportive to Walter? That she has failed him in some way (84)?

10. For budget reasons, the character of Mrs. Johnson was cut in the original production of the play. Do you feel that the scene is essential to the play? If so, why? If not, why not? What does the scene tell us about the world in which the Youngers live?

11. In his introduction, Robert Nemiroff says that some audience members have perceived Mama as "conservative," an "upholder of the social order." What do you think about this proposition? Doesn't it depend on one's definition of "conservative"? Can you come up with a good definition?

12. Is God a real presence to any of the characters besides Mama? Does Mama's religion give her strength, or is the strength already in her character? Does Beneatha's rejection of her mother's God make her stronger, or more vulnerable?

13. Many of the problems the Youngers must confront are specific to the African American family; others are problems that every family, black or white, must deal with. What in the play do you see as specifically African American, and what is universal?

14. Through most of the play, Walter is shown in a state of arrested development, still very much like a teenager. Do you feel, as Mama comes to, that because for many years she refused to cede the position of head of the family to him, she is to blame for the deficiencies in his character?

15. Though three of them work as servants, Mama and her family believe that "being any kind of a servant wasn't a fit thing for a man to have to be" (103). This belief goes against one that, because of Booker T. Washington's influence, had value in the black community at that time: that all labor was possessed of dignity. Do you side with Mama on this issue, or with Washington? What are your reasons? Is this purely a racial matter, or is it a problem which all races must solve?

16. Asagai sees "what the New World hath finally wrought" in Beneatha—but Beneatha, with a darker vision, sees it in Walter. In what way are they both right? How has American society, with its strengths and weaknesses, shaped both Beneatha and Walter?

17. In answer to someone who thought the play's ending was a happy one, Lorraine Hansberry retorted: "I invite him to come live in one of the communities where the Youngers are going!" (11) But cannot the ending, in some measure, be seen as happy? Or at least as promising hope, or greater strength for the Youngers as a family?

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

Expanding your knowledge

1. The continuing popularity of A Raisin in the Sun would seem to imply that the play is as relevant to contemporary audiences as it was when it first appeared. Is this your opinion? Which issues addressed in the play are still immediate, and which are inscribed within a historical moment that is over? Has life for African Americans gotten better or worse since the play was written? In what ways?

2. A Raisin in the Sun takes place in 1959. The Younger family had no way of predicting the many changes that would occur in American society in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Try to imagine what might have happened to the Youngers in the years following the action of the play. Did Beneatha become a doctor? Did she get married? Have Walter and Ruth succeeded in their reconciliation? What sort of life and career has Travis had? How has each family member responded to the challenges of life in the 1990s? Write a few paragraphs telling what, in your opinion, might have happened to all the members of the Younger family.

3. Neighborhood integration, like school integration, has proven to be a long and painful process; there are still incidents of backlash against it today. Research the history of integration. Have the violent incidents escalated, or have they lessened? Has the integration process ultimately been successful, or has it been a failure, simply confirming the grim reality of the ghetto?

4. Mama criticizes Walter for not appreciating the improved opportunities that African Americans had recently built for themselves. Read about the "Jim Crow," or segregation, laws that operated for many decades. What changes had already occurred in these laws during Walter's lifetime? In what ways had life for African Americans altered since World War II? Did new rights bring new problems in their wake?

5. In the 1950s and '60s, politically alert African Americans like Beneatha found an inspirational example in Africa, where one country after another was throwing off colonial rule and achieving independence. Among the heroes of this period were Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, who instigated the Mau Mau uprising, and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, who humiliated the British and French in the 1956 Suez crisis. Read about this period of decolonization and independence. How do these events, taking place on a faraway continent, affect the Youngers' self-awareness and their outlook on life?

6. The conflict between "assimilationists" and "New Negroes" mentioned in the play was of specific concern at that time: activists like Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, who espoused black separatism, fought against the more conservative ethos of racial uplift, humility, and hard work. But this was not simply an issue for the '50s; the debate continues to be an active one. Read the newspapers for two or three weeks, paying special attention to racial issues. How many news items and editorials can you find that address questions of separatism and assimilation? The idea of the American "melting pot" was one to which almost everyone paid lip service in the '50s; is it still accepted?

7. Beneatha expresses several concerns that would soon be voiced by the women's movement that blossomed in the '60s and '70s. What were some of the changes feminists of that period hoped to make in their society? Which of these changes have been achieved, and which have not? What does Beneatha, as a woman, want from society and from a husband? In what ways do her ambitions and needs differ from those of her mother? Of Ruth? Do you think that Beneatha would find her life easier or more fulfilling in the 1990s?

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time, Nobody Knows My Name, Notes of a Native Son; Robert Coles: Children of Crisis, Volume I: A Study of Courage and Fear; Lorraine Hansberry, Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays, The Movement, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, To Be Young, Gifted and Black; Jomo Kenyatta: Facing Mount Kenya; Martin Luther King, Jr.: Why We Can't Wait; Studs Terkel: Race: How Blacks & Whites Think & Feel About the American Obsession; C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

This teacher's guide was written by Brooke Allen. Brooke Allen has a Ph.D. in literature from Columbia University, and has spent several years in France as a teacher and a journalist. She writes regularly on books for The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

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Copyright © 1995 by VINTAGE BOOKS

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